An assault on a Palestinian teenager has shone a spotlight on a cauldron of prejudice that runs through the Israeli establishment, explains Hadas Thier.
DOZENS OF Jewish teens in Jerusalem’s Zion Square beat a Palestinian youth, 17-year-old Jamal Julani, nearly to death as hundreds stood by and watched on August 16. Three of Julani’s friends were also brutalized. The incident has been widely discussed in Israel as an “attempted lynching.”
“The victim lost his consciousness and was thought to be dead until a Magen David Adom [emergency paramedic] crew arrived and resuscitated him,” said Israeli Sgt. Shmuel Shenhav. “He was anesthetized and on a respirator in the hospital for days. This was an extremely severe crime. Only a miracle saved him from death.”
One eyewitness, a volunteer for a local NGO that works with Israeli youth, recounted the scene on Facebook:
I heard screams of “A Jew is a good soul, and Arab is a son of a bitch,” shouted loudly, and dozens (!!) of youths ran and gathered and started to really beat to death three Arab youths who were walking quietly in the Ben Yehuda street.
When one of the Palestinian youths fell to the floor, the youths continued to hit him in the head, he lost consciousness, his eyes rolled, his head at an angle started to twitch, and then those who were kicking him fled and the rest gathered in a circle around, with some still shouting with hate in their eyes…
When two of our volunteers went into the circle, they tried to perform CPR. The mass of youths standing around started to say resentfully that we are resuscitating an Arab, and when they passed near us and saw that the rest of the volunteers were shocked, they asked why we were so in shock, he is an Arab.
The assault could be called a lynching in more ways than one. The mob-incited “execution by beating” was accompanied by the same pretext as the beatings and murders of Blacks carried out by Klan-led mobs in the U.S. South. By most accounts, what prompted dozens of Israeli teenagers to run through the streets looking for Palestinians to beat was an accusation by one woman that “an Arab” had harassed her.
In the Jim Crow days of the American South, Black men were accused of being rapists and sexual aggressors from whom white women needed protection. Today in Israel, rabbis warn of Arabs who are after the “daughters of Israel,” and a popular civics book can argue:
The association of Jewish girls with Arabs is liable to lead to relationships and even marriage. This assimilation of Jewish girls with members of the Arab minority will harm the preservation of the Jewish majority in the State of Israel…When Jewish girls associate with Arabs, it may put them at risk for nationalist reasons, and their right to life and security is liable to be undermined.
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THE BLIND rage of the mob beating was unmistakable–one of the 15-year-old perpetrators said outside a courtroom, “For my part, he can die, he’s an Arab.” This led to plenty of hand-wringing and soul-searching on the part of the Israeli press and commentators. “Where on earth does a bar-mitzvah-age child find so much evil in himself?” asked the Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
The Jerusalem Post lamented a “worryingly high level of tolerance–whether explicit or implicit–for such despicable acts of violence.” Plenty of articles attempted to psychologize the Israeli youths involved in the attack, dissecting the role of poverty and dropout rates among religious Jews. Editorials in Yediot Aharonot speculated on whether the parents were to blame.
The liberal Ha’aretz newspaper, while falling short of probing too deeply into the roots of Israeli racism, had at least a more honest assessment: “Israeli society can no longer continue to play the innocent and pretend that it’s shocked by an incident like this–to treat it as an exception and make do with limp denunciations.”
Indeed, on the same day of the attack, a Palestinian taxi was firebombed in the West Bank, and a U.S. State Department report labeled attacks by Jews on Palestinians as terrorism.
Were the violence simply a result of troubled youths or their parents, this would certainly beg the question: Why did hundreds of other Israelis stand by and watch–at best not intervening, at worst egging the teenagers on?
As the Jerusalem Post notes, the incident is by no means an exception. “Ten mosques were either vandalized or firebombed in Jerusalem and the West Bank during 2011,” it reported. And as another example of virulent racism, “Jerusalem soccer fans are known to stage post-game rallies, during which ‘death to Arabs’ or other such chants of incitement are voiced, as police and security officials stand by and do nothing.”
“According to the Jerusalem Fund’s Palestine Center, a Washington, D.C.-based NGO that does educational work on behalf of Palestinians, in 2011 alone, there were an average of 2.6 incidents of settler violence per day against Palestinians,” wrote Mairav Zonszein, a 972mag.com writer, in Ha’aretz. These range from “acts of vandalism, such as the desecration of an Arab cemetery with the message ‘death to Arabs,’ or the uprooting of olive trees, which can devastate an entire village’s livelihood, to direct physical violence.”
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AS THE attempted lynching shows, hardcore anti-Arab racism and violence is not limited to the fringe, the settlers or the now oft-talked about “price tag” gangs, who are waging a campaign of violence against Palestinians and Christians. Here, in the center of town, a 17-year-old youth was nearly beaten to death, simply for walking down the street.
In fact, in consecutive annual surveys taken by the Israel Democracy Institute, the majority of Israeli Jews support “encouraging” Arab citizens of Israel to emigrate (53 percent) and excluding Arabs from “democratic” decision-making processes (69.5 percent), while rejecting the claim that Arab citizens suffer from discrimination (51.5 percent).
Racism against Palestinians is not only in the minds of the majority of Israelis, but is legislatively codified in the books. As Daphna Thier described at SocialistWorker.org, there are more than 30 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel, “including the ‘law of return’ automatically granting Israeli citizenship to any Jew in the world (even those who have never set foot in Israel); laws restricting Palestinians representation in politics and policy making; the under-funding of education and social services for Israel’s Arab citizens; and very restricted access to land and building permits.”
In a country born through the ethnic cleansing of almost a million of the land’s inhabitants, and which can only maintain its “demographic majority” by continually restricting, imprisoning and brutalizing the “other,” is it any wonder that its citizens have had to adopt racist and colonial mindsets in order to justify this inhumane status quo?
In a country in which army service is mandatory for every man and woman in Israel and where crimes against Palestinians are rarely punished, is it any wonder that this racist mentality would find its expression in brutal violence?
Why would Israel’s teenage citizens treat Arab life with any more regard than the Israeli military, which regularly uses Palestinians as human shields, carries out targeted and extra-judicial executions, murders humanitarian activists (like those on the Mavi Marmara in 2010), and imprisons more than 5,000 Palestinian men, women and children?
The viciousness at the heart of Israeli society has been shockingly exposed by this attempted lynching. Its perpetrators were not a small fringe, but a sick society, racist to the core.