Foreign Policy Blogs

Behind the Headlines in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM–The past few days in Jerusalem have been uneasy ones. In a city that teeters on the verge of violence on a fairly regular basis, the height of the week long Jewish  holiday season of Sukkot added an element of unrest. The holiday draws a large number of Jewish visitors from around the world and has been called the backdrop for violence and fears of violence in the last week.

On Sunday, there was brief rioting. On Monday, an Israeli security officer was stabbed and wounded. On Tuesday, stones were hurled at Israeli Defense Forces, police, and security personnel who were brought into the city to quell potential violence. The dynamite at the end of the fuse is what the Muslims call Haram as-Sharif and the Jews call Temple Mount. It’s a religious place of worship that has been under the control of the Muslims and the Jews alternatively for thousands of years. Today it is a Muslim mosque.

During the past few days in Jerusalem, I had the chance to experience–as an American and an outsider–the scene on the ground. On Tuesday afternoon, I sat outside of Damascus Gate to observe (this is one of the ways to enter the Old City and get to Temple Mount). Large numbers of security personnel, police, and Israeli Defence Force soliders had been called in to secure the city. On the surface, not much was happening, but there was an underlying tension crackling like a live exposed electrical wire.

A group of young Arab boys, riled up by the atmosphere of tension, hurled insults at an Israeli soldier guarding a blockade. The soldier was non-plussed, but an elderly Arab man with a wooden cane refused to let the bad behavior slide. He proceeded to scold the young boys and chase them with his cane until he succeeeded at striking a few blows with the end of it on one of their backs. It was hard to decide whether to be amused or not with such an archetype of social hierarchy playing out against the backdrop of potential rioting and violence. There men with the guns and the old man with the cane each tried to keep the peace in their own way.

Then there was a group of school children, again boys and about 8 years old, who seemed to be playing nearby on their way home from school. But they weren’t playing. Some of the boys were Arab, some were Jewish. There was taunting and bullying and soon the Arab boys picked up stones and threw them at the Jewish boys (who quickly ran off).

It made me wonder how children can learn violence at such a young age. While the potential for truly dangerous rioting boiled around them, they made a dangerous game of it. It looked as though they thought they were part of the ethnic and religious tensions, even though they were only children on their way home from school–school bags, textbooks and all.

On the way back from Ramallah in the West Bank later that day, my taxi driver refused to drive into the parking lot of the checkpoint, called the Kalandia Gate. He seemed afraid and I didn’t understand why. Hiding behind the wall encircling the checkpoint’s parking lot on the Ramallah side, I spotted two Arab men with professional cameras and several young teenage boys standing near them. I approached to ask if they were journalists, and they said yes.

One of the journalists warned me to cross the checkpoint “before it got worse”, so I did. All day people had been talking about the violence reaching a boiling point, and I wasn’t equipped or prepared to switch into reporter mode. 25 feet inside the wall of the checkpoint parking lot, something large and granite landed within arm’s-length of my head. It was a stone, and it was coming from behind me, from the spot I had just been standing. I’ll never know if the stone was meant for me and the person throwing it just had bad aim. The parking lot was littered with stones of all sizes, and an armored security vehicle barked rebukes at the boys.

Later that day, after getting back to the relative calm of Jerusalem away from the Old City, I found AP photographs on a news website of a young boy throwing stones at the Kalandia Gate toward the security vehicle. I recognized his t-shirt and realized the photographer who took the shot must have been one of the two who I had encountered earlier that day.

In that moment, it all seemed staged. Everything from the old man at Damascus Gate to the boys hurling stones toward me to the police and military personnel. But what seemed most staged was those two photographers I had come across–the two “journalists”. In my brief encounter with them, it seemed like they were there for one story and one story only–violence. The very presence of professional news photographers likely emboldened the young boys to act more extremely. But that’s not the most disturbing part. The most disturbing part is the slant that the media coverage has taken overall. Jerusalem during Sukkot is a charming place full of festive cheer.

The plaza next to Jaffa Gate by the Old City that same evening, for example, was full of Jews singing and dancing and celebrating with calls of “Happy Holiday”! Even as helicopters hovered above, they still danced and sang. Even as police cars and ambulances sped by on the street far below, they still danced and sang. Throngs of people crowded the sidewalks and streets following a large parade held that afternoon for Sukkot. There were no explosions, but still the news the next day was of police reinforcements and tensions among city residents. The scene on the ground is always different, though. All I saw were police and soldiers standing around, and young boys who have been taught no better than to hurl stones.



Genevieve Belmaker

Genevieve Belmaker is a freelance journalist and contributing editor with The Epoch Times ( She also contributes to Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists and Her blog on journalism is

Genevieve has traveled throughout the U.S., Asia, Central America, Israel and the West Bank for reporting assignments, including major investigative reports on the recovery of New Orleans, the encroaching presence of China in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the dangerous import of melamine-contaminated milk into the U.S. and settlement outposts in the West Bank. She regularly reports on issues related to journalism, and the work of journalists.

She holds a BA from the University of Southern California in International Relations, and has been a member of several prominent national and international professional media organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the International Women’s Media Foundation, the New York Press Club, and the Newswomen’s Club of New York. She lives in Jerusalem, Israel with her husband and son.

Areas of Focus:
New Media; Journalism; Culture and Society