A group of Jews were subjected to a vicious assault in broad daylight after being ambushed by an Arab gang on Rosh Hashanah, in the latest of a spate of violent anti-Semitic incidents in Jerusalem.
Hanan Kupietzky, a 23-year-old councilor at the Old City’s Hakotel yeshiva, was walking with his 16-year-old brother and a friend on the way back from the ancient Shiloach Pool in the City of David where they had taken part in the tashlich ritual, in which Jews symbolically cast their sins into a body of running water as a gesture of repentance.
The site, which dates back to the Byzantine era, is usually frequented by Jewish worshippers during Rosh Hashanah, and the route through the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Shiloach (also known as Silwan) is supposed to be secured by police in order to prevent any violence against Jewish pilgrims. But as the trio made their way back from the site on Friday Hanan said they noticed that instead of fanning out and securing the route, police were nowhere to be found.
“They were all at the bottom of the hill, nowhere else,” he claimed.
Local Arab youths took advantage of the lack of police presence almost immediately to carry out what appears to have been a pre-planned ambush.
Hanan recounted how an Arab horseman began intimidating a group of Jewish families walking near to Hanan’s group, including young children, by charging them repeatedly with his horse. Then, two Arab youths began pelting the families with rocks and bottles, eventually forcing them to turn back.
“They just couldn’t continue on because they had baby carriages and were obviously afraid for their children,” he recalled. “Suddenly, we realized our group was totally isolated.”
Another group of Arab youths standing on a balcony then began hurling insults at the trio, who picked up the pace in an attempt to get back to the Kotel (Western Wall).
But they didn’t get far before the incident suddenly turned violent.
“They signaled to some guy in a local shop to do something… he was a very big guy. We continued on our way but the man then started walking towards us, and as we got closer he kicked my brother very hard in the back of his leg.
“I turned around to face him but as I turned someone else ran out of nowhere with a two-by-four with nails in it, and began hitting me on the head.”
The attacker struck him repeatedly with such force that the plank of wood eventually snapped in two.
The assault ended as suddenly as it began when the attackers noticed that Hanan’s brother had run down the hill to notify police, and upon realizing that despite the force of their attack Hanan – a former member of an IDF counter-terrorism unit – had managed to stay on his feet. “I think they were a little bit in shock that I didn’t just fall on the floor.”
He was however left with serious injuries, including a shattered finger from parrying the blows, as well as severe cuts and bruising to his head.
Two men who just moments before had been throwing rocks at Jewish children stopped to film the attack, either for their own amusement or potentially to capture any violent reaction in self-defense by the Jewish group, he speculated. Anarchists and Arab extremists often employ such tactics against IDF soldiers, as well as civilians, particularly in Judea-Samaria and in flashpoint Jerusalem neighborhoods. After staging an attack, activists selectively edit the footage to incriminate their Israeli victims and distribute it online and to the media.
Hanan said that despite the attack he did not feel afraid – in fact, he returned shortly afterwards to the site of the assault and managed to locate the weapon which was hastily discarded by his attackers.
But he admitted that the entire ordeal had left him feeling very frustrated.
“It’s a pretty bad feeling that you can’t walk through Israel, your own country, in the City of David, on the way to tashlich on the holy day of Rosh Hashanah without having to think five times before you go anywhere – and then you get assaulted by Arabs trying to lynch you.”
Astonishingly, Hanan is a licensed firearms owner and was armed with a handgun at the time, but hesitated to draw his weapon, fearing he would end up in the dock. Those fears were likely well-founded, as numerous victims of Arab terrorists attacks have been arrested and even convicted after drawing their legally-owned weapons in self-defense – an increasingly common scenario lamented by civil rights groups.
“I know of many many cases, even friends, who have pulled out their guns in similar circumstances and they were the ones who got thrown in jail,” Hanan said. “There is hardly situation that it would be worth it for you to take out a gun and you wouldn’t go to prison or something.
“The only time you could pull out a gun is if you know you are definitely going to die at that moment, and then you know that even if they throw you in jail it’s worth sitting a few years in prison rather than getting killed. It’s absurd.”
Noting the “insane” situation prevailing in parts of Jerusalem, where residents of some neighborhoods have been subjected to regular rock-throwing attacks and even fireworks launched at their houses by Arabs, he accused the media and authorities of attempting to cover up the phenomenon by under-reporting it for political reasons. Indeed, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently urged media outlets not to focus on the spike in Arab violence – dubbed “the silent intifada” by residents – saying that talking about the phenomenon too much could hurt local businesses. But residents have dismissed the claims and ask why police don’t simply crack down harder on the rioters.
Hanan added that during his military service he had encountered similar situations where soldiers were preventing from responding forcefully to potentially lethal attacks due to a fear of facing disciplinary action, and accused authorities of preventing soldiers and civilians alike from being able to effectively defend themselves.
“How long does it take a terrorist to run up to you and stab you with a knife? It’s a matter of seconds. A soldier can’t fight like that and if your a civilian with a gun it’s even worse.”
A police spokesperson claimed no specific information was available on the incident, but dismissed accusations that police were not properly deployed.
“Security assessments were made prior to the festival and extra police units were in the area to protect the visitors throughout… both in the Old City, the Western Wall area and the City of David/Shiloach area.”