Jamal Julani, 17, lies in his bed in Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem but doesn’t remember anything that happened around midnight four days before. He knows that he was beaten up by a group of Jewish youths and that he lost consciousness.
Julani is a high school student from the Ras al-Amud neighborhood of Jerusalem. During the summer he works in construction in Jerusalem.
“He went to visit a friend who worked in a nearby restaurant,” his father Subhe Julani told The Media Line. “He has never been in trouble with the police.”
The site of the attack was Zion Square in downtown Jerusalem. The area is known as a hangout for Jewish teens, particularly on Saturday evenings. Many drink alcohol and smoke water pipes. They’re bored and looking for action.
“The background to the event is still not clear,” Jerusalem police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Media Line. “We do have security cameras in the area and we are examining the footage. We have opened a special investigation into the incident.”
Media reports say the Jewish teens began shouting racist slogans such as “Death to the Arabs” and attacking four Arab youths including Julani. Three of them managed to escape, but Julani was kicked and punched repeatedly even after he was lying on the ground. Jamal lost consciousness for more than 24 hours and it is still not clear if there has been brain damage. The first medics on the scene told The Media Line that Jamal was not breathing when they arrived.
So far, five Jewish youth between the ages of 13 and 19 have been arrested, one of whom is a girl. All of them deny any connection to the incident.
“My brother is a good boy and I am sure he was not involved,” the 18-year old brother of one of the 13-year old suspects told the newspaper Maariv. “One of the Arabs provoked them and said, ‘You’re a Jew. If you go into an Arab village they would sexually assault you.’ What were the Arabs doing in our area? What do they come here for except to start up with Jewish girls?” he asked.
The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that dozens of bystanders watched the attack and did not interfere.
“Where were the police? They are responsible for the safety of everyone in the city, Jews and Arabs,” Richard Isralowitz, a professor of social policy at Ben Gurion University, told The Media Line. “The citizens should also interfere but they are afraid for their safety.”
Isralowitz says there are growing numbers of Israeli youth who are not in school and not working. Many teenagers also drink alcohol, and despite the law which forbids selling alcohol to minors under 18, the law is often not enforced.
“Alcohol spins things in all directions,” he said. “Young vs. old; Arab vs. Jew; Sephardi (Jews from Arab countries) vs. Ashkenazi (Jews from Eastern European countries).”
There have been several similar incidents of attacks by groups of Jewish youth on Arab youth. Last year, Palestinian Husam Ravidi was stabled to death in a nightclub by several 17-year-old Jews. The Jewish youth were given eight year prison terms.
Police spokesman Rosenfeld said the police do not keep separate statistics for attacks by Jews on Arabs or Arabs on Jews, but said he did not remember any cases where Arab youth attacked Jewish youth. He said that Zion Square is known as a problematic area where many youth congregate.
Yitzhak Kadman, the director of the National Council for the Child in Israel, said it is more important to look at trends than at individual incidents. All trends point to a decrease in violence among youth, he told The Media Line. For example, there were 6,510 incidents of violence in Israeli schools in 2003, down to 3,785 in 2011. He said the percentage of high school students who said they had had more than five drinks in the past month was also down from 20 percent to 12 percent.
At the same time, he said, Israel continues to be a violent society. At soccer games, “Death to the Arabs” is frequently shouted. Earlier this year, hundreds of fans from the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team attacked Arab workers and patrons at a mall next to the soccer stadium.
“This seems to be either a hate crime or a racist crime,” Kadman said of the attack on Julani. “I have no doubt those children who used that kind of language heard it before. We live in a society that is relatively violent. There is violence on TV reality shows, computer games, and even the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). In some cases, these children were neglected and dropped out of school, but even the best kids are influenced by the environment.”
Kadman says there is a need for alternative frameworks for youth, especially during the summer. A few towns have opened their sports facilities or swimming pools at night, he said, and violence in these areas has been dramatically reduced.
“The cheapest and best way to stop violence is by prevention,” he said. “But we are stupid. We say that when there’s a problem we’ll deal with it. Well, there’s a problem.”