It was quiet on a weekday morning at Meir Nakar Street in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv, overlooking the Arab village of Jabel Mukaber.
At night, however, it’s been a different story.
For the last week and a half, there has been a nocturnal hail of rocks, fireworks and firebombs as youths from Jabel Mukaber stage their own battle.
“You can see here what happened last night,” said Gill Schecter, a resident of the street, pointing at the remains of the teargas canisters the police threw toward the youths.
On the grass nearby was a blackened patch of grass, the result of a Molotov cocktail thrown a few nights earlier. Later the same day, the youths emerged on the street armed with slingshots and stones. The police pushed them back into the village.
“We didn’t have any problems for many years,” said Schecter, 40, who moved to the area as a boy in 1980 and is now raising his own family in the neighborhood. “People used to do their shopping in the village. But now the situation is out of control.”
Armon Hanatziv, also called East Talpiot, is one of the ring neighborhoods built after 1973 to strengthen the outlying areas of Jerusalem. Parts of the neighborhood abut and overlook the nearby Arab villages of Jabel Mukaber and Tsur Baher.
It was named Armon Hanatziv, the Governor’s Palace, after the hilltop compound of the British High Commissioner, now the location of United Nations headquarters. The main entrance to the neighborhood is adjacent to the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, the terraced park popular with locals and tourists for its views of the Old City, including Mount Zion, the Temple Mount, the Kidron Valley, the City of David and the Mount of Olives.
Relations are generally good between the neighborhood residents and the villagers, say locals. The Arab residents are often visible in East Talpiot, shopping in the local Co-op supermarket, stopping in at the local bank branch and using the local medical clinics.
Until last week, said Schecter.
When it was reported that the Palestinians in Gaza had kidnapped an Israeli soldier (the soldier, Oron Shaul, was later declared dead by the IDF, although his body has not yet been recovered by the army), a group of teenagers from Jabel Mukaber paraded their cars on the main street of the village, shouting slogans and throwing rocks at the Jewish houses above, he said.
Since then, a group of youngsters that Schecter estimated to be of high school age have been wreaking havoc every night between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., sometimes targeting specific buildings. One night this week, two groups, Jewish residents and Arab villagers, gathered around separate traffic circles protesting the other’s presence, said Schecter, until the police shooed each group home.
“It’s been hellish here,” said Amos Kamhin, another resident of the street, who is an army officer. His balcony faces the Arab village, and he said he watches the clashes every night from above.
Both men live on Meir Nakar Street, a side street that serves as a main thoroughfare between Jabel Mukaber and Armon Hanatziv. There are others, such as Yaakov Weiss Street, where a path from the village snakes up to the neighborhood just across from a set of kindergarten playgrounds and a well-baby clinic used by both Jewish and Arab residents.
“I told two [Arab] men and a woman to walk on their side of the street,” said David Levy, a guard at one of the kindergartens. “I wanted to be able to see what they were carrying, and for them to know I was watching them.”
As Kamhin and Schecter chatted on their block, two Arab youths walked up the street on their way to Olei Hagardom, one of the main streets of Armon Hanatziv.
“They can freely walk around the neighborhood, but we would never even think of going to their village now,” noted Schecter.
Kamhin said he was concerned by what he perceived as a lack of sufficient police presence. He said the police have been quieting the attackers with teargas but haven’t been willing to arrest any of the aggressors, fearing an escalation of animosity.
“Last week, the police didn’t answer our calls for 40 minutes,” said Kamhin. “So we went out and responded to the attack. What were we supposed to do? Keep on having fireworks thrown at our houses?”
The Armon Hanatziv residents have formed their own civil guard security committee, said Schecter, who is a member of the committee.
“We have to take care of ourselves,” he said, in a recent Facebook post.
The police said they encouraged the residents to protect their own neighborhood but aren’t overly concerned about the escalation of activity.
According to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, the police have contained the nightly disturbances, mobilizing various units. He said the current action is “nothing out of the ordinary.”
“There’s been stone-throwing, but the police have been there for the last two weeks,” said Rosenfeld.
The villagers who organize the attacks, vandalize cars and harass residents of Armon Hanatziv don’t represent the entire population of Jabel Mukaber, said Schecter. He employs several villagers in his air conditioning company who’ve told him they don’t want to have anything to do with their more extremist neighbors.
In fact, residents commented on an Armon Hanatziv Facebook group page, the villagers refrained from coming closer to their buildings because many of them work for Israelis and don’t want to jeopardize their income.
“It’s just a minority” who cause trouble, said Schecter. “But I have four kids, and they are scared.”
The nightly attacks aren’t the only provocation that bothers the Armon Hanatziv residents.
There are about ten mosques in the surrounding area, said Schecter, each with its own muezzin calling the faithful to prayer at various times of day, including late at night and in the pre-dawn hours. According to Schecter, the call of the muezzins has gotten much louder in the past weeks.
In response, a group of Armon Hanatziv residents decided to broadcast a rendition of “Shema Yisrael” at 2:30 a.m. on a set of loudspeakers aimed at Tsur Baher.
The broadcast triggered a heated debate in the closed Facebook group of the Armon Hanatziv community. While some members of the group supported it, others vehemently condemned it, calling it racist and unnecessary. The conversational thread was taken off the page on Monday, according to Simcha Gluck, one of the page’s moderators.
“I’m not sure who took it down or why,” said Gluck, who said he “loves” the idea of broadcasting the daily prayer, though.
“I think it would be awesome if it were happening all over the country until the police got involved and finally had to ask all Jews and Arabs equally to not blast music at high levels,” he said. “It’s a disgrace and really unfair and not right that Arabs get to blast their wailings whenever they want and no one does anything about it. This is a great way to generate action around this.”
Councilman Arieh King, known for his anti-Arab sentiments, was also involved in the Shema Yisrael broadcast. Back in January, King proposed measuring the level of sound of the call to prayer at mosques in the eastern part of Jerusalem. Now there is a “pilot program” in Tsur Baher and Jabel Mukaber, he said.
The goal, said King, is to improve the lives of Arabs and Israelis “together.”
If the program shows that a particular loudspeaker broadcasts the call to prayer too loudly, the city will implement different technologies, said King.
“We can have them use loudspeakers that are more quiet,” he said. “Or a call to prayer that is softer and isn’t directed toward the neighborhood and the Jewish homes.”
The Shema Yisrael effort was made by residents who were tired of the additional calls to prayer made during the recent Muslim holy month of Ramadan, said King.
“They wanted to show the Arabs how we feel,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but it’s really just a matter of cooperation, and improving the system that exists.”
For now, said Kamhin, he would like some peace and quiet in his neighborhood.
“When I moved here, I didn’t move here to fight,” he said. “I have a wonderful view all the way to the Dead Sea. I came here to live quietly.”