Ohad Zwigenberg / AFP - Getty Images
Two suspects involved in an attack on Palestinian youths on August 17, are escorted by Israeli policemen into the Magistrate's Court, in Jerusalem, on Monday.
TEL AVIV – On Thursday nights in the summer, Jerusalem’s Zion Square is full of people strolling in the pedestrian precinct, listening to music, eating ice cream, and drinking.
But alcohol does not explain what happened there in the early hours of last Friday morning.
The near-fatal beating of a 17-year-old Palestinian Arab by a mob of dozens of Israeli Jews was explained in purely racial terms by a 15-year-old suspect in the attack.
“For my part he can die, he’s an Arab,” the suspect told reporters as he left court Monday. “If it was up to me I’d have murdered him. He cursed my mother.”
Eyewitnesses say about 40 young Israelis, egged on by a 15-year-old girl, chased four Arab youths, shouting racial insults and “Death to Arabs” at them.
The Arabs fled, but one, Jamal Julani, tripped and fell to the ground. At least 10 Israelis caught him and beat and kicked him until he was unconscious. He ended up in a coma for the next two days, only waking up on Sunday.
No one intervened?
The attack is shocking enough for many Israelis; but just as shocking, according to the many newspaper reports and Internet comments, is that although there were hundreds of bystanders, reportedly nobody intervened to try to stop the beating.
“There appears to be a worryingly high level of tolerance – whether explicit or implicit – for such despicable acts of violence,” the Jerusalem Post wrote in an editorial about the attack.
Seven Israeli teenagers are in custody for the beating, including four between the ages of 13 to 15, one of them a girl.
The news of the attack, described here as a “lynching,” and the detentions, have provoked chest-beating among Israelis and a debate about what influenced the attackers most: their parents or the environment outside the home.
It’s an old debate, but doubly relevant here as a perceived radicalization, believed common among Arabs, appears to be spreading among Jews, too.
Violence against Arabs has been increasing. Just the day before the Jerusalem attack, a firebomb was thrown at a Palestinian taxi driving near Bethlehem, injuring the six passengers and the driver. The police called it a “Jewish nationalist attack.”
There has been such an increase that a U.S. State Department report labels such Jewish violence against Arabs “terrorism,” a catchphrase in Israel that is rarely applied to Jews.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack on Tuesday, five days after the brutal assault.
"This is not our way, it goes against our values and we strongly condemn it," said Netanyahu, adding the state is working to bring those responsible "for this heinous crime" to justice.
Not all black and white
But there is a twist to the story. Although police said nobody tried to intervene to stop the attack, the first person to help the beaten Arab boy, according to the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, was a 23-year-old Israeli medical student called Amit. As soon as he saw the boy, Amit began resuscitation and saved the boy’s life.
“From the moment that Jamal was on the ground I was right there beside him, giving him CPR,” Amit told the newspaper. “He lost his pulse twice and I restored it.”
Amit, who said he pays for his studies by working as a barman and a teacher, added, “I didn’t do anything special. That’s my duty as a human being, helping someone who is sprawled on the ground.”
And although there is an obvious racial element to the attack, Amit’s response tells another part of the complex and troubled relationship between Arabs and Jews here.
“The day after the incident, Amit went to visit Jamal in the hospital,” the newspaper reported. “‘I saw that he was smiling and, for me, that gave me closure,’” said Amit.
“Amit is a precious person,” said Julani’s father. “Amit gave him CPR, he gave him first aid and he called for help. He saved his life.”
Jews nearly killed young Julani, and a Jew saved him. Now Israel is grappling with what lessons it can learn, and in particular, how to stop further racial violence.
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