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Behind the Headlines; Resurgence of Ethnic Tensions is By-product of Stabbings in Baka

October 24, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The fatal stabbings in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood Sunday have uncovered some unpleasant rifts in Israeli society, stemming from ethnic differences, socio-economic background and political outlook.

Immediately after the brutal attack, which left three residents dead and a fourth wounded, Sephardic youths from the area were heard cursing “Leftists!” whom they blamed for the deaths, which, in fact, were caused by a young Arab laborer from the West Bank.

Some of the youths hurled stones at a first-floor apartment where a group of Peace Now activists was meeting to discuss the tragedy.

The slaughter, which shocked the pleasant, normally quiet neighborhood in southwest Jerusalem, has brought deep resentments to the surface.

Baka, not far from the former Israeli-Jordanian border that once divided Jerusalem, was originally an Arab neighborhood. The Arabs fled during Israel’s War for Independence in 1948.

Their abandoned homes were appropriated by the government and used to house large immigrant families, mainly impoverished Sephardic Jews from North Africa.

In later years, better educated, more affluent Ashkenazic Jews and immigrants from the United States were charmed by the dilapidated but picturesque Arab-style houses.

The process of gentrification began, which only served to underscore the economic differences between the newcomers and the working-class Sephardic families who had been living in the neighborhood since the 1950s.

The Sephardim are largely “hawkish” over how to deal with the Arabs. They resent the “doves,” whom they identified with the Ashkenazim and the transplanted Americans.


This situation was aggravated by the fact that one of the Baka victims, 26-year-old police trainee Shalom Charlie Shloush, lost his life by using what he believed was the required restraint.

Shloush fired a warning shot into the air and then shot at the legs of his attacker. He acted according to the standing orders of the police, but was eventually overcome and stabbed to death by the Arab.

That aspect of the tragedy inflamed right-wing Israelis, who blame the left for imposing regulations on the security forces aimed at reducing fatalities in confrontations with Palestinian civilians.

Knesset member Geula Cohen of the Tehiya party blamed the police cadet’s death on the standing orders requiring security forces to fire warning shots before they shoot to kill.

Bitter arguments on this point have broken out among residents of Baka, at a time when one might expect the normally quiet neighborhood to be united in mourning.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has intervened, reminding a Knesset committee Tuesday that no soldier or police officer has ever been prosecuted for shooting to kill when his own life was threatened.

But the premier’s cool logic made little impression on the hot-headed youths of Baka, who are angrily demanding that the standing orders be revised.

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