A Near-Lynching in Jerusalem

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Isabel Kershner files a report about an attack on three Arab youths by a large group of Jewish hooligans in downtown Jerusalem. One of the Arabs nearly died; Israeli police have arrested seven teenagers so far in connection with the attack:

On Monday, some of the teenage suspects commented near the courthouse where they were remanded, adding to the shocking nature of the case. "For my part he can die," said one of the suspects, who admitted taking part in the assault. "He's an Arab," he told reporters outside the courtroom by way of explanation. "He cursed my mother.

"If it was up to me, I'd have murdered him," he added.

The attack, described by one witness as a "lynch," has laid bare the undercurrent of Jewish-Arab tensions that plague this mixed but politically divided city and that is leading many Israelis to question how their society could have come to this.

Several observations:

1) This sort of thing isn't actually that new. As someone who covered the funeral procession of Meir Kahane, the racist rabbi assassinated in New York more than 20 years ago, I can attest to the fact that Jewish hooligans, mainly from Jerusalem's poorest neighborhoods (and many who are descendants of Jews who fled, or were expelled, from Arab countries), will periodically set themselves upon innocent Arabs. They did it at the funeral, and in subsequent incidents.

2) This type of attack isn't that common. One of the strange things about Jerusalem is the way in which Arabs and Jews have achieved, in the city's public spaces, a kind of side-by-side integration. Which is to say, the big shopping malls in predominately Jewish West Jerusalem are filled with Arab shoppers, who go unmolested, generally. There's not a lot of friendliness, but not much hostility (Jews tend to stay out of Arab neighborhoods, except for settlers, who are there on purpose.) And Arabs and Jews ride the new surface rail system that connects Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, generally without incident. (The city's hospitals are actually places where there is often noteworthy warmth between Arabs and Jews -- the maternity wards, especially -- and it is no big deal that Arab doctors treat Jewish patients, and vice versa.)

3) Jews are sometimes attacked by Arabs in Jerusalem, without much attendant media coverage. I was in Israel earlier this year when an Arab East Jerusalemite attacked a Jewish man with an axe near the Damascus Gate. Jewish violence sometimes draws more coverage than Arab violence against Jews, and it certainly draws more attention than Arab-on-Arab violence. Such is the nature of things.

4) I'm always perplexed, after an incident like this, to read emotional statements like the one from Kershner, who said that the attack "is leading many Israelis to question how their society could have come to this." First of all, which Israelis? Name some. Name one. I'm not saying they don't exist. I know they exist, I just want to know if this includes only people in Kershner's liberal circles. Second, it's quite a broad statement, one that you almost never see in The New York Times following a heinous act of violence against an ethnic or racial minority in this, or any other, country. It's a bit of a reflex at The Times, which seems to be believe that Israelis are -- or should be -- wringing their hands constantly.

5) It's obviously a healthy sign that the police made arrests in the case, but the acid test comes if these suspects are convicted. Will they be given sentences that match the gravity of the crime, or will they get off easy? It would be appalling, but unsurprising, if this is ultimately not treated as an attempted murder.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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