May 31, 2008
Dozens of teenage boys from Jerusalem received the same ICQ message: "We're putting an end to all the Arabs who hang out in 'Pisga' [Pisgat Ze'ev] and the mall, whistle at the girls, curse, threaten little kids. Anyone who is Jewish and wants to put an end to all that should be at Burger Ranch at 10 P.M., and we'll finally show them they can't hang in our area anymore. Anyone who is willing to do that and has Jewish blood should add his name to this message."
It would have been difficult to choose a more cynical date on which to send out such a message: Wednesday, April 30, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Dozens of boys arrived at the meeting place in the Pisgat Ze'ev shopping mall. They streamed in from all parts of the capital, some on foot, some by bus and some driven in by parents. Equipped with knives, sticks and clubs, they all had one purpose: to do harm to Arabs for being Arabs.
At the entrance, the gang encountered two boys from the Shuafat refugee camp, who had come to shop for clothes and didn't know the mall had closed early for Holocaust Day. The day's end saw the two battered, bleeding and stabbed, and at Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem.
A few days ago, an indictment was submitted to the Jerusalem District Court against 11 of the attackers - teenage boys aged 15-19. Their testimony indicates the attack was perpetrated in a society in which violence against Arabs is seen as a legitimate and necessary means by which to restore Jewish hegemony to the neighborhood.
"I study in Pisgat Ze'ev at the Teddy Kollek School," Rafael (his and all the other teens' names have been changed), 15, told police. "Last Tuesday began as an ordinary day. School. I returned from gym and on my way to class, I overheard some guys saying that tomorrow we would be meeting in the mall to fight the Arabs. I went home and like every day, logged on to the computer and connected to ICQ ... After I talked with some people for half an hour, they sent me a message that tomorrow, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, we would meet at 10 P.M. to fight the Arabs who whistle at the girls and harass little kids. I sent the message to one person."
Another teen, Yaron, said in his testimony: "I received a message on ICQ on the Thursday before ... The day came and at 8:30 P.M. I went to my barber in Pisgat Ze'ev, Kobi Ben Haim, for a haircut. After Kobi finished cutting my hair he said, 'Yalla, in another hour and a half we'll screw the Arabs.'"
At the same time, in the Abu Kamal home in Shuafat in northern Jerusalem, 18-year-old Ahmed was preparing to go out. "He told me he wanted to buy clothes," said his father Jemal. "I heard that in Pisgat Ze'ev there's a mall, that it's like Jaffa Road, inexpensive. I said to him, 'Great, go, why not?'"
Ahmed is the second of 12 children. "He saw that I was having a tough time and that he had to help me, and since then he's been working as a janitor in the Shaare Zedek Medical Center. My child is calm, none of us has a police record. We have Jewish and Arab friends, we have nothing against anyone and people in the village respect us."
Toward evening, Ahmed left his house and when he arrived at Pisgat Ze'ev he met another teenager from the refugee camp, 16-year-old Walid. "The little Arab," as the Jewish boys described him during their interrogation, used to walk around the area looking for jobs. When he met Ahmed that evening they decided to continue together to the mall.
In his testimony to the police, Walid said: "We were on the way to the mall to buy clothes. We arrived at about 7 P.M. When we wanted to go inside, the guard told us that everything was closed and only the clinic was open. We left the mall, entered the nearby gas station, bought food and sat in the park near the mall until 9 P.M. We were planning to return home, and on the way back we saw a big crowd near the mall."
When Ahmed and Walid sat down to eat, the Jewish boys began to gather near the local Burger's Bar restaurant. Rafael told police: "In the evening I took a knife from my room. I put the knife in my pocket and went out into the street."
What did you know was about to happen?
Rafael: "A fight with Arabs ... I wanted to see what was happening there."
Why did you come with a knife?
"I go everywhere with a knife. If someone wants to buy it, I'll have it to give to him ... The knife is always with me and it doesn't make any difference if there's a violent activity or not. It was with me from the morning."
You go to school with a knife, too?
"Yes. Always one."
Rafael arrived at the meeting point with his friend Shlomi, 15. "Like a retard, I argued with him for about an hour to give me the knife. In the end I took the knife ... Its handle is the size of three fingers, even less. One of those stupid little ones, just a knife," he said in his interrogation.
The group waited for a long time at the spot, but nothing happened. "We waited for about two hours, everyone with wooden boards, bats, not a single Arab passed by," said Shlomi.
At this point, the boys decided to move to a more strategic location, opposite the entrance to the mall. Unfortunately for the two friends from Shuafat, they had to pass the mall on the way back home. "When we passed by," Walid said in his testimony, "a guy came over to us and told us to come over to him. He called his friend, pointed to me and said to him, 'Is this the guy that made trouble?' His friend said no."
According to the police, the two young men who spoke to them were Liran Asraf, 18, and another boy, Shaul, 15. Shaul told police: "We waited for about 15-20 minutes and two Arabs arrived. I approached the big Arab and spoke to him, asked whether he was hitting on the girls. And then I threw a lit cigarette between the shoulder and neck of the big Arab. He looked at me, wanted to kill me. His eyes popped out and then he kept looking, and suddenly all the kids attacked the little one. They simply pushed him against the railing and stepped on him."
Why did you throw the lit cigarette at the Arab?
Shaul: "Because he hit on the girls. Because the Arabs hit on the girls."
Did he start fighting with anyone?
"No. The fact is, the first time I saw those Arabs was at the mall."
Who was with you and what did each one do?
"I'm asking you not to show them I'm talking about them, because afterward they'll call me an informer. What I saw was feet and jumping. The ones who were there were Rafael and his brother Naor. Yaron, who had a stick, hit him between the ribs or the head, I don't remember exactly. Uzi jumped on his body. I more or less saw that they all jumped, kicked, stepped on him, on the Arab. The kid was a trampoline and punching bag. That's it. I swear to you that I cried a little on the side. And then the police came and all of them ran away like ants. If the police hadn't come after five minutes, that boy would have been done for. I came back after three or four minutes to see what was happening with him and I heard him shouting 'Mother, Mother.'"
What happened with the big Arab?
"I didn't look at the big one. Only at the little one because there were about 80 kids there."
"I saw that everyone was beating the little one severely," said Shlomi in his interrogation. "I swear to you I don't know how he survived it. He's 17, but he comes up to my stomach. The way he was pushed against the railing and the blows he got, I don't know how the boy is alive. Anyone who tells you that he didn't do anything is a liar."
Walid only remembers that "a gang of kids, more than 80, pounced on us and they had clubs and knives in their hands and they attacked us. All I remember now is that I passed out and woke up in the hospital."
While the boys were beating Walid like a punching bag, Ahmed was stabbed in the back. According to the indictment, those who stabbed him were Naor and his brother Rafael, who took the knife from his friend Shlomi.
"I walked toward the mall," Ahmed told Haaretz. "But I didn't go inside, I passed by the entrance to the plaza and there was a large group of guys there, they were just standing there and I walked among them at the side of the road. I heard them talking among themselves and they said something like, 'Is it them? Is it them?' and then someone stabbed me in the back with a knife, threw me down and continued to beat me. One guy bit my ear. I don't know how I managed to get up, but I got up and ran away. They chased me and threw stones. I continued to run and started to lose my breath because of the injury and the running, until I couldn't go on."
Shlomi told police he had tried to stab Ahmed, but he said his "stupid little" knife broke. "When the Arabs came and they started beating them, like an idiot I got near his leg and the knife broke and nothing happened to the boy, not even a hole. You can even check his legs."
'Holes in his back'
What part did brothers Naor and Rafael play in the incident?
Shlomi: "Naor stabbed the big Arab ... The Arab was standing, Naor was behind him, the Arab started to advance and Naor came at him with a kitchen knife with a black handle and afterward I saw the Arab running with holes in his back and his whole jacket was full of blood. I saw it clearly."
Naor denied these things in his interrogation and claimed, "I gave him two kicks and ran away. That's all."
Another boy who was present, Ya'akov, 16, said in his interrogation that "these were two groups that split up. Each one attacked a different Arab, but most of the chaos was where I was looking. At least 20 kids hitting and lots of others, 100, standing on the side ... I saw one heavy one, a fat face with a beard and stubble, he was holding a board like a construction board, 60 centimeters long. I heard someone, I couldn't tell who, saying 'Move for a second, move,' and then he came and hit the Arab on the head with the stick. The Arab held his head after a second and shouted 'ay'... Aside from the stick, I saw that they punched him hard, hit him. And then he started running toward the gas station."
What did you do?
Ya'akov: "Nothing. I won't lie to you. I didn't touch them. I only watched along with others who were hitting."
Did any of the minority group members attack anyone?
"What do you mean by minority group members?"
"I didn't see them attacking anyone. The truth is they couldn't because of the large number of kids who were there."
Why did it happen?
"Probably because they're Arabs. What else could it be? Before it happened they sent me a message on ICQ that anyone who's a real Jew should come at 10 P.M. on Holocaust Day to the Burger Ranch at Pisgat Ze'ev. I saw from a distance there were a lot of people and then I remembered the message and I went to see what had happened."
Kobi Ben Haim, the barber who according to Yaron's testimony exulted at the opportunity "to screw Arabs" said in his interrogation that he "went down with a friend of mind for a stroll after work ... I approached the place where the fight was going on and then he [Ahmed] punched me. I said to him, 'What are you doing? What are you doing?' And then I punched him in his left arm and kicked him on the left side of his face and arm."
Why should the guy punch you if you don't know him and have no quarrel with him?
Ben Haim: "I don't know. Maybe because the people had jumped on him and he thought that I jumped on him. Ask him that, not me."
The group beating of the two teenage boys ended only when a police van approached the site by chance. The boys left Walid lying on the road bleeding, and fled. Ahmed, who managed to escape, says, "I began to try to ask for help and I couldn't find people I could talk to, because I don't speak Hebrew. Until in the end I saw someone who spoke Arabic and asked him to call an ambulance, and he called and ordered an ambulance that came and took me."
The log of Magen David Adom emergency services and the hospital emergency room describe the events laconically: "Manner of transportation to the incident: urgent," "wounded after a fight," "temple pulse: 104," "hematoma under right eye," "shortness of breath," "stabbed by a knife in two places on the back part of the chest cavity," "cut in the right ear lobe," etc.
Meanwhile, at his home in Shuafat, Jemal Abu Kamal had difficulty falling asleep. "I waited for Ahmed to come home, I didn't really sleep," he says. "At almost 1 A.M. I heard the phone ring. I got up and went immediately to look and I saw the boy wasn't in his bed. I said 'God forbid, something happened. Maybe something happened to the boy.' I answered the phone and they said, 'Shalom, we're speaking from Hadassah Ein Karem. Your son is such and such.' I, in such a situation, my heart fell. I said, 'What happened?'
"They brought an Arab doctor to the phone who told me, 'Don't be frightened, but you have to come.' I asked how the boy was doing. He said, 'Come to us, with God's help it will be all right.' I went crazy. I went to the fifth floor and there I saw they were helping him, they had opened places in his stomach in order to take out blood and air."
At the same time, the boys suspected of the attack began to return home. In an examination of the phone records of those involved in the affair the police discovered among other things the following messaging between two of them, from 4:40 A.M.:
"Bro, did you see what happened yesterday?"
"Yeah, yeah bro, I kicked the Arab. I stepped on his head."
"Hahaha. Yes, aha."
"Bro, speak to everyone, we'll do another one like that!!"
"To make it short, the police came. Balagan. Wait for a month, so things will calm down, we'll do another one. Now keep quiet bro, don't talk about it, so nothing will be spilled to the police, you know."
"Aha, okay bro."
"Never mind, soon there'll be another one."
Boredom and violence
To identify the attackers, the police investigators from the juvenile division of the Zion district used footage from security cameras at the mall. The suspects turned out to be "ordinary" boys, without criminal records, who study at well-known schools in the city. Some said their participation in the incident was a result of peer pressure. "Because of that pressure, you either have to join them or fight with them," says a boy of 15, who is friendly with the teens but who wasn't involved in the incident. "Nobody wants to be a social outcast and fight with them all the time, so you join them. Apparently they were bored, because there really isn't much to do."
Only few of the accused expressed sorrow and regret. "It's strange, because it wasn't planned," said Shlomi. "I didn't come to hurt anyone, but things developed. You see a lot of people there and that's it. I came there like some kind of idiot. I'm sorry and I want to continue studying. That's my future."
Superintendent Eyal Goren, who is in charge of the investigation, says they soon discovered this was not another case of routine juvenile violence but an unusual incident of racist-nationalist proportions. "In Pisga, there are occasionally unpleasant encounters between minority members and Jewish youth. There are incidents of violence, harassment on both sides, but we have never seen this kind of organized activity," says Goren. "The incident was very violent and unusual. The preliminary organization is unusual, the fact that people who don't necessarily know each other came there, and that the younger ones were those who committed the more serious crimes."
Who was behind the first ICQ incitement? Attorney Rafi Merkavi, who represents brothers Rafael and Naor, says the message was sent out on the Web site of an extremist right-wing group associated with the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team. Goren insists that no connection was found with Beitar members and he refuses to say whether the police succeeded in discovering the source of the message.
During the course of the investigation it turned out that many had received another ICQ message, similar to that received before Holocaust Day, which called on them to gather for the same purpose on the eve of Memorial Day. During his interrogation, Shaul said, "I heard a rumor that on the eve of Memorial Day there would be a meeting, the same thing again, to hurt Arabs. I knew the police would figure it out, but I didn't think they would get to me and surprise me." Shlomi said, "There are going to be 200 kids there because they're going to fight with Arabs again. If you don't stop it now it will be a regular thing." Goren says that the investigation prevented the additional attack from occurring.
Two days ago, the Supreme Court decided to release all those who remained in custody to house arrest. Attorney Reuven Hamburger, who is representing Liran Asraf and Shaul, says the suspects have to go back to school. He says that "keeping these boys at home with nothing to do is the thing that is liable, God forbid, to lead to another incident."
Attorney Yehuda Shushan, who represented three of the accused during the proceedings, said that "there is no doubt that this incident must be dealt with from an educational point of view, but at the same time each suspect should be judged according to his individual level of involvement."
Anat Asraf, Liran Asraf's mother, says her son is the victim. "My son has no criminal record and happened to be there out of curiosity, like 200 other children. In two and a half months from now he is supposed to be drafted and to serve the country. We did not educate our children in 'underground racism' as the police presented it, but to stick on the straight and narrow. He was overcome by curiosity. I think that he was arrested without any wrongdoing on his part."
Two Arab boys ended up in the hospital.
Asraf: "Look, I'm not in favor of it and we always told the children that if they see something, even between one Jew and another, they should stay out of it. But my son is a victim of the state. Why? Because they came and pulled him out of the house in a way that I don't know how to describe to you. How does an investigator come and inflict a police record on such a boy? A wonderful boy, a good boy. They've stigmatized him. To what extent can you incriminate a group of children without proof?"
Doesn't it bother you that Liran went to look at Arabs being beaten up?
"We didn't know, and had we known I promise you that I wouldn't have let him leave the house. The judge said: 'Where were the parents?' Really, if a child says that he's going to a party, do we know where he's going? One mother told me yesterday that her son told her he was going to see a film about the Holocaust."
Rafael and Naor's father is concentrating on keeping his family together. "It's very difficult for us. I'm trying to preserve the family unit somehow."
Can you understand where it came from?
"The incitement to gather some 150 children near the mall was horrifying, and that's what convinced them to come there and try to 'clean up' the neighborhood. I understand that the police have yet to discover who spread the message. Had there not been a message, you wouldn't have seen a single child in the street. There are a lot of problems in Pisga and in my opinion they're sweeping them under the rug. There isn't a week when something doesn't happen here. To my great regret, it happened on the least suitable day. Without any relation to the trial, we for our part are trying to find therapists who will treat both the children and us as parents."
The Pisgat Ze'ev mall is in the heart of the Jewish neighborhood that was built in the mid-1980s in northern Jerusalem, beyond the Green Line, and about 50,000 people live there now. Jews and Arabs, secular and religious sit in cafes and shop at the supermarket and other stores. One of the store owners said that "60 percent of the mall's revenue comes from the Arab population."
Still, you won't hear many people condemning the attack on the Arab teens here. "This is a Palestinian mall," says a 15-year-old sitting with his friends on a stone bench in front of the mall. "About 90 percent of those who enter it are Arabs."
The female security guard at the entrance to the mall says that "Arab children or teenagers come here, go up to the top floor and spit down. Sometimes they whistle at the girls, harass them."
Next to her sits a man in his twenties. Until recently, he worked as a security guard in the mall and he is very familiar with the neighborhood. He heard what happened here on the eve of Holocaust Day and doesn't hide his satisfaction. "The police don't do anything and the time has come for someone to take the law into his own hands. It's a very good thing."
He describes incidents when Arabs beat up Jews and nothing was done. "Look, here," he says, pointing at a bus stop. "About seven kids asked a Jew for a cigarette. He didn't give it to them and they beat him up. Whey aren't they tried? Why aren't their pictures identified by security cameras?"
Attorney Merkavi, formerly the chair of the Pisgat Ze'ev Community Administration and presently a member of its board of directors, explains: "It's impossible to divorce what happened from the fact that something happened around this plaza. It bothered them that the Arabs would come and hit on the girls here. There's the fear that these girls will be enticed. They give them cigarettes and who knows if it doesn't go further than that?"
So it's a hormonal thing?
Merkavi: "Yes. They don't want the Arabs to come and hit on the Jewish girls. Who knows what else develops there."
Do you want to stop them from hitting on the girls?
"Yes. That's the point, because that's what incites this plaza. At the same time, we're working to explain that it's forbidden to take the law into one's own hands and to conduct such a pogrom."
Can't the girls decide for themselves if they're willing to have someone hit on them?
"Listen, that's dangerous. These are girls aged 15-18. I don't have to explain to you what temptations there are."
Does it bother you?
"My personal viewpoint is less important. It's important to me to conceal my viewpoint, especially as a lawyer."
Last Monday, 11 P.M. Three young men sit on a dark staircase in Pisgat Ze'ev and talk. The photographer and I ask to speak to them. It's hard to mistake the smell of marijuana wafting from their direction. I introduce myself as a journalist and they ask to see my ID. Afterward, one says his sister can't walk in the street without Arabs whistling at her. Another says he advises his younger brother not to walk by himself in Pisga, for fear that he'll be attacked by Arabs.
The three are well versed in the affair, leaving almost no doubt they are connected to the gang. They know the names of all the suspects and their lawyers and when exactly each legal proceeding took place. Suddenly they notice my recording device and become belligerent. Under threat, I am forced to let them hear the last recording to make sure they weren't taped. I erase the recordings, but they aren't satisfied. The photographer wants to call the police, and within seconds one starts chasing him.
"Catch him," he shouts to the other two. They obey, grab me, kick me and throw me onto the stone plaza. "Yalla, get out of here," they shout at us, adding a hard kick for good measure.
Now all that's left is to imagine how Ahmed and Walid felt when they were attacked not far from there by dozens of boys.
Abu Kamal says his son is in very bad shape. "He got a blow to the head and now he gets up three or four times a night. He's afraid, sometimes he cries. He was emotionally damaged and that's the worst kind of damage. Now his condition is not so good and I can't leave him. I'm afraid he'll get up and throw himself out of the window at night.
"I have a lot of Jewish friends," he explains. "And until now I've been telling my children that a human being is a human being. This is a small place and we have to live together. Now I tell him not to be afraid, that it happens, that even among Jews there are such things, that God has written this down. It's little people who did this, maybe they have an illness. But he's afraid and I don't know what to do."