The violence of Israel’s vigilantes

March 27, 2012

EVERY DAY, we read about Iran's nuclear program and the potential of an Israeli-led pre-emptive strike to prevent its weaponization. Broader geopolitical issues of the Middle East often overshadow the reality of the many domestic issues on the ground. Such is the present case as tensions soar in Jerusalem.

"Strong men are wanted to legally evacuate Arab squatters, after Niso Shaham [Jerusalem District Police Chief] announced he won't allow for the evacuation to take place--the Jews will do it without the police's aid." These are the words of an advertisement that right-wing Israeli activist Aryeh King slathered on walls and lampposts in the old city and Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

An Israeli court recently ruled against a Palestinian family residing on property purchased over 30 years ago by a British Jew. The ruling stated that the house must be evacuated by the end of March. But King claims that the police are failing to do their job and that he will take the law into his own hands.

Khaled Natcha Suleimen, the head of the 18-person family residing on the premises in question, argues that the property belonged to his father, who purchased it in 1935, but he has no documentation to back his claim.

Whether the property legally belongs to the Suleimen family is almost irrelevant. Plenty of Palestinians have legal proof of ownership in identifiable neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, only to be sent packing after they are awarded first-row seats to see their homes bulldozed.

Much more important, though, is the police department's failure to protect Arab citizens of Jerusalem, who are the victims of recurring vigilante violence.

The Suleimen family, faced with King's implicit threats of force, has little reason to believe that the city will prevent or punish any attack on their family. Just two days ago, some 300 notoriously racist soccer fans, supporters of Beitar Jerusalem, rushed the Malha Mall and attacked the Arab cleaning staff.

When the police were asked why no one was arrested, the response was simple: no formal complaints had been filed. Only after immense media pressure was a probe launched, though it's doubtful any of those who were beaten by the rabid throng of xenophobic fans has any faith in the department's willingness to deliver justice.

These are not new developments. Of course, on both sides of this conflict there are those who, despite their shallow attempts to paint themselves as patriots, employ the outlaw tactics of brute thugs--like the horrifying and nauseating "nationalist" stabbing of a 19-year-old female soldier on the Jerusalem light rail two weeks ago. Vigilante gangs of messianic yeshiva students used to--and perhaps still do--prowl the streets of East Jerusalem to guard against the possibility of Jewish girls being romanced by Arab men.

Many West Bank settlers, like the ideologically intoxicated American immigrant who spit on me in Hebron, live completely outside the borders of the law. And in Jerusalem, it seems, attackers are immune from punishment when they beg shop owners for sticks and knives to use against a defenseless Arab cleaning staff.

Is there any reason to believe the police will punish Aryeh King when he bypasses the legal system and amasses a big enough rabble of bullies to strong-arm the Suleimen family from their living quarters?
Patrick O. Strickland, Tel Aviv, Israel

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