By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Originally published in In Jerusalem in The Jerusalem Post November 21, 2014
“If you go further I can’t guarantee your safety.” The man in the gray track suit who spoke broken English was trying to be helpful. “The house of the family of the cousins who were killed is up the road, but I don’t know if you should go.”
Born in Jebl Mukaber, he had gathered with his two friends this morning when they heard that two men from the southeast Jerusalem neighborhood had been killed after carrying out a bloody terrorist attack in Har Nof in which four were killed and many injured. (A fifth man later died of his wounds.) “We were shocked, but you have to expect it,” said the man who refused to give his name. “Tensions are high, look at those kids over there, they are waiting for Mista’arivim [YAMAS, the Border Police’s undercover unit] with stones.”
When we entered the neighborhood, we had to navigate several improvised roadblocks of stones set up by these kids. A burning trash can with tires in it gave off a noxious smell around the bend of the steep hill. “Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] doesn’t want peace. He is doing nothing towards this two-state thing. Look at al-Aksa Mosque and what Israel is doing there.”
These men were expressing what we would hear again and again in the next hours: Israel is the cause of the recent violence, and Israel’s government is fanning the flames. Jebl Mukaber, like many Arab neighborhoods, has been on edge since this summer’s Gaza war. This tension goes back years. The terrorist who killed eight at Merkaz Harav in 2008, Alaa Abu Dhein, was also from the neighborhood.
In February, a man’s home was demolished after the city proved it had been built without a permit. Some residents, such as Muhammad Ali Zerth, have had their homes demolished or been threatened with demolition several times due to building without permits. Although the city recently installed street signs, many of the streets are steep and in disrepair, and the neighborhood has a feeling of neglect.
Yet residents and family members assured the media that Uday and Rassan Abu Jamal were not affiliated with any “organization” or political group, meaning Fatah or Hamas. A man who said he was a cousin of the two perpetrators and gave his name as Alaldin Abu Jamal said the family was in shock over what had happened. “My cousins were quiet and worked in construction and interior design; one had three children.”
After the attack, which occurred at 7 a.m. at a Har Nof synagogue, police and security personnel entered Jebl Mukaber and detained nine male members of the family. By noon the family had selected a small plot of land near their house to host a mourners’ tent. When we arrived, only men were in attendance. Many of those in the neighborhood had not gone to work. “This didn’t happen in a vacuum. Yesterday an [Egged] bus driver was murdered, and there is the issue of al-Aksa,” said one of the men.
Bus driver Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni had been found hanged on Monday morning. Protesters in Abu Dis and other parts of east Jerusalem assumed it was a murder, similar to that of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir this summer, and they rioted. Pictures of the autopsy released by the family, who had been invited to see the body, were passed around on social media as “proof” he was murdered, even as Israeli authorities concluded it was a suicide based on an autopsy at the L. Greenberg Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir. According to those gathered, this likely was one of the sparks that set off the two cousins. “It makes us very angry,” explained the 32-year-old Abu Jamal, a black-and-white keffiyeh dangling from his neck.
Other men explained that the media are ignoring what is done to east Jerusalem residents. “Look how the police treat us,” they said. A white tethered blimp was hovering just north of the area as if to cement this feeling, and police had cordoned off entrances to the village from East Talpiot. Salah-a-Din, a mild-mannered engineer who comes from the area, agreed. “The situation has no future.” Did he blame Jews or the government? “Maybe the Jews are worse sometimes than the government, they hate us.” A young woman from Isawiya felt that Israel “doesn’t want this cycle of violence to stop.” She is a student at Hebrew University. “Arabs are fed up, we want justice.”