A quiet street in Jerusalem becomes a new front line between Israelis, Palestinians – Ruth Eglash/The Washington Post
In 1948, a barbed-wire and concrete fence ran down the center, dividing it – half of it, including the Old City [with Wailing Wall]
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — On the surface, Meir Nakar Street seems like an idyllic place to live. A kindergarten and a leafy park are on one side of the street and a row of neat stone houses is on the other.
But this quiet area has recently become a new front line of sorts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For many nights over the past month, Palestinian youths have lobbed stones, pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails at the houses here, residents say. One property was hit more than 17 times in 10 days, sparking a fire inside the home and in the garden.
The attacks come from Abu Rabi’a Street, a thoroughfare that snakes through the adjacent Arab neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.
“These attacks have happened in the past, but now they seem more organized,” said Gill Schecter, who has lived on Meir Nakar Street for five years. He called the situation a “new intifada,” in reference to two violent Palestinian uprisings against Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s.
And he’s worried that the situation will only get worse.
“What happened in Duma goes through my mind,” Schecter said, referring to a firebombing in July in the West Bank in which a Palestinian family was burned alive. Israeli authorities think Jewish extremists were behind that attack.
“We are only one step away from what happened there and, so far, we have just been lucky,” he said.
Abu Rabi’a Street bustles with grocery stores and other businesses during the day. Despite the uptick in violence at night, residents from the Jewish neighborhood, Armon Hanatziv, still shop there.
Although no official line demarks where Armon Hanatziv ends and Jabel Mukaberbegins, the contrast between the two is stark. The Jewish area is modern with wide, well-planned streets. The Arab area has no parks and few trees, and the roads are narrow and winding.
Last week, the municipality erected a nearly 20-foot-high wire fence between the two communities in an attempt to stop the attacks on Jewish residents. Heavily armed police are now permanently stationed on both streets.
It has brought quiet, for now.
Mohammed Rajabi, who works in a bakery on Abu Rabi’a Street, said some Muslims in Jerusalem are angry because more and more extremist Jews are going to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Young people throw stones to express that anger, he said.
The compound, which is the third holiest in Islam and the holiest for Jews, is just a few miles away in the Old City. Muslim youths and Israeli police clashed there for three days beginning on Sept. 13 — the eve of the Jewish New Year — heightening tensions across the city. Violence at the site has continued regularly since and flared again on Monday.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which Muslims refer to as the Noble Sanctuary and Jews as the Temple Mount, has long been a flashpoint, and violence often increases there during religious holidays.
Arab leaders recently have accused Israel of attempting to change the status quo by allowing increasing numbers of religious Jews to visit the plaza, including some who want to tear down the mosque and build a Jewish temple there.
Jews, who pray at the Western Wall nearby, are allowed to enter the mosque compound but are not permitted to pray there. Israel says this has been the case since 1967 and last week accused Arab leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of inciting the violence.
On the first evening of the clashes, a Jewish man was killed after his car was pelted with rocks as he drove toward Armon Hanatziv. Israeli authorities have since arrested four youths from Sur Baher, another Arab neighborhood nearby.
After the death, the Israeli government approved new punitive measures, including easing rules for police to use live fire, tougher minimum sentences for Palestinian stone throwers — many of whom are minors — and fines for their parents.
Ramadan Dabesh, a community leader in Sur Baher, said such steps “will only make the situation worse.”
Arab families in Jerusalem already struggle financially and could never afford to pay fines or legal fees for children who might be caught up in the violence, he said.
“Jews and Arabs live on either side of the road, a few meters from each other, and they don’t really know each other. The violence comes from a lack of understanding and a lack of programs for Arab youths in the city,” Dabesh said.
Shaul Bartal, who wrote a book about political Islam in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said he thinks the recent tension comes from growing support in Jerusalem for the militant Palestinian group Hamas, which last year fought a 50-day war with Israel. At least three Hamas parliament members live in Jabel Mukaberand one in Sur Baher, he said.
“All the signs are on Hamas’s Web sites,” Bartal said. “During the Jewish holidays, there is fear because many Jews come to Jerusalem and they also go to Al-Aqsa. Hamas is creating a lot of incitement about what the Jews want to do there . . . and, for their supporters, jihad [holy war] is the right thing to do.”