Jerusalem on July 2, 2014, an unsent letter to friends

July 2, 2014

This is a letter that I began writing to friends from Jerusalem but never ended sending because events overcame me, and I couldn't figure out a good way to write them about what was happening. It gives a snapshot of events at that time and my reactions to them.


You probably have been following the news about what is happening here in Israel. The situation is horrific. 19 days ago three teenagers were kidnapped and killed from a hitchhiking station in Gush Etzion, in the West Bank. Shortly after they were kidnapped, they were killed and their bodies were taken and hidden in a field between Hebron and Halhoul. Only on Monday night were their bodies discovered, and the funerals of the three occurred last night.

Before the bodies were found, I had feared that the three boys were dead, since we hadn't heard anything at all from Hamas about ransom demands, but no one knew anything (that is, no one outside of a small official circle knew). I was at a restaurant on Monday night eating dinner and watching the World Cup on the big screen projection when I started looking at my phone and seeing rumors on Twitter that the Israeli army had found the bodies of the three teenagers. Then, in the middle of the World Cup broadcast, the Israeli news broke in with the announcement. I didn't really feel like watching the game after that so I left. 

I met my friend Alexandra, who was also on her way home, and we passed by an apartment house, as a woman came out and just started screaming - mavet le-Aravim, maver le-smolanim - death to Arabs, death to leftists. Since I'm a leftist I felt personally threatened. It turns out that last night, during the funerals, angry mobs swept through the center of Jerusalem, looking for Arabs to beat up.

Yesterday morning I met friends for breakfast and it was basically all we talked about. The funeral was broadcast on radio and television last evening (they were buried in the late afternoon, all together, in Modi'in). I heard some of the speeches, by the rabbi of the yeshiva where the two younger boys studied, by the Ashkenazic chief rabbi, and by Netanyahu and Peres. The rabbi asked that before every meeting of the government, that the ministers present start by saying the divine commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Last night, I heard just something quite horrible online - apparently the father of one of the boys, Ophir Shaer, father of Gil-Ad Shaer, called the emergency lines no less than 54 times before they transferred the information to the IDF.  Right after the boys were kidnapped, Ophir called the emergency line and said that he had been kidnapped. The people who answer the line tried to call him back after the phone went dead, but failed to reach him, so they came to the conclusion that it was a prank call. The police didn't do anything until the father of one of the boys went to the police station to make a personal report. Last night, the police released the tape of the emergency call that Ophir made (it was broadcast on the radio in the middle of the funeral) and apparently one can hear Ophir speaking, then one of the terrorists speaking, and then gunshots.

Also, last night in Jerusalem, during the funeral, some right-wing extremists organized a rally at the main western entrance to the city. They blocked the road under the Chords bridge until the police finally got them out, and then they ran along Jaffa Road towards the Old City. They started looking for Arabs to beat up (or kill, I suppose, if they had had the chance). The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that they were shouting slogans like "death to Arabs" and "Kahane was right." They managed to find a few Arabs working in stores and began beating them until the police caught up with them and rescued the Arab workers. Three Arab men were attacked by a mob of about a 100 people and attacked them. Undercover police intervened and arrested three of the attackers. They also jumped on the light rail looking for Palestinian passengers to attack. This all lasted several hours, while other people were paying their respects to the dead. My friend Betsy Cohen wrote on Facebook that her son was downtown with a friend and that they saw the demonstration that included an attempted lynching of an Arab who was passing by. The police surrounded the Arab man and saved him from the mob.

And now this morning, we woke to hear an even grimmer piece of news ­- the body of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was found in the Jerusalem Forest (on the western edge of the city). The boy is from Beit Hanina or Shuafat, Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. His body was apparently burned. The police found the body after they had received a phone call from the parents of a missing Palestinian boy reporting that he had been forced into a car (in Shuafat) and driven off. The great fear is that this is a revenge attack by Jewish terrorists. And given the amount of violence that has happened in Jerusalem since the bodies of the three Jewish boys were found, it's very possible. (Although the police are cautioning people to wait until all the facts are known, not that that has ever stopped anyone here in the Middle East). The police and army have been investigating in East Jerusalem, and there are now violent confrontations between angry Palestinians and the police. Earlier today Palestinians on the Temple Mount were throwing stones at the Israeli police there, so the police closed the area to Jewish visitors. The Palestinians are convinced that this is Jewish revenge attack.

So God only knows what will happen next. The mothers of the three boys, after they had been kidnapped, asked people to say specific Psalms for them ­ 20, 121, and 130. I think we should probably still say them, if only to calm ourselves and keep from being swept up into the raging ocean of hatred and violence.

Today at 5:30 pm there will be a vigil in Zion Square against the violence, organized by Rabbis for Human Rights and many other groups working for peace and against violence. I'm planning to go.


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