In the wake of attacks, signs of violent tension between Israel's Jewish, Arab teens

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Israeli youths dance under a huge national flag during a parade marking Jerusalem Day in Jerusalem May 20, 2012. (Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters.)

Police in Jerusalem have arrested eight Israeli teenagers in connection with a mob attack on a group of Palestinian teens last week.

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One Palestinian teen was severely injured in the attack. Several hours earlier, in a separate incident, a Palestinian taxi driver was fire-bombed.

Israelis have become used to the ongoing violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this incident has struck a different chord.

Hasan Hasanein, a 22-year-old Palestinian who sells backgammon sets on Jerusalem’s main pedestrian mall, said he saw the Jewish teens following the Arab teens, and cursing at them for being Arab.

Hasanein said he got scared and closed his shop.

"We start to close very quickly. We heard an ambulance. I don’t know what happened after that," he said.

According to Jerusalem police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, a 13-year-old Israeli girl told a group of Israeli teenagers that an Arab boy had sexually harassed her.

“Those youngsters looked around for someone to curse, and eventually someone to beat up,” Rosenfeld said.

The police have asked eyewitnesses not to speak to the media while the investigation continues. But the night of the attack, one woman wrote a Facebook post saying she saw the Israeli teens throw a Palestinian teen to the ground and kick him in the head. He was rushed to the hospital, unconscious.

There’s been much condemnation of the attacks in the Israeli media.

But some boys on the street where the attack took place said there’s good reason for this beating — they say when Palestinian boys flirt with or harass Israeli girls, it’s intolerable.

"I walk around here a lot. I see a lot of Arab boys flirting with Jewish girls,” said one. “They have their own villages. They shouldn’t come into our lives here.”

Another boy took that sentiment to the extreme.

"I think what happened was excellent. I’m happy they beat him up. It’s too bad he didn’t die," he said.

Oren, who’s almost 19, was wearing a Real Madrid T-shirt and a white yarmulke. He’s from Pisgat Zeev — a suburb of Jerusalem in an area Israel annexed after the 1967 war. It’s near a number of Palestinian villages. Oren said Palestinian teens flirt with Jewish girls there.

Mixed dating is taboo in Israel, especially in politically tense Jerusalem. Oren said his parents are upset that he supports the attack. And some other Israeli teens, like Baruch Erenberg, told me the kids who carried out the attack don’t represent them.

“I think they are very stupid. Why the hell are they doing this? They just go and punish a boy because he’s not Jewish? It’s not good,” Erenberg said.

Across the street from where the attack took place, Yaffa Yehudai works in a clothing store. She didn’t witness the violence, but she’s worked there for 45 years and she said she’s seeing more and more brawls on this pedestrian mall. She said teenage violence happens everywhere in the world, and Palestinian teens have also attacked Israelis. 

"We Jews call ourselves the chosen people. We need to be careful of how we speak and act," she said.

This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would bring those guilty of these attacks to justice.

"This is something we cannot accept – not as Jews, not as Israelis. This is not our way," he said.

Israel’s education ministry said it’s going to use the attack as a teaching opportunity. When schools resume next week, teachers will be talking to students about what happened here last Thursday night.

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