Jerusalem — As Jamal Julani recovered in a hospital after being beaten unconscious in an August 17 attack that monopolized Israeli headlines for days, another Palestinian man was beaten unconscious. But this second attack flew under the radar of most Israelis.
The first attack dominated not only the media, but also the political discussion, with figures throughout the Israeli political establishment condemning the act. These included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar even took the unusual step of instructing junior high and high schools nationwide to teach an anti-racism themed lesson on the incident.
“This attack has penetrated Israeli escapism,” Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney who specializes in Israeli-Palestinian relations, told the Forward. Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin of the ruling Likud party tackled the issue head-on at the victim’s bedside, telling him that “inadequate education” is making racism increasingly acceptable among teenagers. “We — the government, the Knesset and the educational system — are responsible for that, as well as anyone who views himself as a public leader,” he said.
The second attack, which took place Aug. 27, was hardly mentioned by politicians; it received minimal press coverage, and schools gave it no special attention. Two men are recovering from injuries, both apparently attacked for political or racial reasons by Jews, yet Israelis had two completely different reactions. Why?
The first attack, perpetrated against Julani and two friends by dozens of Jewish youths, took place in West Jerusalem, while the second, by two masked attackers against shepherd Ismail Adara, took place in the remote Southern Hebron Hills. In violence, as in real estate, observed Sam Lehman-Wilzig, a Bar-Ilan University political scientist and expert in political communication, the crucial detail is “location, location, location.”
In other words, the strong reaction to the Jerusalem attack, which took place in the iconic downtown plaza Zion Square, highlights how Israelis feel concern when violence takes place in familiar contexts but are unaffected by violence in rural areas of the West Bank.
Gavriel Salomon, founder and former director of the Center for Research on Peace Education at the University of Haifa, told the Forward: “As long as these things are taking place ‘far away,’ and as long as the victims are Palestinians, who are totally anonymous and faceless, people in Israel concentrate their attention on other things. But as soon as it’s closer to home — even at home — and the victims have faces, then the associations with pogroms begin to take shape.”
Salomon believes that a third incident supports this theory. A few days before the Zion Square attack, assailants threw a Molotov cocktail at a Palestinian taxi, leaving six people, including two children, wounded. Although this happened in the West Bank — beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders — it wasn’t in a rural area, either. Instead it took place in the heavily populated Etzion Bloc close to Jerusalem, which is seen by many Israelis as a highly respectable neighborhood, almost a suburb of the city. This incident, like the Zion Square attack, was big news and discussed by politicians. “Gush Etzion is the heart of Jewish settlement, so it resonated,” Salomon said.