Though my trips to Jerusalem have become rather habitual, the initial wonder I felt upon first arriving in the city has not faded. It is, however, rather difficult for me to continue expressing in terms that aren’t boring for the reader how wonderful the city is; how it feels to walk the paved streets, to come upon churches with beautiful gardens growing slightly wild, to feel the change of atmosphere as you move from east to west and back again, to see the religious and the secular occupying the same space without sharing it.
So, instead, I want to write this time about the first violent incident I have witnessed since my arrival in Israel. Though I have seen evidence of settler violence and witnessed antagonistic behaviour, though I have heard of stone throwing and conflict in Jerusalem, I had not actually witnessed any violence itself. That is, I had not witnessed any violence until Thursday night.
I was sitting in a small old graveyard/park with a number of Palestinian friends and acquaintances, we were six in total. We were minding our own business – talking and drinking and listening to music – when a group of about 20 or 30 youths started running down the path cutting through the middle of the park. “Don’t worry, they’re just kids fooling around”, one of the guys I was with said. However, at the bottom of the park the “kids fooling around” started picking up stones and throwing them at one kid who was sprinting away. Noticing that a number of the “kids” (they were not all kids, they were teenagers who seemed to be between the ages of 17 and 19) were wearing kippahs and had the strings (I don’t know what they’re called, they’re from an undershirt religious Jews wear) dangling down the sides of their pants, I asked “are they throwing stones at the kid because he’s Arab?” “No,” my friend said, “I don’t think he’s Arab.”
The atmosphere, however, was no longer as casual and fun as it had been. We all watched the teenagers amble back up through the park in the direction they had come from. In Hebrew, they started shouting things joyfully at each other, the only word I could understand was “Arab.” One of my friends then looked at me and said “if there is trouble, you have to go hide behind a tree.”
“Trouble?! What trouble?! There will be no trouble!” I started to get really scared. Most of the teenagers had already climbed the stairs to the streets above, but two of the guys I was with headed to the path and spoke with a few of the other teenagers. They only said things – they didn’t throw any punches, they didn’t throw any stones, they only said things that I was too far away to hear (I was later told that they had said something like “Hey! I’m Arab! What are you going to do about it?!”). The teenagers then started running to join their friends. Good, I thought, it’s over with no problems. How very naive of me.
Next thing I know, my friend was ushering me down among the trees away from the path and the teenagers who I thought had left were streaming down the steps towards the four Palestinians I was with. Stones were being chucked at them. My friend sat me down, grabbed a rock and ran to join his friends. Not knowing what to do – half laughing in shock and fear – I ran behind the building to get a better look, to see where the teenagers were standing and to be sure that my friends and acquaintances were unharmed. The whole thing lasted probably one and a half minutes. The twenty or thirty Jewish youth ran away from the five Arabs.
Then, relieved but still waiting among the trees and unsure of what to do, my friend swept down, grabbed me by the elbow and said “hurry up! Let’s go!” I dutifully followed, completely out of my element, as the group split in two, with us heading to the street via one exit and the others via another. Then I heard the sirens of a police car and, heart pounding and still half-laughing, I did my best to look normal and keep walking. Once the cops passed without stopping, we turned back and reunited with the other guys, all of whom apologised to me for having to witness the situation.
“You’re hanging out with Palestinians, don’t you know, we’re terrorists!” one of them told me.
Thankfully, no one among us was hurt. I don’t know about the teenagers, I hope no injuries were grave but I sincerely hope that one day they are arrested for such behaviour. As for the one, lone runner who had been the victim of their wrath, an ambulance drove past, sirens blaring, in his direction. I don’t know what happened to him. I do know a little better, however, how to react the next time something of the sort happens (hopefully, though, it won’t).
You may also note that the tag “terrorism” is attached to this post. That is because I have decided that if Palestinians who throw stones are to be called terrorists (instead of vandals or troublemakers or rebels or whatever they may be called) then Israeli or non-Israeli Jews in Israel who do the same thing are to be deemed as such. In that case, the thirty or so teenagers are terrorists and this was a terror attack – first on one young man and then on five others. Unacceptable.