Armon HaNatziv, or East Talpiot as it is officially known, is a Jewish neighbourhood in south Jerusalem. It was built, beginning in the 1970s, adjacent to an impressive complex overlooking the Old City, which has housed the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization’s headquarters in the city since 1948. Previously, it served as the official residence of the British High Commissioner, hence the name Armon HaNatziv – the Governor’s Palace.
The neighbourhood, now housing more than 15,000 residents, is beyond the Green Line, but within Jerusalem’s extended municipal boundaries, as drawn after the Six Day War. It borders several Arab neighbourhoods, formerly West Bank villages now part of Jerusalem.
I know many people living in Armon HaNatziv. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, friends hosted out-of-town guests for the festive meal. Late that night, as the guests made their way out of the area, rocks thrown in their direction narrowly missed their car as they drove on a road flanked by Tzur Bachar, an Arab neighbourhood.
Alexander Levlovitz and his two daughters were less fortunate. Later that night, as they drove home toward Armon HaNatziv on the same road, their car was hit by rocks thrown from the hillside below Tzur Bachar. Alexander lost control of his vehicle, causing it to overturn. He was killed and both his daughters were injured. Police called Levlovitz’s death an act of terrorism. Residents of Tzur Bachar were adamant it was an unfortunate traffic accident.
Violence – unacceptable violence – is spiralling in the Holy City. It’s not yet out of control, but east Jerusalem and its residents, which mostly stayed out of the fray during the first and second intifadahs have become much more bellicose lately.
Not limited to the southern environs of the city, hostile acts are now commonplace in many parts of east Jerusalem. Stones and Molotov cocktails are regular fare, while knife attacks, shootings and random use of vehicles to plough into innocent pedestrians are rarer.
Those most affected are members of the security forces and residents of neighbourhoods on the seam between the east and west Jerusalem. Recent news reports are crammed with interviews with Armon HaNatziv residents living directly on that seam, describing from their balconies how their formerly idyllic views of neighbouring Arab villages have been replaced with images of scorched outer walls of their homes, having been targeted by gasoline-filled incendiary devices, and of piles of rocks and other projectiles recently thrown into their yards.
I haven’t heard a convincing argument about the specific catalyst for all of this. Some say it is dates back to last summer’s horrific murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, an innocent teenager burned alive by Jewish terrorists after being randomly kidnapped outside his home in northern Jerusalem. Supposedly, this was in revenge for three Israeli teens who were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
Other commentators and government spokespeople assert the violence stems from Muslim incitement falsely accusing Israel of planning changes to the status quo on the Temple Mount, thus allegedly endangering Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-most-holy site.
Our government’s response was to start building tall fences around Jewish homes directly on the seam and to “liberalize” police rules of engagement, allowing sharpshooters to fire live rounds at stone-throwers, and to threaten judges’ promotions if Palestinian perpetrators aren’t punished more harshly. Thankfully, the attorney general nixed the latter two initiatives.
Instead of fences and threats, Israelis, and even more so Palestinians, need some semblance of hope, some light at the end of the tunnel. There hasn’t been any for years now, with leaders of both sides unable or unwilling to renew dialogue in good faith.
My friends in Armon HaNatziv have no plans to leave. Nor do the 300,000 Palestinians who live in Jerusalem.
As we celebrated our High Holidays and Muslims their Eid el Adha, let’s pray that calmer heads prevail and that we somehow put our heads together. The alternatives aren’t pretty.