Crisis In Jerusalem

Again, Palestinians armed with whatever was at hand attacked Jews in Jerusalem, killing four citizens and fatally wounding a police officer before achieving martyrdom. Again, the Netanyahu government demanded that President Abbas denounce the murders and end incitement. Abbas, again, has repudiated “all acts of violence against civilians,” distinguishing himself from Hamas and bowing to American pressure but implying—as if he needed to—that the Israeli Army, police, and settlers have committed atrocities of their own. Again, the State Department has issued its condemnation in a tone of mandatory righteousness. In Jerusalem, anxiety is mounting. “I know why they do it, and I know why we do it,” my wife, Sidra, once said to me. “And I don’t know what to do.”

Last week, it was an attack on a rabbinic zealot at the Begin Heritage Center, across the street from the Cinematheque, where the remaining Jerusalemites with secular tendencies take in a film by Mike Leigh or Denys Arcand. The place is a ten-minute walk from our home, in the German Colony. A block away is the former Café Hillel, which was bombed in September, 2003. Across the main street, Emeq Refaim (The Valley of the Ghosts), is another café, Caffit, where two suicide bombers were foiled on two separate occasions. At the summit of the gentle hill overlooking the valley, near Terra Sancta, in the Rehavia quarter, another café, Moment, which was bombed in 2002. Walk another ten minutes, into the city center, and you come to a pizzeria that was bombed twice. The nearby Ben-Yehuda Street mall was bombed. When I draw an imaginary circle of a couple of miles around our neighborhood, it encompasses the sites of five bus bombings. The cafeteria near Sidra’s office, at the Hebrew University, on the ridge above the entrapped neighborhood of Issawiya, was bombed. You remember the pattern and—if you are not family—forget the names.

Robert Brym, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, studied all hundred and thirty-eight Palestinian suicide bombings between September, 2000, and mid-July, 2005. He concluded that they represented less than a quarter of the attempted missions—most were foiled by Israeli forces—and that the vast majority of the Palestinian youths who killed, whatever their ideological predispositions, had themselves lost a friend or a close relative. During those five years, Israeli forces undertook some two hundred assassination attempts, eighty per cent of which hit their targets, often causing, Brym writes, considerable “collateral damage.” This time, in the suburb of Har Nof, three of the four victims were rabbis; their murderers are said to have been enraged by the rightists in the Netanyahu government agitating for access to the Temple Mount, also the Muslims’ Noble Sanctuary. Yeshiva students walk around Jerusalem wearing T-shirts with an illustration of a crane removing the golden dome from the Mosque of Omar. (The caption says, “Sometimes, it is permitted to remove the kippa,” the Hebrew word for both a dome and skullcap.) At the news of the murders, some residents of the East Jerusalem suburb of Jabel Mukhaber set off fireworks. There is vague talk of the national conflict turning into religious war.

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