5 Things the Jerusalem Municipality Should Not Do In Response to Today’s Attack

Reports are coming in right now that there was another violent attack against Israeli civilians in Jerusalem today, in which a driver intentionally ran over pedestrians near the Light Rail station in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.  This is the third week (and third Wednesday) in a row in which a violent attack has been carried out against Israelis in some part of Jerusalem: last Wednesday, with the attempted assassination of Yehuda Glick, and two Wednesdays ago, when a Palestinian driver ran over civilians near a light-rail station in East Jerusalem, killing two: a 3-month old baby named Chaya Zissel and 22 year-old woman named Keren Yamima Muscara.

Today’s attack, like the two before, is reprehensible and ugly: nothing justifies the intentional killing of civilians, which is what this case looks to be, with reports that the driver got out of his car after running people over to attack others with a metal bar. There is no moral justification for the murder of innocents. That should be said and repeated in no uncertain terms. With that, it is also important to look at the circumstances which may motivate someone to carry out such an attack. Without doing so, the likelihood of more attacks increases and multiplies.

The Jerusalem Municipality, as the governing and occupying power in all parts of Jerusalem, is the body with the most capacity to calm or stoke tensions. Frighteningly, the Municipality -in line with government policy- has repeatedly displayed its preference for the latter over the past few weeks. I want to highlight here five types of Collective Punishment that the Jerusalem Municipality has been enacting and must discontinue immediately, for the sake of everyone who lives, loves or longs for a more peaceful Jerusalem.

Police arrest a Palestinian man during "Jerusalem Day," 2014
Police arrest a Palestinian man during “Jerusalem Day,” 2014

1. Closing Al Aqsa Mosque: After the attempted assassination of Yehuda Glick, Israeli authorities closed Al Aqsa mosque to worshipers. On October 30th, Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, told ABC News that closure of the Mosque could provoke violence against Israelis by individual Palestinians.

“What we have been seeing for a few years now, but with more force in the last few months, is a kind of unstructured violence, attacks on civilians,” Zalzberg said. “They are people who are not affiliated with groups like Hamas,” he said, referring to the militant group that has dominated Gaza in recent years. “And because it’s individuals, it’s incredibly difficult for the Israeli police to prevent.” Closing the mosque “will feed this,” Zalzberg said. If the mosque compound remains closed for any length of time, Zalzberg predicts, “We will see riots.”

2. Killing Suspects/Perpetrators. After the attempted assassination of Glick, Israeli police forces killed a man named Muataz Hijazi, who they reported was a suspect in Glick’s murder, in the neighborhood of Abu Tor. Assuming Muataz Hijazi actually was the attacker -and can we know that for sure, without trial?- was there truly no choice but to kill him?

Silwan resident and activist Jawad Siyam, who spoke to the BBC News, believed that Hijazi could have been arrested:

“Very early in the morning today we heard shooting – a lot of shooting. And then some people started calling, telling someone is killed by the Israeli forces. We move to the house where we saw the body laying down and the soldiers started to close the street of the village of Silwan. The guy was attacked by many Israeli forces and was killed. For us and for people here it was very clear that Mua’taz Hijai who was killed could have been arrested. He could be arrested.”

It is hard- maybe impossible- to verify the precise circumstances in a case like this (Official Israeli sources say Hijazi fired on the police first, Palestinian sources report otherwise), but a tweet-report by +972 Magazine’s Mike Schaeffer Omer-Man illuminates the Israeli police’s policy towards suspects:

With a policy guideline like this, are the police truly going to do all they can to ensure arrest if at all possible? Why should they? Shortly after the fight, police officers were congratulated by Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino on their “professionalism.”

3. Punitive House Demolitions

The second part of Aharonovich’s statement is extremely volatile as well, and is already being enacted in parts of Jerusalem. Less than a week after the killing of Hijazi in Abu Tor, circumstances being what they were, Israeli bulldozers made their way into the same neighborhood and destroyed two homes, leaving 17 people homeless.

According to Haaretz:

Jerusalem’s municipality said it had carried out two demolition orders on partially-built structures put up without permits in an area where building is banned. “The municipality enforces the law against illegal building equally, in all parts of the city,” it said.

Right. This in the context of literally thousands upon thousands of houses in East Jerusalem being built without permits (because it is exceedingly difficult to get a permit to build in East Jerusalem if you are a Palestinian. If you’re a Jewish settler though, go right ahead). It is hard to believe that the location and timing of these demolitions were coincidental. Btselem, noting that punitive demolitions are illegal under international law, a form of collective punishment, and harmful to innocents, explains that while punitive demolitions were used from 1967 until 2005, when 2005 the Israeli Defense Minister:

…adopted the recommendation of a military commission charged with investigating the issue and ordered that home demolition as a punitive measure cease. His decision was made partly in view of the commission’s finding that that the deterrent value of demolitions had not been proven, and that the policy may in fact have the opposite effect.

The policy is not only immoral, but even the military doesn’t think they are effective. So why is the Jerusalem Municipality using them now, in times like these? (Mike Schaffer Omer-Man points out that the policy had a resurgence in early 2014; demolitions, for whatever reasons, have been going on in Jerusalem nonstop).

View of the E1 Settlement Area from A-Tur, Jerusalem, where a family's belongings are strewn on the hillside, in preparation for potential demolition (2012)
View of the E1 Settlement Area from A-Tur, East Jerusalem, where a family’s belongings are strewn on the hillside, in preparation for potential demolition (2012)

4. Building New Settlements, Moving Settlers into Palestinian Neighborhoods. 

I’m not even going to bother explaining why such moves are dangerous, incendiary and horrible. Whether is a declaration of new housing units in Jewish-only settlements like Ramot or Har Homa, or the facilitation of a massive settler infiltration into Silwan, this sends a clear message to Jerusalem’s Palestinian Arab residents: You’re not welcome here.

5. Heavy-handedness, Collective Punishment and, well, the Occupation. 

Like what? Like flinging stun grenades into homes, spraying residents with putrid water, like blocking off roads leading to Palestinian villages.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has been very clear in the purpose of his policy “compel the Palestinian public to act against Palestinian youth who have been clashing virtually daily with police in east Jerusalem neighborhoods.”

As Rabbi Barry Leff noted it in the Jerusalem Post:

”In other words, collective punishment.”


There will be a demonstration tonight, at 9:00 PM, outside of Mayor Barkat’s house in West Jerusalem (20 HaMeyasdim Street, Beit HaKerem) calling on the Mayor to stop using collective punishment, cease racist policies of settlement and occupation, and do what he can to bring calm back to our crumbling city (follow me on twitter @Moriel_RZ for updates).

Prayers for better days.


Update: 5:28 PM, Wednesday: According to the Times of Israel, the driver was affiliated with Hamas and Hamas took responsibility for the attack. While, if accurate (Hamas could simply be claiming responsibility after the fact, as a way to seem involved and relevant), this update does detract the precision of Zalzberg’s above analysis. With that, I think that his main argument still holds water.