Israeli youth take to the streets

By Linda Gradstein, The Media Line

It has been a difficult week for everyone in Israel and the Palestinian territories. First the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers and their emotional funerals. Then the calls for revenge and the rampage of hundreds of extremist Jewish youths in downtown Jerusalem, and attacks on several Palestinians. The next day saw the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager. While Israeli police said the killing could be nationalist or criminal, hundreds of Palestinian teenagers threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, shutting down the Jerusalem light rail in East Jerusalem.

A demonstration of Tag Meir, which wants to see peace and restraint following the kidnapping and murder of four teens, three Israeli and one Palestinian.

A demonstration of Tag Meir, which wants to see peace and restraint following the kidnapping and murder of four teens, three Israeli and one Palestinian.

Some 35,000 Israelis, most of them young, have signed a Facebook page calling for revenge attacks on Palestinians for the killing of the three Israelis. Palestinians say they have been harassed. Israel Television showed footage of Jews on the light rail in Jerusalem cursing at an Arab woman until she left the train. Mousa Abu Iyad, a 23-year-old man from Kafr Qasem has filed a complaint with the police saying he was attacked by eight Jews who stabbed him repeatedly in his lower body.

But there are also Israeli youth who are looking for another way. More than 2,000 of them converged on a square in downtown Jerusalem with signs calling for peace and reconciliation. Einat Gomel held a handmade sign with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi that said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

“I live in Jerusalem and I don’t want to see hatred in my city,” Gomel told The Media Line. “Revenge and incitement will never end. We need to live together,” she said referring to Israelis and Palestinians.

Many of the young people wore stickers that said “Enough” in Hebrew and Arabic. On Tuesday night, after the funerals, many of the youth wore stickers that said, “Kahane was right,” referring to the extremist American-born rabbi Meir Kahane who called for Israel to annex the West Bank and Gaza and force Palestinians to leave. Kahane was briefly a member of the Israeli Knesset, until his party was declared racist and anti-democratic. He was killed in the U.S. in 1990 by an Arab gunman.

The rally was organized by “Tag Meir,” a coalition of pro-peace groups that is a response to “Tag Mechir,” (“price-tag”) or anti-Arab attacks. In the last few days there have been several new price-tag attacks, including graffiti calling for “Death to the Arabs.”

Many in the crowd said they came to the demonstration after watching news coverage of the extremist youths in downtown Jerusalem.

“I came because of the disgusting behavior of the hooligans,” said Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman of the Reform Kol Haneshama synagogue. “I also expected more from our government. I want to see them keep a cool head and protect the weakest parts of our society. There is a deep sense of desperation on both sides that the bad guys are taking over.”

The killings of the Israeli and Palestinian teenagers come at a sensitive time. Summer vacation has started, meaning youth have time on their hands. It is also the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, meaning Palestinians are fasting during the hot days, and many workplaces close early. Many Palestinians also turn to religion during these days, attending the mosque more than usual.

Some of the youth at the Tag Meir demonstration wore the skullcap of observant Jews.

“Young Israelis came here and yelled ‘Death to the Arabs,’” Tal Steiner told The Media Line. “We came here today in solidarity with the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. We want to show that there is a different kind of Judaism — one that is not full of hatred, but accepting and full of love.”