The Look of the Lynch Mob

Nadia Matar, leader of the extremist Women in Green, has performed a certain service for feminism, I realized Sunday as I watched her give a series of quickie TV interviews at sunset on the promenade leading to Jabel Mukaber. Until I’d watched her talk, I still harbored the assumption that loud, threatening, bigoted rants – the jaw out, the tone nervous with excess adrenaline – were a male thing, especially a young male thing.

My mistake. An older woman can also don a baseball cap, push her jaw out, and describe an entire ethnic group – in this case, Israeli Arabs – as threatening to good people. Her rap was the same for each camera crew. The strangest part was when she insisted that if a Muslim in America had killed Christians, “they would confiscate the whole family’s American ID cards.” But then, it doesn’t matter that America doesn’t have government-issue ID cards. It has had lynch mobs, and police not really ready to confront them.

The march was no secret. The organizers, including Women in Green, put up posters around the country calling for people to gather on the stone-paved promenade above the landscaped valley between West and East Jerusalem, and to march to Jabel Mukaber to demolish the house of the terrorist who murdered eight students at Merkaz Harav yeshiva a week and a half earlier. The police did not issue a permit for a demonstration with the anounced goal of vigilante action. At 5 o’clock in the afternoon, when the march was to begin, there were a couple of dozen rightists on the promenade and far more police, uniformed and plainclothed. Yet they did not order the protestors to go home.

The crowd slowly grew. A couple hundred more people gathered at a nearby intersection marched up the road, blocking traffic. They chanted “Death to Arabs” and sang in a festive tune about “wreaking vengeance upon the gentiles.” The police did not block them until they reached a corner at the entrance to the Palestinian neighborhood. And then, while a speaker shouted into a megaphone, and the police thought they’d held the crowd back, and camera crews stood on a hilltop filming, the young toughs discovered they could simply rush down the steps from the promenade, around the police, and into the village. The street emptied out, and the police played tag with the mob in the dark. The toughs through stones at windows and rooftop solar waterheaters. Fortunately, they did not manage to do more harm than that while dodging the cops.

But there was no reason the march ever should have taken place – or if did take place, that the police could not have stopped it further from Jabel Mukaber and surrounded the marchers. What happened was partly incompetence, partly an unwillingness to confront a mob from the far right speaking for “the people of Israel.” It didn’t do the police much good. They got cursed anyway.

I went as a journalist. I still could not create emotional distance. I was disgusted several times over. It is awful to hear people happily shouting “Death to…” The failure of the police to keep people intent on violence away from their intended victims was frightening. Standing on the side, I also had to admit that part of the energy of a demonstration – the being-together, the chanting, the catcalls at the cops – is the same no matter what the cause.

And I saw good things polluted: My religion and country, for which hateful people claimed to speak. The promenade and the valley, where both Palestinian and Jewish families enjoy the sun and the green on any Saturday afternoon, where women from Jabel Mukaber take brisk walks and Jews jog on weekday mornings. The terrorist and the would-be lynch mob exist in a strange symbiosis. Hate feeds on hate and conjures up more hate. South Jerusalem was soiled.

4 thoughts on “The Look of the Lynch Mob”

  1. I think it is very important to keep a proper perspective on these matters. The fact is that I have not heard anything about Jews assaulting Arabs on the streets of Jerusalem or other cities in the wake of the terror attack on Mercaz HaRav.
    During the entire suicide bomber war starting in the year 2000 and lasting something like 3 years, over 1000 Israelis were killed and thousands wounded and yet there were not mob scenes like the one you describe nor were there assaults on individual Arab passers-by. Even this incident focused on a demand that the gov’t demolish the terrorists home. It was no doubt inflamed by the news reports of the family of the terrorist decorating their house with HIZBULLAH and HAMAS flags and the media reporting that the residents of Jebel Mukaber were “proud” of what a son of that neighborhood did.

    It is important to note also that the people of Sederot have made minimal protests about their suffering. Olmert and the gov’t have said very clearly there is nothing that can be done about it, yet we don’t see any anger bursting out. My daughter spent Shabbat there a few months ago and asked why they don’t make noisy demonstrations in Jerusalem and the like and the reply they heard was “it doesn’t do any good”.
    Thus, we see that the population of Israel is very docile and accepting of the government’s claims that the only solution is a “peace agreement” with the Arabs.

    As I commented in an earlier posting, the “Right” in Israel has been pretty much disenfranchised politically. Even if Netanyahu and the Likud win the next election (whenever that may be) it is clear to me that he will form a government with the Left (Kadima and Labor) and the “national religious pro-YESHA settlement” party (which is weak, divided and ineffectual) will be kept out. I pointed out that this created a lot of frustration in supporters of this camp and it is unclear how this play out, particularly if the security situation continues to deteriorate. One possible outcome is more incidents like this one. The leaders of the state have to keep this in mind. When Olmert states “we are tired of fighting” and “the state of Israel is doomed if we don’t set up a Palestinian state now” people hear this and feel that the leadership clique has given up on defending the country and that the lives of the citizens are expendable. This could lead to a very dangerous situation, although up until now they have gotten away with it. This question is whether the passivity of the population will continue or not.

  2. Y. Ben-David: to some people at least it is pretty obvious that Israel hasn’t been as passive as you are making out.

    Gershom is making the point that all violence springs from hate, and here the state is almost colluding in one-side’s attempts to stir up hatred and perpetrate violent acts. This is surely not good. It is doubly worrying when people can no longer see the ways that they might be contributing to the cycle of violence–just can’t see it any more.

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