The cruel attempted lynch in Jerusalem's Zion Square on the eve of Eid al-Fitr was not supposed to surprise us – the writing has been on the wall for a long time. This is why it is so hard to accept the fact that it took police a few days to admit that the attack on a Palestinian teen occurred in the heart of Jerusalem in front of a crowd – part of which egged the attackers on.
Such acts are never committed in a void. We, as Jews, realize this more than anyone else. The youngsters who committed the heinous act in Zion Square live in a climate that permits public displays of hatred towards foreigners – and towards Palestinians in particular. This atmosphere is nurtured by the Israeli government through a series of acts and statements on the one hand, and turning a blind eye on the other.
A few hours before the attack in Jerusalem, settlers hurled a firebomb at a vehicle in which a Palestinian family was travelling in near the settlement of Bat Ayin. A number of family members were seriously injured. While both incidents were an expression of hatred and violence, the attempted lynching took place in the heart of Israel's capital – not in some desolate region of the West Bank. The incident in Jerusalem occurred in the center of town, where police and Border Guard forces are present at all times.
For dozens of years the heads of the state and the city have been telling us that Jerusalem is a different story - through a false representation of a unified city. But the exclusion of Palestinians from the public sphere in Jerusalem is nothing new; it just reached monstrous proportions over the past week.
Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, is a place where the tenets of Israeli society are being violated on a daily basis. More than a third of the city's residents are Palestinians who have not been granted citizenship status but are still obligated to abide by Israeli law. Israel has built huge Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem but has limited construction in Palestinian neighborhoods and turned them into islands of poverty and neglect.
The youngsters who carried out the attack in Jerusalem must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But it would be a mistake to view the assault as an isolated incident. The hatred of the foreigner is part of the Israeli government's policy, which finds fertile ground in Jerusalem, where discrimination is rampant.
Due to this policy, Jerusalem's young Jewish residents view the city's Palestinians as third-class citizens who have no rights in the public sphere. So it is no wonder that when these youngsters run into Palestinians downtown, they feel they have the right to attack them.
Over the years, Israel's governments have deceived society into believing that it would be possible to annex east Jerusalem and still uphold the country's democratic values. In order to awaken from this illusion, Israel must show zero tolerance for acts of racism, recognize Jerusalem's Palestinian population and strive for a peace agreement that would include a just resolution to the dispute over the city.
Yehudit Oppenheimer is the executive director of Ir Amim, an Israeli NGO that works 'for an Equitable and Stable Jerusalem with an Agreed Political Future.'