JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Nine Jewish teenagers were indicted on Tuesday over a ferocious assault that nearly killed a young Arab in Jerusalem, an alleged hate crime in a city divided by religion and politics.
Israeli prosecutors said a girl, cursing and shouting anti-Arab taunts, lit the spark that set off a chain reaction of racist violence on August 16 in which Jamal Julani, a 17-year-old Palestinian, was punched, kicked and left for dead.
Julani’s heart stopped after the assault in a main Jerusalem square, where drunken teenagers often gather, but was brought back to life by a paramedic at the scene.
“Death to Arabs,” the youngsters chanted as they swept through the popular nightspot, rallying to the girl’s call to find and attack Palestinians, according to a summary of the charge sheet released by the Justice Ministry.
“Be a man and come and beat the Arabs,” one of the attackers shouted to the crowd, the indictment said.
Eight of the suspects are minors in their teens. A ninth suspect, aged 19, will be tried as an adult. Charges include assault and incitement to racism and violence.
Lawyers for the accused said they would study the indictment before entering a plea. It was not clear when the cases would go to trial.
The attack, which laid bare an undercurrent of racial tension in Jerusalem, was swiftly condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders.
“This is something we cannot accept - not as Jews, not as Israelis,” Netanyahu said of the assault, whose intensity, along with the lack of remorse shown by some of the suspects in court appearances, jolted many in the Jewish state.
“He’s an Arab, and he cursed my mother, so he should die,” one suspect said at a remand hearing last week.
Julani comes from mainly Arab east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The state later declared that the city was the “complete and undivided” capital of Israel, an assertion not recognized by international powers.
Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs, said Palestinians in the city faced a constant battle against racism.
“This widely publicized incident revealed the true face of Israel and the true culture of hatred that is imbedded in its youth,” he told Reuters.
Israel’s Education Ministry instructed teachers to hold a special lesson on the near-lynching to reinforce the need for tolerance in a country that has been in conflict with Arabs for decades and which has also been grappling with internal divisions, between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews.
In an editorial last week, Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper noted that dozens of Israelis had watched the attack “without lifting a finger”.
“Their apathy is only slightly less grave than the behavior of those who perpetrated the lynching,” the newspaper said.
The incident in Jewish West Jerusalem came hours after six Palestinians suffered serious burns in a fire-bombing of their vehicle in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli-Palestinian violence occurs more frequently.
Police said on Sunday they arrested three settler boys, aged 12 to 13, suspected of having carried out that attack.
Additional reporting by Jihan Abdalla in Ramallah; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alistair Lyon