If you want to find out the facts behind the violence on Sunday in Silwan village in East Jerusalem during a march by far-right Israeli activists, you have to do a lot of Web surfing. Everybody offers bits of the story, but only the bits they want to share. Everybody’s got an angle.
The short version is that somewhere between 40 and 70 far-right settler activists marched on Sunday through Silwan, a close-knit Arab village-turned-city neighborhood just south of the Temple Mount in what is known to Jews as the City of David. Silwan is one of the Arab neighborhoods where Jewish settler groups are moving families in, despite the neighbors’ protests, with the aim of asserting Israeli sovereignty through facts on the ground. The marchers on Sunday were surrounded by a huge cordon of police along a half-mile route lined with Palestinian protesters and left-wing Jewish allies. Violence broke out when groups of Palestinians broke off and began pelting the police with stones.
The Jerusalem Post’s reportage leads with the fact that two police officers were injured by Arab counter-protesters. One was treated on the spot; the other, a policewoman, was hit “in the shoulder and evacuated to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.” The Post notes that one Palestinian was arrested on suspicion of throwing the rocks.
Maan, the Palestinian news service, leads its report with the news, based on ambulance services’ reports, that some 30 of the counter-protesters were treated for injuries, at least 11 of them caused by rubber bullets. In addition, two paramedics were hurt by rubber bullets while trying to treat the wounded. The Jerusalem Post forgot to mention that. On the other hand, the Maan article doesn’t mention any Israeli injuries, in uniform or out.
Maan reports that the pro-settler march “was given official government permission after being postponed last month.” That’s sort of true, but misleading. You have to look elsewhere, whether to the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, or even the Christian Science Monitor to learn that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu actually tried to stop the march, fearing it would embarrass visiting U.S. negotiator George Mitchell. Most reports say Bibi’s plea was nixed by the attorney general on grounds that there was no legal basis to forbid it and that the Supreme Court would likely overturn a ban. The New York Times mentions Bibi’s opposition in passing,without elaboration.
Haaretz adds the telling detail that it was actually the minister of public security (formerly known as the police minister) who made the decision, after consulting with the attorney general, to override the prime minister and let the march proceed.
The Jerusalem Post reports in a separate article that the main Silwan Jewish settlement organization, El-Ad, joined forces with the local Palestinian village mukhtar to stop the pro-settler marchers, realizing that they would stir up trouble and draw negative attention to the settler cause. The Post was also the only paper I found that reported that the Silwan march was organized and led by leading disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.
You’d have to do your own digging to find out that the public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, the man who insisted on defying the prime minister and approving the inflammatory march, is one of the top leaders of Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party. Your search might also dig up the fact that Aharonovitch called an undercover police officer a “dirty Arab” during a meeting last June (he later said it was just a joke).
You could then decide on your own what to make of the fact that these same Jerusalem police spent months this past fall and winter, on Aharonovitch’s watch, arresting Jewish protesters who opposed similar Jewish settlement in the Arab neighborhood, Sheikh Jarrah — this despite reprimands from judges who kept releasing the suspects as soon as they were brought in, and indeed in defiance of court ordersnot to arrest the demonstrators.
Recapping our last point: Aharonovitch’s police spend hundreds of man-hours over a period of months arresting left-wing, anti-settler demonstrators in defiance of court orders, and then, just weeks later, pivot around and insist on obeying a theoretical but non-existent court order to permit — and spend hundreds of man-hours protecting — pro-settler Kahanist demonstrators marching into a tinderbox with every intention of throwing a match.
Pattern, or coincidence? I wouldn’t presume to judge. I just report — you decide.
J.J. Goldberg is editor emeritus of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).