For those who can detach themselves emotionally, or for those who don’t live in Israel and share in the fate of this country, the march by ‘La Familia’ (part of Beitar Jerusalem FC supporters that is associated with the extreme right and violent behavior) and ‘Lehava’ (who are also are part of the extreme and violent right, along with settlers from the West Bank and other fragments of the Israeli right wing must have appeared as an peculiar and curious event. It is not every day that an ordinary person joins a parade, which is in actual fact a ‘human hunt’. We march with them, as they span out across the center of Jerusalem, like a pack of dogs in search of the elusive fox.
In the corner of Sacher Park, where Ben Zvi Avenue meets Yitzhak Rabin Avenue a mere 100 meters from the Israeli supreme court (the wonderful irony), the atmosphere is rather calm as roughly 1000 demonstrators arrive. They are calm because they are on a mission, and that mission is to not confront the police. The purpose of the gathering, as defined on La Familia’s Facebook page, is quite blunt and leaves no room for question or doubt: “We’ll march from Sacher Park to the Wailing Wall, trampling anyone who tries to stop us or hurt us.”
The police surround the demonstrators at the park, trying to make them stay there. They arrest Benzi Gupshtein (founder of Lehava) and ‘M’ one of the leaders of La Familia, but they have no legal reason to stop the demonstrators. They cannot stop them from crossing the road eastwards toward the Nachlaot neighborhood and from continuing through the center of Jerusalem to the Old City. The police stand helpless watching hordes of men chanting “[Rabbi Meir] Kahana still lives!” and “[the prophet] Mohammed is dead.” On the narrow pavement of Bezalel Street, after a short and not too determined effort to stop them from walking in the road, they give up completely and the demonstrators fill the entire width, stopping the traffic.
The people leading group, wearing yellow and black La Familia hoodies, suddenly break out running towards Machane Yehuda market. It is 9:30pm and the market is full of Arab workers whose job it is to clear the garbage away from the streets and to throw away the unsold vegetables. One of the demonstrators shouts, “Arabs! Arabs!” One of the workers vanishes into the alley in a matter of seconds, as dozens of demonstrators begin to chase after him. The riot police are following, trying to stop the demonstrators and block the alleyway so that others won’t follow suit. One cannot help but think of wildlife movies. For the demonstrators, they are not chasing a human but hunting a moving target that must be hit, caught, eliminated. This is nothing less than a hunting expedition.
At the end of Bezalel Street the main body of the parade arrives at cafés that insist on staying open despite the current security situation. A group of middle aged British tourists are sitting at one of the tables. They hear the chanting of, “Death to the Arabs!” that is echoing in the narrow street. The tourists stand up, coffee glasses still in their hands, and stand alongside the wall of the café terrified. “What’s going on?” They ask with fear in their voices. “We hate Arabs,” one of the demonstrators says with a thick Israeli accent. The elderly Brit nods in his direction, her eyes wide open with amazement.
The riot police close all of the small alleys in fear of another demonstration group breaking away on another human hunt. A group of Beitar Jerusalem FC supporters join the back of the parade. They tried to reach the Old City in a wide circling move through Rehavia, but the police blocked their path. The arrive singing loud hate songs that anyone who ever attended Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem know well (“Muhammed isn’t a prophet/he’s just another Arab”) and the rest of the crowd joins in on the singing. As the parade reaches Hillel Street the demonstrators go store by store to look for Arab workers. In one of the pizza parlors the owner steps outside to talk to them: “You have Arabs here! We know that!” they scream. “I’m Avoda Ivrit (Jewish workers only),” he tells them. “I swear on it. You’re doing a great job.”
They approach every young man of Middle Eastern appearance asking him for the time of day. I fail to understand what the big deal is and why the demonstrators don’t just look at their watches, until one of the demonstrators tells his friend, “Fuck! I missed a chance! I asked him what time it was and he said 10:30 with an accent. He was an Arab! A fucking Arab! And then a cop passed by and I missed my chance.”
The demonstrators curse the Channel 10 News team that was broadcasting live. One of them spits on the camera as others chant, “Fuck the press.” One of the demonstrators tells his friend that they were able to catch an Arab at Nachlaot: “You won’t believe what we did to him,” he continues as they walk towards the Old City.
The human hunting continues late through the night, despite the police efforts to direct the demonstration through the Zion Gate and into the Jewish Quarter, as far away from Arabs as possible.
It is just another night in the city. A city which officially is united. Too bad we do live here, our fate is entwined with this country, and thus the experience is a traumatic one. It is not every day that a man gets to witness the hunting of another human being.
“Does he look like a leftist to you?” asks a curly haired girl wrapped in an Israeli flag. “Of course,” her friend replies. “Look at him taking our pictures with that hair of his.” The fired up teens around the two do not need much more than that to ignite them, and they storm forward. A group of older thugs join in on the assault. The photographer, tries to defend himself, but he is taking punches and kicks from all sides.
“Let’s find some action,” shout ultra-orthodox teens as they run into Sacher Park to join in the hundreds of demonstrators already there. In the dark, they cross through the park running between the bushes. They arrive at the edge of the park, short of breath, only to find a police officer waiting on the road, announcing through a megaphone that this is an illegal gathering, and calling them to disperse. “Anyone not dispersing will be arrested,” the police officer says as he summons two officers on horseback through the radio. The police ride into the park and the demonstrators decide to stand back. “These police are bastards! Watch out from them!” shouts a man in a Lehava organization t-shirt.
Now everyone turns, running to the Ben Zvi and Bezalel street intersection. One of the youths drops something, he and his friends retreat back a few meters. On the asphalt lays a knife and canister of tear gas. “You’re crazy,” says one of them, “If they catch you with that you’re going to get arrested.” Quickly, he stuffs it back into his pocket.
The demonstrators become inpatient. They divide into small groups, they cross the street, and begin infiltrating the streets of Nachlaot neighborhood. In one of the alleys, several stand and switch their Lehava shirts so the printed side is now facing their body and they won’t be recognized as part of the group. Others cover their faces using scarves and march on Machane Yehuda market. One of them chants, “A Jew is a good soul, an Arab is a bastard.” An hour later, in the narrow street leading from the Jewish Quarter parking lot to the Wailing Wall in the Old City, this chant becomes a sort of an anthem that will be sung out by dozens of demonstrators.
“Look at them,” says a religious teenager wearing a t-shirt that reads, ‘The Negev belongs to the Jews’ as he points to the Arab neighborhood of Silwan just outside of the Old City. “They sleep quietly there. You will not see a single police officer there. No one dares go in there. What do the police do? They come to arrest us. Cowards.”
On the plaza in front of the Wailing Wall, photographers become the target once again: “Let’s see you come here and stand between us you fucker,” one of the demonstrators tells a photographer. “if you’re a real man come here. I dare you,” he continues. The photographer calmly rolls himself a cigarette and doesn’t respond. The demonstrator then tries his luck with another photographer.
Back in the center of Jerusalem, a group of demonstrators attack an African worker who has just finished his shift in one of the local restaurants. Bystanders are quick to intervene, smuggling him away from the mob. A Palestinian taxi driver receives a spit to the face. “But I am a Christian,” he says trying to defend himself.
Rain begins and one of the recently deployed border police tells another officer standing next to him, “there is no place like this city. I’m so happy we got stationed here.”