Sunday, March 9, 2008

Jabel Mukhaber

Thursday night, just at the news hour, a young gunman attacked Yeshivat Mercaz Harav. He entered the library and opened fire on teenage boys studying Talmud, for God’s sake. The toll, if that’s the word for it (or as if that’s the end of it), was eight dead and as many seriously injured.

My wife Sidra and I watched, glued to the screen: ambulances flashing, their benches filling with bloodied youths, then driving off—actually, one ambulance and one youth, for the images played in a continuous loop, the way TV newsrooms provide the illusion of real time reporting these days; so we watched, again and again, the peculiar gait and luminous orange vest of one emergency worker, as he rushed to catch up to the same stretcher, walking the same twenty yards, over and over, while the voices of reporters speculated about numbers of terrorists, numbers of dead, numbers of minutes and bullets it took to kill the terrorist—an urgent chatter delivered with the slightly melodramatic tone of fetching young news anchors who, you sense, believed such misfortune must be convincingly felt, but who do not really believe it could ever really happen to stars such as themselves.

FINALLY, SOME FACTS came in. There was one gunman, not two. There was no longer an imminent threat of collateral attacks in Jerusalem. The gunman had not worn an exploding vest. He had come, not from Gaza or Nablus, but from Jabel Mukhaber in East Jerusalem—a “citizen of Israel,” the anchor said laconically.

Sidra and I could only look at one another, the words Jabel Mukhaber numbing us like Novocain. For we had been to the town several times during the past few years, as part of a citizens’ group supporting its residents’ petition to change the route of the security wall—a wall now cutting through the town, pinching off and isolating one of its neighborhoods, Sheik Sa’ad.

We have been hosted by Jabel Mukhaber’s families and community leaders, who had warmly fed us and expressed their gratitude. We had collected signatures, neighbors for neighbors, on Emeq Refaim, the main commercial street near our home, perhaps a seven minute drive from Jabel Mukhaber. Just a month ago, we had been at a session of Israel’s High Court, as the lawyer for the town, Giath Nasir, had presented the case against the route of the fence once again. (My rather fuzzy pictures from the court are what you see here.)

In January 2005, moreover, I wrote about the town in Harper’s:

While [Ariel] Sharon is being depicted by the zealots he once coddled as caving in to Palestinians, the route of his fence is already responsible for the migration of thousands of them. It is creating Palestinian enclaves separated from Jerusalem and from one another—enclaves surrounded by Jewish settlements that are linked by exclusive highways and bypass roads. It leaves hinterland towns separated from metropolitan centers, a rupture that denies any Palestinian business the prospect of viability. About two miles from my home is the neighborhood of Jabel Mukhaber. The fence is cutting it off from its sister village, Sheik Sa'ad, whose 2,000 residents are themselves cut off from the rest of the West Bank by steep cliffs. They are in danger of being “strangled.” One leader of Jabel Mukhaber told me that a third of those people—their own family members—have left, while the remaining villagers are living off the gifts of family abroad.

FOR THE RECORD, the residents of Jabel Mukhaber, as residents of East Jerusalem, living inside the wall, are not citizens of Israel. They hold blue identity cards, which the Israeli TV anchors casually assumed Palestinians covet, and which supposedly made them Israeli by some kind of historical inertia. These Palestinians do have certain privileges: the residents of Jabel Mukhaber (though not, ironically, the residents of Sheik Sa’ad, which the wall is supposed to impede, and from which the murderer did not come) have unrestricted access to Israel.

East Jerusalem residents
qualify for social security, health care, and so forth, so most neighboring Palestinians do covet the blue card, which hardly makes them Israelis or grateful to Israel. They also inhabit a kind of legal twilight zone. They may vote in municipal elections, which most boycott. They feel trapped. Jabel Mukhaber is a scar on the map, a world away from adjoining Talpiot, and mostly neglected by the Jerusalem municipality, whose area Israel’s government haphazardly quadrupled after 1967.

What I remember most about the time I spent in the town was one conversation I had with an older man, who told me sadly that much of his family has abandoned it, but also told me with pride that one son, in his early 20s, was now studying in New York. A picture stood behind him; the young man was formally posed, but was wearing, oddly, an Islanders hockey sweater. The murderer, Alaa Abu Dheim, was himself barely 20 years old, and had been arrested by Israeli authorities four months ago, then released two months later. He had been a driver for Mercaz Harav. He had become, in his way, “very religious” and had not been sleeping, his family said. His family hung out Hamas flags yesterday, as a sign of mourning, which the police immediately took down.

ALAA ABU DHEIM’S act was sociopathic. That is obvious enough. Directed, or even just rationalized, by Hamas leaders, it was a crime against humanity—I mean the humanity of this benighted young man, as well as that of the young students he killed. Nothing Hamas has said—that Mercaz Harav is a center of settler ideology, that the Israeli army had killed civilians in going after missile launchers in Gaza the week before—can justify, or even explain, really, how a young man throws away his life in an ecstasy of violence, murdering people he might well have driven around in recent months.

It brings to mind, in a kind of horrible symmetry, the influence of settler leaders on a depressed, fanatic youth by the name of Eden Natan-Zada who—during the week before the Gaza disengagement, having drawn close to followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane on the settlement of Tapuach—boarded a bus in the Israeli Arab town of Shfaram and opened fire with an automatic rifle, killing four people, and injuring twelve, before he was himself beaten to death by the mob that surrounded the bus. The founders of Tapuach and the current bosses of Gaza are true brothers.

And I confess to feeling remorseful that I supported Giath Nasir’s claim that Jabel Mukhaber’s residents, having never participated in violence, did not constitute a security threat. For I never really believed an attack like this was impossible, nor could any seasoned observer be surprised by it. It was Jabel Mukhaber I was thinking of when I wrote in Slate in 2004 that the conditions of young people in East Jerusalem were a kind of Miracle-Gro for random sociopathic behavior, that Israel's security fence would eventually encourage more atrocities than it foils.

Some imagine the wall a hedge against peace talks failing—or, indeed, an alternative to negotiating seriously at all. It is actually trapping over 250,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem in a nether world they will not accept. “The problem with the government's logic,” I quoted Middle East scholar Menachem Klein, “is that entrapped Palestinians will fight—they have nowhere to go.”

And now we know what fighting means: that one (then two, then three) in a hundred young men will spurn the New York Islanders and seek, instead, an ecstatic death. Friday morning my barber told me—vindicated, he thought—that the attack only proves what is wrong with the ninety-nine who did not attack. “They teach their children to kill us from birth,” he said. This morning Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli radio that the attack proves Israel has nobody to deal with, that where the IDF vacates, Hamas will come, and talk of peace really means missiles from the West Bank.

And what of Israeli Arabs, if things continue in this way?, he was asked. Netanyahu continued answering in a confident tone, and I can't for the life of me remember what he said.


bar_kochba132 said...

Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav has denied that he was a driver for the yeshiva (and what if he was?). Your piece here correctly points out that Jebel Mukaber's residents are entitled to Israeli social security benefits and can move around Israel freely, unlike the Arabs of Judea/Samaria outside the wall. You point out that they are not full citizens, although in reality, they were offered that option in the past. Few Arabs accepted it. The implication is that the anger of the people there is due to this "limbo" situation and the only solution is to turn those areas over to Palestinian rule (I also heard that the terrorist came from a well-to-do family, so, once again the "poverty causes terrorism" canard is shattered). In the Jerusalem Post a reporter commented how people in Jebel Mukaber are "proud" of the murderer.
In a previous posting, you quoted Prof. Sammy Smooha's findings that says many (something like half) of the Israeli Arabs, (i.e. those who are full citizens) do want to intergrate into Israeli society. Thus, you favor Israel giving up Jerusalem, but not the Arab-populated parts of the Triangle, the Galil or the Negev. For you, everything revolves around the Israeli teudat zehut (ID card). You believe that the Arabs who have it, really, deep down, want your vision of a secular, globalized Israel and want to turn their backs on their conservative Arab/Islamic culture which feels revulsion for those values you are offering them (and the Jews of Israel for that matter). The Jerusalem Arabs, who don't have that ID card, you write out of the country and want to "get rid of". If only things were that simple. I really don't know what to make of Smooha's findings, I find them to be surprising, but, in any event, the Arab Knesset members don't talk about integration, they talk openly about supporting Israel's enemies and they also want "autonomy" and "separation". Even the HADASH party which has prided itself on being a mixed Jewish/Arab party is now talking like this, even though it has a Jewish MK. In addition to that, there has been a major increase in rock throwing by Israeli Arab youth on the roads of the Galil, leading to injuries.

While you have your theory about the reason for Arab discontent and grievances, I have mine, and it is that the Arabs can not tolerate having a Jewish state present in the Arab/Muslim Dar-Al-Islam....(the realm of Islam) is an unbearable humiliation to them. It has nothing to do with economics, it has nothing to do with has everything to do with identity, something no well-meaning Israeli like yourself can ever seem to understand. Their opposition to having Jews sovereign in what they consider their turf has nothing to do with Jews being fruit salad lovers as opposed to Jello eaters, as you once quoted as being the distinguishing mark between Jews and non-Jews in the US, it goes to the very heart of how we and they view ourselves and each other.

Anonymous said...

quick typo: "In January 1985, moreover, I wrote about the town in Harper’s:" should be 2005.

Bernard Avishai said...

Thanks, again, to Anonymous, who ought to consider editing for a living. My piece in Harper's did indeed appear in 2005, not 1985, and I've corrected the slip. But it is a revealing slip, when you think about it. The arguments, injustices, and atrocities have not really changed their nature since 1985, or 1975, for that matter. Fot anyone whose being paying attention during this time, they seem to converge in an historical fog. What has changed is the urgency of the consequent disaster.

Bernard Avishai said...

"Fot anyone whose being paying attention during this time, they seem to converge in an historical fog."

To Anonymous: The above typos were not to see if you were paying attention. I am in a coffee house, on a small screen, and my friend walked in. Sorry.

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