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A race riot in Jerusalem

I am still reeling from the sheer violence we witnessed in Jerusalem last week. The sight of hundreds of Israeli Jews — many of them young boys chanting “Death to Arabs” as they marched unencumbered through the streets of the city, while nearby, Border Police officers violently put down a protest by Palestinians — was almost too much to bear.

How does one begin to write about a race riot? How does one comprehend the fact that much of the Israeli and mainstream press reduced what happened to “clashes” between Israelis and Palestinians? How does one wrap their mind around the fact that Thursday’s violence was, yet again, cast as a war between extremists on both sides, including by the U.S. State Department? And how does one maintain hope in this moment when more violence is not only on the horizon, but feels inevitable?

To be sure, there are many elements fueling the fire in Jerusalem. There was the Israeli police’s ban, finally lifted this evening, on Palestinians from hanging around Damascus Gate in the Old City, where they regularly gather to celebrate Ramadan. There are the viral TikTok videos of Palestinians harassing ultra-Orthodox Jews. There are daily attacks on Palestinians in the city by groups of Israelis, and vice versa.

Yet there are hardly two equal sides to this story. Jerusalem may be touted as Israel’s “eternal, undivided capital,” but it is an apartheid city. Its Palestinian residents live under the constant surveillance of Israeli security forces. Settlers, backed by the authorities, are moving to evict Palestinians from their homes in neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. Palestinian homes are routinely demolished. Even before COVID-19 struck, 72 percent of Palestinian families in the city lived in poverty, compared to 26 percent of Jewish Israelis.

Meanwhile, groups like the Kahanist Lehava present themselves as self-defense organizations tasked with safeguarding “Jewish honor." But in truth, these are fascist groups that bring Jews, often young working class Mizrahim or ultra-Orthodox, under their wing and give them a purpose: to show Palestinians who is really in charge, often through brute force. As Orly Noy wrote in her elegiac testimony on Friday, the extremist youth were on the hunt not only for Palestinians, but for the few left-wing Jews who dared to stand up to hate.

One, however, must not view Thursday’s race riot as some kind of aberration. Gangs of settlers routinely attack Palestinians across the occupied territories — attacks that hardly garner the kind of attention given to the Kahanists last week. Furthermore, the forces behind the supremacist march have not only repeatedly been platformed and enabled by the Israeli right, they have been ushered into the Knesset by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself.

There are, of course, Palestinians and Israelis who want to live in a city free of racism and state violence, in which everyone is entitled to dignity and safety. Several nights after the violence, Palestinians and left-wing Jewish Israelis held a demonstration against hate. Sadly, these voices are being drowned out by both the fascists on the street and the silence of those who ignore the oppressive realities in Jerusalem. It’s on us to amplify the people who are fighting back.

Edo Konrad, Editor-in-Chief, +972 Magazine