Top rabbis decry attacks on Jerusalem’s Arab municipal workers amid war tensions

Letter initiated by mayor and signed by chief rabbis says assaults contrary to Torah values, urges parents to prevent youth from committing acts of violence

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: Israeli men, armed with US-made M16 automatic assault rifles, walk through the Mamilla shopping center in Jerusalem on October 25, 2023. (Yuri Cortez/AFP)
Illustrative: Israeli men, armed with US-made M16 automatic assault rifles, walk through the Mamilla shopping center in Jerusalem on October 25, 2023. (Yuri Cortez/AFP)

A group of senior rabbis denounced on Thursday a recent spike in nationalistically motivated harassment and assaults of Arab workers in Jerusalem amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The letter (Hebrew), published by the Walla news site, was written at the initiative of Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, amid several complaints by the city’s residents that cleaning and maintenance duties have been neglected, apparently due to municipal workers’ fear of violence against them.

In the letter, the rabbis denounced attacks on laborers as violating Torah teachings, singling out youth who have been predominantly involved in the assaults. They warned that the attacks against those who maintain the city’s infrastructure and sanitation will have consequences on its residents.

“Therefore, we wish to warn the elders about the young ones, so that there won’t be anyone who quarrels with these workers. And everyone must warn members of their households, and the youth whose blood runs hot, to stay away from violence, God forbid — both violent actions nor verbal violence — because it is a matter of life and death,” the rabbis wrote.

The letter was signed by Sephardic and Ashkenazi chief rabbis of the capital, Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau, respectively, along with several senior Jerusalem rabbis.

“We are in a very sensitive period, and the Jerusalem municipality is doing everything to continue its routine as normal,” Lion said in a separate statement. “We are following up on all our workers and ensuring that they are not expressing support for terror, and in those instances, we take care of it together with Israel Police.”

“However, the majority of workers are manual laborers who seek to support their families and have no involvement in these matters. The call of Jerusalem’s rabbis obliges all of us to… preserve peace and quiet in our city, Jerusalem,” he added.

Jerusalem prosecutors on Thursday filed an indictment against Nachman Dekel (18), Aharon Ilovitch (20), and Roey Or Lev (19), accused of assaulting an Arab man who works for the Jerusalem municipality in a nationalistically motivated attack.

Video circulating on social media showed three men punching and kicking the worker, who was using a hose to clean the pavement at the entrance to the Mahane Yehuda Market. In the background, a small crowd of onlookers can be seen watching, but without intervening. The worker falls to his knees under the blows and, as the assailants flee, an armed IDF soldier is seen approaching the worker, apparently to assist him. Another municipal worker also arrives to help just as the clip ends.

Last week, prosecutors filed an indictment against a 19-year-old man, who, along with others, was accused of assaulting a hotel worker and street cleaner in Jerusalem.

The attacks came amid heightened tensions over a war in the Gaza Strip that erupted when the Hamas terror group launched a massive assault on Israel, raining rockets on the country to cover an incursion in the south by 2,500 gunmen. The terrorists slaughtered over 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians, and abducted at least 224 people to the Strip.

Israel has responded with intensive strikes on Gaza ahead of an expected ground operation and has declared its intention to eradicate the terror group that rules the Strip.

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai has praised the Arab Israeli community for refraining from “incidents” since the start of the war with Hamas amid repeated warnings by far-right politicians of Jewish-Arab violence in Israel’s mixed cities of the kind that took place two years ago.

“We have to say a good word about their exemplary behavior, with zero incidents,” Shabtai said Sunday at a meeting of the National Security Committee of the Knesset on the subject of “preparedness for a Guardian of the Walls scenario,” a reference to the violent intercommunal riots in mixed Jewish-Arab cities that accompanied a previous conflict with Hamas in 2021.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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