Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.
Israeli Border Police officers guard a checkpoint in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, on October 15, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
JABEL MUKABER — We are driving slowly along the mountain slope that belongs to the Awisat clan in the village of Jabel Mukaber. Three terrorists set out from here on Tuesday to perpetrate two different terror attacks, one in the nearby Armon Hanatziv neighborhood and the other on Malkhei Yisrael Street. Three Israelis were killed.
On the same day, the news reported the government’s decision to impose a sort of closure on the villages in East Jerusalem. But when we arrive at the village entrance, we realize how distant the government’s statements are from the situation on the ground. Several Border Police troops stand idle at the entrance from the direction of Armon Hanatziv’s promenade; it’s the same on the other side of the road. There are no police officers standing at the exit heading toward Silwan.
We stop near a home where several masked children stand on the roof. When they see us approaching, they throw… olives. After some discussion, they agree to come down and speak with the “Israelis.”
It is evident that the youngest among them do not really understand what is going on. These are boys of eight or nine playing the role of “good” terrorists – in other words, those who fight against the Zionists and the Jews. They have realized this is how they are supposed to behave since some of the people who live here have carried out “actions” (as they call terror attacks) against Jews. (Jabel Mukaber residents have carried out a string of recent terror attacks, including killing five people last year in an attack on a synagogue in Har Nof.) But from moment to moment they change their story regarding the current situation and what is happening around them.
Police and emergency medical services treat the victims of a terror attack in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in Jerusalem on October 13, 2015. (Israel Police)
One of the children, 10-year-old Malek, says that the Jews arrested his father because they said he had thrown stones. For him, the people who left the village to engage in terrorism in Jerusalem are “heroes.”
Another boy, 12 years old, adds that he would like to stab Jews. When I ask him why, he starts to stammer. “They took my land,” he says; it’s not clear he really understands what he is saying.
When they listen to one of the older children who sounds firmly in favor of the terror attacks, they say they want to be “heroes” like the attackers.
Most of the children attend village schools that are under the auspices of the Jerusalem municipality. Are the schools the reason for the incitement? It appears not.
The Palestinian Authority cannot be blamed for the school system here either.
The young people’s desire to go out and engage in terrorism is motivated mainly by myths that are created on social networks and among friends. As far as they are concerned, the settlers are trying to take over Al-Aqsa Mosque and throw the Muslims out. The facts don’t matter.
An older boy, in eighth grade, captures my attention. He is holding a t-shirt on which is written in English: “Peace begins in me.” This is quite different from what might be expected of a boy his age in a village like Jabel Mukaber. His father tells me that he attends an American school outside the village, and that the shirt he is holding is the school shirt.
“I don’t agree with the killing of innocent people,” the boy, A., says. “I know that the situation blew up because settlers went up onto the Temple Mount and because Palestinian women were hurt there. But I don’t support what the (attackers) did.”
This Thursday, July 28, 2015 photo shows a group of religious Jews escorted by Israeli police at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)
He says that his father does not allow him to watch the news on television “because of the incitement, so I watch at my grandmother’s house. But I get most of the news on Facebook or by telephone.” He says most of his friends think that what started the recent incidents was an attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque, and that many of them are angry over the harm done to “children”; he is referring to young terrorists who set out to perpetrate terror attacks. “They are trained soldiers,” he says of the Israeli troops. “Even if a 14-year-old boy approaches them with a knife, they can tackle him to the ground.”
I ask him whether he knows what had happened to Ahmed Manasra, the 13-year-old boy whose photograph was plastered all over the Palestinian social media networks after he was wounded perpetrating a stabbing attack. He says he isn’t sure. “Some people say that he was killed and some say that he was wounded. You know how it is on the news.” Ahmed is alive, of course, and receiving medical treatment at Hadassah Medical Center.
The trouble is that 14-year-old A. is an unusual teenager.
It used to be secular
On the other side of the mountain is the home of Baha Alian, one of the two terrorists who attacked Bus 78 in Armon Hanatziv, killing two Israelis and injuring many others. His family erected a mourning tent, but in accordance with Baha’s will, which he wrote in 2014, no flags of any Palestinian group are flying here, and the family refuses to be interviewed by the media. That was the unusual request of Alian the “shahid,” or martyr.
This is the first mourners’ tent that I have visited since 2000 that contains no political symbols. Alian also wrote in his will that he wanted no shirts or posters printed bearing his image, and his family has honored his request. It turns out that his father, Abu Tarek, was a member of the terror cell that planted a bomb in a refrigerator in Jerusalem‘s Zion Square in 1975, killing 15 people. He was sent to prison and released in the Jibril prisoner exchange ten years later.
A view of a main street in Jabel Mukaber, one of the Arab villages abutting Armon Hanatziv (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Hasein Awisat, the village mukhtar, a kind of conflict-resolution specialist, sits outside the mourners’ tent. “You (Israelis) have all the means to resolve the situation,” he says. “You need to understand that Al-Aqsa is not coexistence. It’s twenty red lines. Any damage to it kindles a blaze from Jenin to Rafiah. And I tell you: Stop with Jews going up to Al-Aqsa.” He is referring to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound. “Stop it. The day Netanyahu announces that, the violence will end.”
But what changed at Al-Aqsa? Jews have long been able to go up there.
“What changed is that the government protects and encourages the settlers to go to up Al-Aqsa. They go up and want to pray there. And this government protects them everywhere. Look at what they did near Nablus. (He is referring to the arson attack on the Dawabsha family in Duma.) We don’t want war. We want peace. And I tell you: Your government must do the math and take measures to calm the situation.”
‘People here used to drink alcohol during Ramadan in the 1970s. The Islamists came here in about 1988 and started taking over everything’
Further down the road is the home of another “shahid” – in this case, the one who attempted a terror attack at the Lions’ Gate on October 12. A delegation of dozens of UN employees is just leaving the house.
A., who lives in the village, tells us that Jabel Mukaber has undergone a dramatic change in recent decades. “At one time, the communists were the strongest ones here,” he says. “The village was completely secular. People used to drink alcohol during Ramadan in the 1970s. The Islamists came here in about 1988 and started taking over everything. Just like in Israel, where religion and nationality are interwoven, it’s the same with them. They made people think that if you prayed in a mosque, you had to vote Hamas. Otherwise, you weren’t a true Muslim. Or Palestinian.”
A. thinks the videos filmed by Israelis after the terror attacks are central in recruiting more young people to engage in terrorism. “You don’t realize what it does to see a kid lying on the ground like that, bleeding, as people scream ‘You bastard’ at him. It maddened the young people who shared the videos over Whatsapp. And still, I tell you honestly, if you stop Jews from visiting Al-Aqsa, all this madness will end.”