In one Jerusalem neighborhood, firebombs are a fact of life
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'I've lived through two intifadas, and it's never been like this'

In one Jerusalem neighborhood, firebombs are a fact of life

Under attack from nearby Jabel Mukaber for the past year, residents of Armon Hanatziv are skeptical of politicians’ pledges to resolve the problem

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative. A Palestinian throws a firebomb. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Illustrative. A Palestinian throws a firebomb. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Nava Segev has lived on Meir Nakar Street in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood for over 40 years, practically since its founding in 1973, six years after Israel captured East Jerusalem in the Six Day War.

The neighborhood, far away from the city center and filled with pine and pomegranate trees, has been the site of nightly attacks by Arab youths armed with Molotov cocktails and stones.

Though the attacks in Armon Hanatziv, also known as East Talpiot, have been ongoing since last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, residents have seen a recent escalation along with the increased tension on the Temple Mount.

On Sunday, just a few minutes away from the neighborhood, Alexander Levlovich was driving home from a Rosh Hashanah meal when stonethrowers attacked his car. Losing control of the vehicle, he drove into a pole and was killed.

“I’ve lived through two intifadas,” Segev said, “and it’s never been like this.”

Each night, teenagers from Jabel Mukaber, the adjacent Arab village, gather beneath the stone wall that runs along Meir Nakar Street. They pelt the bordering homes with firebombs, rocks, fireworks and glass bottles filled with paint.

Scorched grass from a fire in Nava Segev's garden in Armon Hanatziv in Jerusalem caused by a Molotov cocktail thrown by Arab youth from the village next door. (Courtesy Nava Segev)
Scorched grass from a fire in Nava Segev’s garden in Armon Hanatziv in Jerusalem caused by a Molotov cocktail thrown by Arab youth from the village next door. (Courtesy Nava Segev)

Segev’s windows have been broken multiple times; her garden has been set on fire. At night, there are parts of her house she must stay out of for fear of being hit by an incoming rock or bottle.

But during the day, a Border Guard officer said, you would have no idea of the nightly attacks: an Israeli kindergarten has classes as usual in the Jewish neighborhood; Arab women do their shopping in the Arab village’s supermarket.

Armon Hanatziv — The Governor’s Palace, in Hebrew — was so named 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 a beloved promenade of the same name, a terraced park popular with locals and tourists for its views of the Old City.

The teenagers who carry out the attacks, most of them 14 or 15 years old, are in school during the day, which means they are not out throwing rocks and firebombs, explained the officer, who serves in the “Oz” police station, which is responsible for the area.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, he added, “Now there’s also the weather.”

The attacks happen every night, the officer said, but when it’s only 20 stones, nobody reports on it.

One of several broken windows in Nava Segev's home in Armon Hanatziv in Jerusalem caused by a rock thrown by Arab youth from the village next door. (Courtesy Nava Segev)
One of several broken windows in Nava Segev’s home in Armon Hanatziv in Jerusalem caused by a rock thrown by Arab youth from the village next door. (Courtesy Nava Segev)

“When 100 rocks are thrown,” he said, “then the media comes.”

With the sun up, the only indication of unrest are signs posted on fences, walls and poles in the area.

“Twenty-four-hour CCTV in operation,” most of the signs read.

The house closest to the Arab village boasts a slightly different, more optimistic Jerusalem municipality sign that reads, “This area is filmed and recorded by security cameras. A city without violence.”

Until last year, Segev said, the relationship between Jabel Mukaber and Armon Hanatziv was “completely fine.”

An Arab woman from the nearby village even helped Segev around the house, caring for her children when they came home from school. The woman was the mother of one of the two terrorists — Uday Abu Jamal and Ghassan Abu Jamal — who murdered four worshipers at a Har Nof, Jerusalem synagogue last year, Segev said.

The Arab village is so close by, Segev can easily see the Abu Jamal family home from her living room window.

People from the village would come to Armon Hanatziv to shop for food, use the playgrounds and visit a neighborhood baby clinic.

Since the Gaza conflict last year, however, the relationship has soured. For over a year, youths from the village have been carrying out nightly attacks on Jewish homes.

Last week, the Jerusalem municipality even distributed fire extinguishers to residents, Segev said, motioning toward a bright red canister still in its plastic wrapper.

A sign warning stone-throwers that the area is under surveillance on the wall separating Armon Hanatziv from Jabel Mukaber, Sept. 16, 2015. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
A sign warning stone throwers that the area is under surveillance on the wall separating Armon Hanatziv from Jabel Mukaber, Sept. 16, 2015. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The extinguisher is out of place in Segev’s apartment, which is otherwise filled with her original artwork, custom furniture, vinyl records, books and painting supplies.

The unrest and violence in the neighborhood, she said, has kept her children and grandchildren from visiting.

Ahead of the Jewish festival of Shavuot late last May, Segev said, she finally convinced her family to come for the traditional dairy meal at her home. But as the family sat down to eat, Arab teens in the village below lobbed a barrage of rocks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at the house.

“Everyone was on the floor with their hands on their heads,” Segev said.

Luckily, she added, nobody was hurt in the attack, but it took a toll on her relatives, who have since refused to visit her.

Though disappointed, Segev understands her family’s apprehension, she said.

‘I don’t know anything about it, other than what I hear on the news.’

Most of Segev’s neighbors on Meir Nakar Street, however, do not have similar problems.

While the houses facing Jabel Mukaber are the victims of nightly attacks, those that are just a few meters away from the border have been entirely unscathed.

“I don’t know anything about [the violence],” another resident of Meir Nakar Street said, “other than what I hear on the news.”

A third resident of the working-class neighborhood, Nissim Mizrachi, is in the process of moving to an apartment closer to Jabel Mukaber.

“I’ve been living here for 40 years and I’ve never had a problem with them,” Mizrachi said, referring to the Arab village.

“I’m not afraid. If I were afraid, I wouldn’t move here,” he added.

Minimizing the growing problem, Mizrachi chalked the violence up to bored teenagers with nothing to do.

“Shoot at them once or twice,” he offered, “you’ll see how quickly they stop throwing rocks.”

Though Mizrachi may not take the recent firebombing attacks seriously, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan do.

“The present situation is unacceptable, and we intend to give soldiers and police officers the tools necessary to act very firmly against those who throw stones and firebombs,” Netanyahu said Wednesday morning during a tour of the neighborhood.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan tour Jerusalem following the recent clashes in Jerusalem's Old City, on September 16, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan tour Jerusalem following the recent clashes in Jerusalem’s Old City, on September 16, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

On Tuesday night, Netanyahu held an emergency meeting of top ministers and security officials to address the violence in Jerusalem. The prime minister proposed increasing the minimum sentence for those who throw stones and Molotov cocktails, imposing fines on minors who commit such attacks, and their parents, and even allowing snipers to shoot those who attempt them.

Erdan, who attended the meeting, told Army Radio, “Stone throwing is attempted murder, [and] firebombings definitely are.”

The public security minister attempted to calm some of the public’s concerns over the latest string of attacks, but did admit to an increase in violence. “I wouldn’t call it an intifada,” Erdan told Army Radio, “but there’s definitely been a slow increase over the years in rock throwing and Molotov cocktail attacks.”

Segev, who has already met with several representatives from the police and the city, is unconvinced that the measures proposed will be effective.

As it is, Segev explained, she must think twice before venturing out of her home at night, consider safety concerns when picking her driving route and, at her family’s urging, has packed a “getaway bag” with essentials, should she have to leave her home in a hurry.

Though she’s lived in the apartment for over four decades, she has considered moving, though she complained the attacks have brought down the price of her home “by a million shekel.”

It was “a miracle” that no one has been hurt in the past year, she said. “I don’t want to live on miracles anymore.”

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