Lynch Mobs in Jerusalem

Against the Current, No. 30, January/February 1991

Witold Jedlicki and Israel Shahak

MOB VIOLENCE AGAINST the Arab began on Monday, August 6, in at least three separate locations in the Jewish city of Jerusalem, when the police assisted by civilian volunteers were still searching for two missing Jewish adolescents Ronen Karamani and Lior Tubal.

Presuming the boys had fallen victim to Arab terrorists, spontaneously assembled Jewish gangs began to “retaliate” by throwing stones at passing can and buses with the blue license plates of the Occupied Territories. At the same time, the Arab village of Beit Safafa (which lies partly within pre-1967 Israel and was annexed in 1967 along with all of Arab Jerusalem) was attacked by crowds from surrounding Jewish neighborhoods. The villagers, however, put up fierce resistance.

On Tuesday, August 7, rioting resumed with much greater intensity. An attempt was made to set fires in the Arab suburb of Silwan, some distance from the Jewish city. Arab cars were no longer just stoned but were stopped, overturned and burned, their passengers beaten up, their property vandalized. Many were injured badly enough to need hospitalization; one man subsequently died.

Gangs bean searching for Arab employees of various Jewish service facilities in the city, with the intention of beating them likewise. Jewish employers had to protect their laborers, usually by hiding them. All these actions were well underway when at 2:15 pm came a radio announcement that the sadistically mutilated bodies of the two missing Jewish youngsters had been found in a valley north of Jerusalem.

From then on the pogromist crowds, feeling they were proven right, began to behave with unprecedented savagery. Arab children and adolescents were no longer spared: One of them, particularly badly injured, was left for hours untended as he lay on the edge of the street, with nobody from the crowd calling for an ambulance. There was an attempt to organize “revenge marches” into the Arab city, but in the end the “marchers” dispersed after throwing more stones.

There were significant innovations in the content of slogans the pogromists shrieked and chanted. The traditional “Death to the Arabs” was increasingly replaced by “Murder to the Arabs.” Even more significantly, the crowd could often be heard screaming “Kill all Arab babies” and “Rape all Arab women.”

On Wednesday, August 8 there was more of the same, but already at a somewhat lesser intensity, clearly due to the changed attitude of the police (see below). But attacks on press reporters (chided as “friends of Arafat”) continued. Also, in a number of instances, a person believed by the crowd to be an Arab and accordingly beaten turned out to be a Jew. The victims of such “beating by error” were then invariably offered profuse apologies, food and drink, Mend-ship, etc. Oddly, most of them accepted with good grace.

On Thursday, August 9, the rioting was sporadic and slowly petered out.

Outside Jerusalem, violence occurred in only one place, in Hebron, where some “action” was initiated by Rabbi Meir Kahane’s “Kach” movement, which has its stronghold in the neighboring settlement of Kiryat Arba. One Arab pregnant woman was killed by shooting from a distance in this Kahanist-fomented violence.

The above are the facts as reported by the Hebrew press.

1. The Political Background

Prime Minister Shamir appeared on TV, immediately after the two boys’ bodies were found, to express outrage at their murder and to condemn Palestinian terrorism in the fiercest terms. A similar statement by President Herzog was read on TV. Neither statement contained a single reference to the pogrom already underway.

This omission intrigued some, and questions were asked. Responding in Shamir’s name, his spokesman Yossi Ahimeir explained that “Shamir had confidence in the common sense of the publie and relied on the police’s ability to restore calm.” Herzog pleaded illness. Both kept silent until the end of the riots, in spite of appeals to denounce them.

Palestinian leadership in East Jerusalem also behaved rather curiously. They did belatedly publish a statement condemning the murder of the two Jewish youths, but in terms too carefully balanced to offend anyone. No Palestinian group had taken responsibility for the killing of the two boys; still, it was disingenuous on the part of Al-Fair (the largest Arab paper in East Jerusalem–ed.) to claim (August 13) that no conclusive proof existed that the boys were victims of terror.

Some Israeli figures made their own statements. Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, whom the rioters virtually idolized, stated on August 8, when the lynchings were still in full swing, that “150 leaders from the Territories should have been deported that very night” (Yedioth Ahronot, August 8) Again, not the slightest attempt to restrain the raging crowds!

Other politicians were reported by Yigal Sarna (Yedioth Ahranot, August 10) as expressing their “understanding” for the sense of grievance (of the mobs). The inspiration flowing from the top level of political authority may partly explain the philosophical detachment of the police from controlling the riot. But as Reuven Padatzur observed in Haaretz of August 13, the police ranks were pervaded by the ethos of retaliation against the Arabs.

At the beginning, the police took pride in their leniency toward the rioters. During August 6-7 they made no arrests; a very few rioters were detained and almost immediately released. Police Superintendent Yaakov Terner kept busy making announcements to the press and radio, informing the public that his leniency was a way to calm down the excited crowds. (Kol Ha’ir, August 10) Thus the rioters could repeatedly hear over the radio that the police “understood” their feelings (unsigned Haaretz editorial, “Lethal Restraint,” August 12).

Only on the third day did police begin making arrests—still not many—which had some deterrent effect on further violence. In all only about fifty of an estimated 10,000 rioters were arrested, and only twelve police files actually opened. Among the fifty were two persons–a young mother of a one-year-old baby, and a fourteen-year-old youngster—who were responsible for the death of an Arab cook dragged out of his car on a Jerusalem street and fatally beaten.

Yet significantly, even at this stage there were no arrests of Yeshiva students whose overall proportions in the rioting crowd were enormous. Uzi Benziman (Haaretz, August 12) explained this by political considerations: The police knew that while no secular politician would overly strain himself in defense of secular rioters religious government ministers would immediately intercede on behalf of any arrested Yeshiva students. By sparing religious rioters, the police spared trouble for themselves.

The riots showed with particular clarity that the overall pattern of discrimination against the Palestinian population of Jerusalem was systematically applied in law enforcement (Reuven Padatzur in Haaretz, August 13). Nurit Vorgaft (Kol Ha’ir, August 10) noted another ominous impact of the riots, on the Jewish protest movement of the homeless. (A large number of Israeli Jews, particularly young couples and the working poor, have lost their apartments as the influx of government-subsidized Russian immigrants drove rents upward, and have set up tent cities in protest—ed.)

In her opinion, the riots helped divert attention from the housing shortage, and isolated the homeless in their tent communities from sources of public support Furthermore, their occupants became mortally afraid of a potential Arab terrorist assault The number of tents began to dwindle until the police on August 24 evicted the homeless from their tent community in Pardes Katz, north of Tel Aviv, with violence unseen from the police during the Jerusalem riots.

2. The Question of Standards

The Hebrew press, which by and large kept its sanity throughout these days of madness, has devoted much space to examining the standards by which the riots and rioters were judged and treated. Following is a brief survey of press commentary.

An unsigned editorial “This is Jerusalem” in Hadashot of August 9 points to the difference between police treatment of Arab and Jewish rioters The normal methods of dispersing Arab rioters are tear gas, clubs, rubber bullets. (Obviously this analysis was written prior to the use of machine guns in Jerusalem on October 8—ed.) The methods that the police, even at the last stage, used against Jewish rioters still consisted mainly of talk and persuasion.

Ylgal Sarna in Yedioth Ahranot of August 10 tells a story of an army officer who stopped a rioting Yeshiva student carrying a large stone. “I took the stone from him and told him to go home,” recounted the officer after the student told him he meant to use that stone against Arabs. “How would the same officer behave towards an Arab carrying a large stone?” asks Sarna.

Bassam Aid and Max Levita in Kol Ha’ir of August 10 point out that “hundreds of Arabs were arrested as suspects in connection with the murder of the two Jewish boys,” and contrast it with the failure to arrest murder and violence suspects during the riots. Mikhal Sela in Davar of August 17 observed that the murder of the pregnant Arab woman in Hebron had been barely mentioned by radio, and not at all by TV (both state-owned)—quite a contrast with publicity accorded to Jewish victims!

Mikhal Sela in this same report, and an anonymous reporter in Haaretz of August 17, revealed that both the murdered Hebron woman and the cook from Silwan were, by order of the authorities, buried in secrecy at nighttime, according to regulations regarding the burial of killed terrorists. Jewish victims of Arab terrorism are never buried in a manner preventing publicity, the demonstration of grief and free access to the places of burial, whether at the time of their funeral or afterward.

One double standard is ordained by existing legislation Families of terror victims are entitled bylaw to monetary compensation from the government. But the law restricts eligibility for such compensation to victims of the “enemy” terror alone. Thus no victim of Jewish tenor, whether a Jew or an Arab, is eligible.

3. Demography of the Rioters

As numerous press commentators observed Jewish rioters came exclusively from two pools: the lowest income groups concentrated in the most deprived neighborhoods, and the religious communities of the so-called Hued (extreme orthodox) persuasion.

The former characteristic has as much to do with urban topography as with social class. Several of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods served as focal points of the riots; the bulk of the violence occurred either within them or along thoroughfares connecting the city with surrounding Arab villages where there is much Arab commuter traffic. It was obvious that within such neighborhoods the value attached to anti-Arab violence were pronounced enough to amount to a social pressure upon individuals to engage in some.

Massive participation of the Haredim was a novel aspect of this wave of riots that initially caused much surprise. The Haredim are known as a violence-prone population, but their violence has been either internal, or intended to force fellow Jews to observe this or that Torah commandment, or to punish Jewish transgressors for their sins.

For years immemorial they have stood aloof from the state, from Zionism, from Israel’s military pursuits and territorial expansion. While they have always despised the Palestinians (as they do all Gentiles), they have not been overly concerned with them. Rather, they have been passively waiting for the Messiah to free the country from all non-Jews, as an act of Cod without human help. An attempt to explain their unexpected massive participation in the anti-Arab violence will be made below (section 7).

Most notable was the absence of certain populations from the rioting. With the exception of the “Kach” movement of Rabbi Kahane (discussed below), the established right wing took no part This in-eluded the militant-Zionist part of the religious public, normally so eager to perpetrate anti-Arab atrocities in their quest to help redeem the Messiah redeem the Land of Israel from non-Jewish presence.

These elements were notable for their absence from the riots, as were the most fascistic transfer-advocating elements of the secular rightwing. The same was true of the settlers, whether religious or secular, who for some reason felt that their job is to beat the Arabs in the Territories but not in Jerusalem. Notable also was the absence of throngs of military professionals and ex-professionals, normally taking delight not only in committing atrocities but in designing more and grander “strategic” ones for the future.

The best explanation would be that all these categories felt nothing but contempt for riff-raff known for its propensity to brazenly shirk its army service obligations. (Members of the Haredi communities are exempted from military service to devote full-time to religious study and observance—ed.) The messianists and the jingoists apparently feared they would be demeaned if found in such company.

4. Emotions of the Rioters

It is easy to say that the pogromists hated the Arabs, but much more difficult to explain their hatred. Economic explanations won’t do. If they were valid, Arab property would have been looted. In fact, Arab property was vandalized but no looting was reported.

Hadashot of August 9 carried an interview with a fifteen-year-old Haredi pogromist who ”expropriated” a beaten Arab of his sunglasses. He thought of using these sunglasses, but after some thought decided to smash them, because “I felt disgust These sunglasses belonged to an Arab! I felt that I could never use them [after him].”

This may be just a single case, not lending itself to generalizations, but it doesn’t look like one.

Some Israeli psychologists sought to explain hatred of Arabs in terms of the feelings of the poor and powerless about those who are still poorer and weaker. While partially valid, this hypothesis ultimately doesn’t explain ritualistic aspects of the violence, like the refusal to use the “fainted” property, or its expressive aspects, like the widely reported (e.g. by Tom Segev in Haaretz of August 10) sense of pride derived from participation in violence, or (reported by Rolly Rosen in Kol Ha’ir of August 10) the sense of enormous pleasure derived from it.

In our own opinion, a better explanation would focus on official indoctrination that in Israel invariably dignifies Jewishness and casts some aspersion on Gentile-ness in general and Arab-ness in particular.

There are differences in degree: religious indoctrination inculcates this view much more emphatically and insistently, but secular indoctrination is by no means free from it. In a very real sense, the August riots can be said to have been the ultimate product of this indoctrination as refracted in the untutored minds of its recipients.

Quite possibly, rioters also vented frustrations over the continuation of the Intifada, which they attributed to the presumed leniency of the government.

5. Cognitions of the Rioters

Undoubtedly the rioters viewed themselves as a political vanguard, forcing the government’s hand into adopting the transfer ‘solution’ (mass expulsion of Palestinians—ed.), which’ according to all the polls is now supported by more than 50% of Jewish respondents.

This needs to be understood in the context of the entrenched notion of the Israeli popular culture, that the state as well as the land “belongs to the Jews,” with the corollary that the fate of the resident non-Jews depends on what the Jews may “democratically” decide.

Concepts such as equality of citizens under the law, or the rights of minorities, are totally alien not just to the pogromists, but to an average Israeli-Jewish man of the street as well. The fact that the rioters had the transfer in their minds can be directly inferred from their constant screaming at their victims ‘Go to Iraq,’ ‘Co to Saudi Arabia’ and the like.

This explains a certain ambivalence in the rioters’ attitudes toward the government. At the beginning the rioters certainly perceived the present ultra-right government as “theirs.” They expected the government to encourage their action, and interpreted the leadership’s silence and leniency of the police (see above) as clear confirmation of these expectations.

The idyll gradually cracked, especially after the police made the first arrests. Then the rioters suddenly recalled that the police was responsible for the failure to protect “us” with sufficient security against Arab terrorism; and the rare government figures (Minister Avner Shaky of the National Religious Party and vice-Minister Geula Cohen of the HaTehiya Party) who happened to confront the enraged crowds were blamed for the same.

But there was more to it. As reported by Yoram Levi in Darer of August 8, in many confrontations the police and army were also blamed for siding with the Arabs against “us.” According to the same source, the scream “this is a police state” could also be heard quite often (a typical expression in Israel of grievances of delinquent milieus against law enforcement).

6. The Fate of Interceders

Interventions on behalf of Arabs under attack were many, undertaken under a variety of circumstances and for different reasons. Indoors, on private property premises, they tended to be successful, while on the street the mob was not in the mood to listen to pleas and arguments.

The mob did have good reasons to perceive some intercessions as halfhearted or hypocritical. The paramount case is that of the police, who repeatedly interceded in defense of the attacked Arabs and ceaselessly pleaded for restraint—while talking sweetly and appealing to rioters’ reason.

A particularly curious case is described by Bassaam Aid and Max Levita in Kol Ha’ir of August 10. After the first mob attacks on members of the media—who were attacked and beaten up as “Arafat’s friends”—the government press office did provide reporters with police escorts. But the escorts talked to the crowd gently, with the predictable effect that media people continued to fall prey to beatings.

With rare exceptions, political authority figures were conspicuous by their absence from the scene of riots. Most intercessions were made by ordinary Jewish civilians. The fathers of the two murdered boys were in this category. Both of them behaved most honorably by begging the mob to stop.

Al Hamishmar of August 15 carried a detailed description of two intercessions. Avner Schlesinger, an army officer in uniform, was a genuine interceder. The second, Avi Alsam, member of Likud and the chairman of a neighborhood council, merely tried to protect a single old and handicapped Arab sanitation worker of his neighborhood.

Alsam later told Al Hamishmar and other press interviewers that the crowds should have discriminated between young and healthy Arabs, who deserved to be beaten, and old and sick Arabs who deserved to be spared.

The result of their intercessions: both Schlesinger and Alsam were beaten up.

7. The Haredi Factor

The above-mentioned totally unexpected massive participation of the Haredim in rioting remains to be explained. But one point must be clarified first In the Haredi community, nothing happens spontaneously.

In every matter the Haredim consult their spiritual authorities, the Torah Sages. There are several rival councils of Torah sages, and the Haredi community is deeply internally divided by these allegiances. Yet all Haredim have Torah sages of their own, whom they consult about any problem, no matter how trifling, and whose judgment they obey unquestioningly.

During the riots, the Torah sages of all persuasions kept absolute silence. (The two Chief Rabbis of Israel did condemn the riots, but they are recognized as spiritual authority only by the relatively secularized religious Zionists, not by the Haredi.) The silence of Torah sages was a clear sign that the inspiration for Haredi participation in rioting came from on high.

Haredi participation in the riots was analyzed in depth by Nadav Shragai in Haarelz of August 22, who first of all observed that in all past polls taken among the Jews of Jerusalem, the Haredim expressed much stronger anti-Arab sentiments than the average.

The point made by Shiagai is unobjectionable. Being very resented by the rest of the population, the Haredim succeeded through rioting in somewhat breaching the wall of their isolation from society at large. Their presence and activism was welcomed by secular rioters. Rather naturally, they tended to respond to signs of cordiality extended to them by trying to surpass the seculars in zeal and thirst for Arab blood.

The interviews with Haredi adolescents that appeared in Hadashot of August 9 (and many other media reports) excellently document their zest for cruelty and destruction. One detail of these interviews is worth mentioning.

Most Haredi youth are exempted from army service on the ground of their studies in religious educational establishments. Consequently the Hadashof interviewer asked them why their studies prevent them from serving in the army, but not from beating Arabs on the street. After duly consulting some sages or other elders, they came up with the answer.

By virtue of pleasing God, their Torah studies are a more effective way of defending the country and preventing the Gentiles from doing any harm to the Jews than their army service could possibly be and that their rioting amounts to no more than a brief intermission in their studies, which in no way could change their way of life, whereas their service in the army could.

Shragai seeks to explain the Haredi rioting in terms of urban geography. He observes, first, that due to their location next to the Arab city, their neighborhoods are frequent targets of Arab terrorism, but the presence of Arabs in those neighborhoods is rare. In order to encounter any Arab on whom to wreak vengeance, they had no choice but to get out from their neighborhoods and merge with the seculars.

Furthermore, Shragai points out that the bulkof the seculars they merged with during the riots are inconsistent observers of religious traditions. The Haredim nowadays seek a rapprochement with such milieus, in the hope of recruiting converts to their sects.

In this Shragai is probably right Rather questionable, however, is his attribution of the growing Haredi hatred of Arabs to the fact that the recently erected Haredi housing projects are directly adjacent (across the “Green Line”) to the belt of new Arab housing. This proximity, according to Shragai, acts as a constant irritant.

This can at best be a secondary factor, however, compared to the effects of Haredi indoctrination that Shragai ignores. From early childhood, every Haredi child constantly hears that the difference between Jews and Gentiles is cosmic, no less than between humans and animals.

From early childhood he learns that his behavior toward Jew and Gentile should be guided by entirely different, in many cases entirely opposite, standards. From early childhood he absorbs a thoroughly dehumanized image of the Gentile. No wonder that years of such indoctrination bear fruit, both in the rising appetite for violence when opportunity strikes, and in terms of general mental debilitation.

8. A Note on the Kahane Factor

The presence of Rabbi Kahane’s followers among the rioters was highly publicized, but a number of commentators (e.g. Lily Galili in Haarelz of August 17 or Yair Nehorai in Yerushalaim of same date) doubt if it was in any way decisive or even important.

The proof of Kahane’s ultimate powerlesssness came on August 13, when his movement called for resumption of rioting, but the police this time firmly insisted that it wouldn’t tolerate any. Nothing happened.

Noam Federman, head of the Jerusalem branch of Kach, boasted (interview in Hadashot, August 8) that he had plenty of money and most up-to-date technology at his disposal for overhearing police radio communications and directing his faithful to various destinations accordingly. (Overhearing police radio communications is a punishable act, yet done routinely by the settlers with total impunity.)

Even if some of Federman’s boasts were true, they in no way affected the spontaneous character of the riots, from which any element of planning and organization was absent. As despicable as the intentions of Kahane’s followers were, their numbers were too paltry and their organizational resources too inadequate to make any difference. Their boasts of having provided the riots with leadership are totally groundless.

January-February 1991, ATC 30