Jerusalem Coexistence?

Violence is the New Normal in Abu Tor

Abu Tor is usually described as a calm, mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood southeast of the Jerusalem city center. But it's not so calm these days.

The news of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has hardly made it to Abu Tor, which is usually described as a "calm, mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood southeast of the Jerusalem city center." We ain't so calm these days. Since the security fence went up, the Arab population has doubled, as no one wanted to be left over on the wrong—that is, poor, violent—side. Forget the impact on the Jews; the Arab host families are feeling the heat. Imagine if you invited your family over for Passover, and they stayed on...for ten years! Ahmed down the street said casually with a wan smile, "For Ramadan, can't you get my brother in law deported?”

In this tiny neighborhood, we have seen a lot since I described the Shabbat when Arab ruffians slashed tires and broke windows on Jewish-owned cars. Since then, a car was dramatically torched in the monastery's parking lot 30 seconds up the block, in broad daylight. It seems to have belonged to the old nuns who were simultaneously wringing their hands and making the sign. It wasn't pretty.

The action has since shifted to the Peace Forest/Tayelet (the promenade that dramatically overlooks East Jerusalem). There we have experienced weekly fires set by "activists," always on late Friday or on Shabbat. One came close, as the wind suddenly shifted, to engulfing an Arab house. This, I confess, shamefully gave rise to momentary schadenfreude—even glee. The Fire Department put out all these physical and visceral burnings. We overlook the Overlook and so have had the distinction of being the first to call in these often really close and roaring aspiring conflagrations. It’s a Shabbat delight that we never got in Beverly Hills Adjacent.

All this in a quiet neighborhood where all sectors go to work, parties are not too boisterous (weddings are loud deals though), a high value is placed on education and parenting, and most dress carefully and rather modestly. And there seems to be very little street violence. But my street leads the city in car thefts. And house break-ins are common.

So Sheryl and I went to the Emergency Meeting of the Abu Tor neighborhood. Turns out said emergency is the lack of street parking for residents and clogged exits to the main city drag, Derech Hebron Street. The main culprits—the denizens of the middle-class West Bank communities of the Gush Etzion who infiltrate Jerusalem as they travel down the road in the early morning—park for free in our spots, take the bus to work and return to pick up their cars at 6:30 pm, not forgetting to drop their trash on their way out. Their perfidy is not lost on us.

Deadpan, I suggested that perhaps we should follow the E.U.’s lead and delegitimize the West Bank. The French guy responded with Gallic gestures of disgust. "They have been delegitimizing Jews for years,” he said, “and that is why many of us are here." I withdrew the joke.

We ended up coming to a different drastic solution. But first we had an ideological/semantic free-for-all. It turns out that the City (whom we all distrust for good reasons to be revealed at a later, more auspicious time) has been spelling the T of Abu Tor with a Hebrew letter tet on the street signs. And residents have been following suit! This is no small matter, because the correct spelling—with a Hebrew letter tav—renders a specific historical allusion: Abu Tor in Arabic/Aramaic is in Hebrew Abba Shor, meaning Father Ox. And that is a direct reference to the Moslem Conqueror of the Crusaders, the chivalrous Salah al Din who would ride his pet ox through the hills of our neighborhood. As the tet advocates made their case in response, the Pure Zionists erupted in derision, maintaining that the official name mandated by the Likud Knesset bill of 2011—but used by nobody—is Givat Hananya, commemorating one of the three God-fearing brothers who survived the fiery furnace of the idolatrous king in the Book of Daniel. No Arab, no matter how illustrious and attractive and no matter how long connected to this area, need apply for naming opportunities.

This was one of those old timey high-minded battles in which the very identity of the Jewish State hung in the balance! A great sound and light show. But we needed to take care of business—and so back to the drastic solution. Which was this: we will petition the greedy and insatiable City to paint the curbs blue and white, mandating pay for parking. The city will get fee/fine revenue, we residents will get parking passes, and the West Bank interlopers will hopefully disappear—they will never pay for what they think is their free right. And, of course, the neighborhood will loose charm. But we all left the meeting resolved and confident.

The following night, 12 cars' tires were slashed in Abu Tor/Givat Hananya. All of them, once again, owned by Jews. This time the event made a half news cycle. But even the residents didn't talk too much about it.

In the meantime, the police seem to have caught the arsonists and last week went by coolly enough.

I am hopeful in a desperate sort of way about the peace talks. If our little community meeting, run by very capable grassroots leadership, could not find a way to include the highly politicized Arab locals whom we so tightly and in many ways successfully live with, then we need to go to the top. This is not working and time is not on anybody's side. But I am plenty worried. I'm afraid that even if a deal can be cut, the level of violence against Jews that is tolerated by the right, ignored by the media, snorted at by liberals, and welcomed by radicals will continue to escalate. It will be "the price for peace." The new normal. And not just in Abu Tor.

On Naomi Street on the Tayelet, you can regularly hear the goats taken to pasture in the Peace Forest, an overburdened ass braying and the clop of horses. Early yesterday I heard something really heavy and a deep, loud lowing. Running to the balcony, I spied something new: a two-ton bull ox trudging downhill at a good pace with a rope dangling from its neck, three unhappy young men in pursuit. I laughed, but it seemed to me to be a portent.