JERUSALEM — Tamer Jbarah, a 17-year-old Palestinian student who speaks accentless Hebrew after years in a bilingual school that is about half Jewish, said he was not at all surprised when a mob of Jewish teenagers beat an Arab teenager unconscious this month while hundreds watched and did nothing to help.
“People are taught to hate, so they hate,” he said.
Tamer attends an unusual school, one that seeks to bridge the Arab-Jewish divide. But on the first day of classes Monday, when his teacher opened a discussion about the attack, the smoldering anger and distrust came through, even there.
“From the age of 5, they say, ‘Death to Arabs,’” he said.
When the teacher countered, recalling a film where Palestinian children chanted, “Death to Israel, death to Jews,” Tamer appeared defeated.
“There is no hope when you see things like that,” he said.
The classroom conversation, as some two million Israeli children started school on Monday, was part of a national hand-wringing over the Aug. 16 beating in Zion Square, which was described as an attempted lynching that left 17-year-old Jamal Julani near death. The education minister instructed all junior high and high schools to conduct a lesson on the episode, which revealed festering wounds regarding race, violence, and extremism.
Israel has been struggling with myriad internal conflicts involving identity and pluralism. As the ultra-Orthodox population has grown, there have been battles over women’s role in the public sphere and whether Yeshiva students should remain exempt from military service. A surge of illegal immigration by African workers led to a fierce backlash this spring, raising questions of tolerance. And there have been a spate of mosque burnings and vandalism in Palestinian villages in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Monday’s effort to draw a lesson, perhaps a healing moment, came as the nation was shocked again when a court held two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old in connection to the firebombing of a Palestinian taxi on the same day. The youths live in Bat Ayin, a religious Jewish settlement, and the taxi was hit on a nearby road. The driver and his five passengers were wounded, two seriously.
The youths’ lawyer on Monday denied their involvement; the father of one called the case “a modern-day blood libel.” Eight teenagers, ages 13 to 19, have been arrested in the Zion Square attack, and several are expected to be formally charged on Tuesday with criminal conspiracy and grievous bodily harm by two or more people.