JERUSALEM — A city-sponsored attempt at a reconciliation meeting between Arab and Jewish residents of Jerusalem's walled Old City ended in new clashes Wednesday.
Three Jewish seminary students heckled the participants as they emerged from the meeting, and it took police about 20 minutes to break up the ensuing scuffles. Later, three Arab-owned cars were stoned and one Arab home was set ablaze.
Wednesday's was the latest round in the worst cycle of anti-Arab violence in the city in years, triggered last weekend when a 22-year-old student at a yeshiva, or Jewish religious school, was stabbed to death in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.
Three Palestinians from Janin, 50 miles north, were arrested within minutes of Saturday's slaying and, according to police, have admitted responsibility. But angry Jews have attacked Arabs indiscriminately, both in the Muslim quarter and in a West Jerusalem neighborhood where the victim, Eliahu Amedi, lived.
More Than 20 Arrested
More than 20 Jews have been arrested in the subsequent wave of anti-Arab attacks, including at least five on Wednesday. The inciters appear to be a mixture of Orthodox Jewish friends and fellow students of Amedi and members of the right-wing Kach movement, led by Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League, who is dedicated to expelling Arabs from Israel and the territories it has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day-War.
On Wednesday, city authorities hosted a well-publicized sulha, or traditional Arab reconciliation meeting, between representatives of the 17,000 Arab residents of the Muslim quarter and the 300 Jewish residents who have moved in during the last few years.
The Jewish representatives were from the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva--one of a handful of such schools now located in the Muslim quarter and the one with the best relations with Arab residents. But representatives of the Shuvu Banim yeshiva, at which Amedi was a student, refused to participate.
Vows of Revenge
Amedi's fellow students and friends have vowed revenge and have maintained a prayer vigil at the spot where he was killed. Police and other city officials believe that Shuvu Banim students are behind much of the anti-Arab violence that has driven about 20 Muslim quarter Arab families from their homes in the last four days.
The Arab home set ablaze Wednesday afternoon was near Shuvu Banim, which has had tense relations with its Arab neighbors ever since it moved into the Muslim quarter in 1980.
Shuvu Banim students are mostly newly observant--the Jewish equivalent of born-again Christians--and a number of them are ex-convicts. They follow the teachings of a 19th-Century Jewish mystic called Nachman of Bratslav.
'There Is No Peace!'
Wednesday's one-hour reconciliation meeting "went off very well," according to one city official, with the participants naming an informal, four-man committee to meet whenever problems arise. But as they emerged from the session, three yeshiva students rushed up shouting: "There is no peace! There is no peace!"
A witness said the three students were from Shuvu Banim.
Scuffles broke out, and Arab onlookers chanted, "Palestine is Arab!" as police moved in.
City officials tried to play down the significance of the disruption. "It looked a lot worse than it was," said one.
The city's Arab affairs adviser, Amir Heshin, added, "The demonstration of a few students means nothing because the reconciliation was attended by Arab representatives of the neighborhood where the trouble is taking place and people who represent most of the 300 Jews who live in the Old City's Muslim quarter."
However, Jamil Rifai, who is Jerusalem's deputy mufti, or Muslim religious judge, said: "Those who call themselves Jews here (in the Muslim quarter)--if they really knew the Bible, they wouldn't act the way they do. They are troublemakers, and therefore I am against all attempts at peace and friendship."