Extremism rends Jerusalem's fragile sectarian coexistence . Unprecedented duration of Arab-Jewish violence alarms city leadership
A week of intercommunal violence in Jerusalem has punctured the delicate fabric of coexistence holding together this city's mixed Jewish-Arab population. Arab merchants in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday pried open shop doors dented and bent by angry Jewish extremists, who had earlier rampaged through the city during a memorial march for a murdered Jewish seminary student. The student, Eliahu Amedi, was stabbed to death a week ago in the city's Muslim quarter. The marchers chanted, ``Death to Arabs, we want vengeance.''
During the angry funeral march that followed the Nov. 15 stabbing, mourners shattered windows in Arab cars and homes and set fire to Arab stores in the Old City and other parts of Arab East Jerusalem. Stoning attacks and arson attempts continued throughout the week, and students from the dead student's seminary attacked Arab homes in the Muslim quarter in the vicinity of their school. Several Arab families fled their homes.
Though the violence has been localized and not city-wide, both its unprecedented persistence for a week and the rage behind it have alarmed municipal officials, police and government ministers. The Cabinet discussed the subject at its meeting this week, and Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum, as well as the country's chief rabbis, have called for an end to the anti-Arab attacks.
The wave of violence has been a major challenge to the policy of Jewish-Arab coexistence in Jerusalem enunciated by Mayor Teddy Kollek. The mayor has implemented this philosophy since Israel occupied the city's Arab eastern half in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. He oversaw the removal of barriers marking the Israeli-Jordanian border in Jerusalem's heart.
Mr. Kollek has since sought to preserve the city's political unification under Israeli control by promoting the policy of respect for the religious and cultural autonomy of each of its communities. A prime example of his policy has been the continued administration of Muslim mosques on the Temple Mount by the city's Supreme Muslim Council, despite pressure by Jewish extremists to put the area under more direct Israeli control.
Under Kollek's scheme, Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem have been living side by side in both halves of the city, with little social contact but in peace and tolerance that have survived outbreaks of extremist violence on both sides.
``We see the city as a mosaic, not a melting pot,'' says Rafi Davara, a municipality spokesman and close aide of Kollek. ``The minute there is a mix, trouble can begin.''
Mr. Davara's comments were borne out by last week's violence, which many observers say was sparked by the presence of extreme orthodox Jewish groups in the heart of the Old City's Muslim quarter.
Kollek's vision of compartmentalized coexistence in Jerusalem has also been increasingly threatened by broader currents of social and political extremism that have swept Israel and are now making inroads in this city.
Police officials say they believe the wave of violence in Jerusalem has been instigated by an alliance of criminal elements, members of Rabbi Meir Kahane's extreme anti-Arab Kach Party, and religious zealots, many of whom are former ex-convicts who have embraced an extremist brand of Jewish orthodoxy.
The Shmuel Hanazi neighborhood, scene of some of the anti-Arab attacks in the past week, is a low-income section of the city where some residents have police records and where the back-to-religion movement has gained new adherents in recent years.
Analysts say the seminary student's murder apparently triggered deep feelings of frustration and resentment that have been exploited by extremist groups to produce an explosive mix of violence with religious overtones.
While touring the site of violence late last week, Kollek seemed aware of the new forces threatening to shatter the fragile peace he has maintained in the city for almost 20 years.
He said the city's survival under Israeli rule now depends on ``our degree of responsibility, alertness, and level-headedness.''
``It is in our national interest that Jerusalem remain quiet so that it can be built,'' the mayor continued. ``The danger is not from the terrorists but from those extremists who attempt to show the world that this city is not one,'' he added.