Such attacks have become more common in recent years but media coverage has thinned.
Two individual Arab-Palestinian men were assaulted by mobs of Jewish teens in Jerusalem last Thursday night. Both incidents involved victims who were set upon and beaten so severely that they had to be hospitalized. And in both cases the Israeli Hebrew media outlets that reported the story specified that at least some of the assailants were drunk and in costume. Thursday was Purim in Jerusalem. According to tradition, the festival is celebrated by dressing in costume and drinking to excess.
One of the incidents, reported in a short item by Walla! News, is described as a “suspected nationalist incident.” The Walla! report notes that some of the teens were drunk, that there were about 15 or 16 of them out celebrating the holiday raucously, in the middle of downtown, very late at night. Several people asked the loud celebrants to be quiet, including one young man in his 20s who happened to be an Arab. The teens assaulted him because he spoke Hebrew with an identifiable accent. “I don’t remember much,” he told the reporter. “It hurt a lot.”
I went outside to ask them to be quiet, and suddenly a whole bunch of people jumped on me. I woke up in the hospital and after that I made a report to the police. They [the assailants] saw that I was an Arab and they jumped on me.
In a separate but remarkably similar incident that occurred around the same time, another group of around 15 raucous, drunk, teen revelers were carousing around downtown, roughhousing with one another and, according to Channel 10, generally smashing things up. Then they spotted a restaurant worker clearing away an outdoor table, recognized that he was an Arab and jumped him. This time, someone recorded the incident with a mobile device, which Channel 10 broadcast (view a longer version here).
The faces of the assailants are blurred to protect their identities since some are minors, but the details of the assault are clear. The Arab man is going about his job when he’s suddenly jumped by the mob, who beat him, kick him and smash chairs over his head. The reporter says that eyewitnesses told police the assailants beat the Arab man on every part of his body, then dragged him along the pavement and beat him some more, even after he was lying prone and unable to defend himself.
Channel 10 called it a “near-lynch,” which upset some commenters on their Facebook page. Given the video evidence, they commented, what’s “ostensible” about it? (The Israeli media generally employs the term to refer to a severe physical assault rather than the specific type of torture and hanging of blacks committed by whites, which were once common in some southern U.S. states.)
Channel 10 also interviewed an attorney for the boys who said there is no evidence this is a “nationalist” crime or a “racial” crime, which is interesting because the Walla! report does not suggest the crime is “racial.” The Channel 10 report also specifies that some of the boys involved in the assault come from well-known organized crime families, members of which accompanied the boys to their court hearing.
These mob assaults on random Palestinians have become increasingly common over the past year or so, although two in one night sounds extreme. But while these assaults are reported, they do not grab headlines and they do not garner international coverage. This is perhaps because news outlets are currently saturated with coverage of the upcoming elections. Or it could be general fatigue and consequent loss of interest in a type of incident that seems to play out according to a script: Arab passerby going about his business assaulted by mob of teens described in media reports by a combination of code words that convey “low class Mizrahi, possibly related to organized crime, and therefore not representative.” Police make arrests (sometimes), which offers the false comfort of justice having been served, and then we’re back to status quo ante. Until the next assault.
But imagine being a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who is terrified of riding public transport or going to work in the western, majority-Jewish part of the city, because each trip outside their home means they run the risk of being violently assaulted by random strangers just because they look or sound Arab.
This reminds me of a story I once read by Isaac Bashevis Singer, in which he describes a Jewish man at a Warsaw barber shop during the late 1930s, who is afraid to speak when the man wielding a straight-edge razor over his face launches into an anti-Semitic rant. What if the barber were to hear that his customer speaks Polish with a recognizably Yiddish accent?