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Chalav U'Dvash

Brandeis' Journal of Zionist Thought
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Volume 0, Number 0

Holy Land Hooligans

Causes of Youth Violence in Israel

By Danielle Gobuty


In a recent survey, Israel was ranked eighth out of twenty-seven countries in regard to victims of violence, and eleventh regarding hooliganism.a In Israel, children are considered minors until they are eighteen years old, but the age of criminal responsibility has been lowered to twelve years of age.b The hostility with the Palestinians has resulted in an increase of youth violence in the Holy Land. However, it must not be assumed that there is only youth violence and crime between Israeli and Palestinian youth: the rate of violence among Israeli youths is also too high. Recently, there has been an increase in violence between Jewish Israeli children in public schools around the country. Not only must the cultural division between the Israelis and the Palestinians be bridged in order to decrease the violence in Israel, but the schools must also be better monitored to eliminate the violence that has erupted in the Israeli education system.

In the recent past, there have been several violent outbursts in the Israeli public school system. In 1999 there were two highly publicized murders at schools in Jerusalem and Nazareth. The first murder occurred in the Jerusalem neighborhood of East Talpiot. Fifteen-year-old Gilad Raviv was stabbed to death by a nineteen-year-old male, who claimed that he killed Raviv because he had been insulted. It is shocking that as a result of an insult, a young man would be driven to kill. Usually, if a teenager is insulted, he or she will fight back with hurtful words, not violence. Two weeks later, Yivgeny Ya'acobovitz, another fifteen-year-old, was stabbed and beaten to death near school with "kitchen knives, brass knuckles and a baseball bat" by a group of other teenagers. This second murder is an example of a type of gang violence in Israel. The group of five boys brutally kicked and killed Ya'acobovitz for insulting one of the boys "by calling him a cheapskate."c

According to a recent survey, since 1995 there has been a 40 percent increase in violence in schools. Another frightening statistic is that over 50 percent of all sixth to eleventh graders reported that they had been involved in some kind of violence, while 60 percent of students reported that they took part in acts of hooliganism towards other students, or had themselves been victims of hooliganism. The same study found that one-third of elementary school students, ranging from the ages of five to eleven, reported that they had been assaulted by means of knives or sharp instruments of a similar kind.d It is frightening to think that children of such a young age are at the point where they are inflicting such violent acts on their peers. As the statistics have shown, the rates of violence are increasing at a constant rate. This is due in part to the violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and in part to their growing up in a country plagued with religious conflict and militaristic values. The election of Hamas to head the Palestinian Authority will only increase the conflict and set a violent precedent for the younger generation.

Israel has undergone two intifadas in the past twenty years. The first intifada began in 1987, and the second began in 2000. The intifadas have widened the cultural division between the Israelis and the Palestinians, among youth as well as adults. This significant division encompasses all areas of life in Israel such as geography, religion, language, education, occupations, and the status of women.e The violence among the youth of Israel, both Israeli and Palestinian, has been and continues to be greatly influenced by the political, social, and religious conflict between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority. According to Giora Rahav, as a result of the Palestinian Arabs' connection with the other Arab countries surrounding Israel, Israel and the Palestinians have a lot of tension between them. As Rahav writes, "These conditions seem ideal for the emergence of a subculture of violence, which stems from the structural conditions as well as from the cultural heritage of the Arabs."f Rahav continues to discuss the idea that given the conditions under which the Palestinians live, there is "no surprise that violence rates are much higher among Arabs than the Jewish population."g Although the mentality of the Palestinians in respect to violence is a highly debatable topic, the issue at hand is violence among youth in Israel, rather than specifically the Palestinian values and ideals. At the same time, the cross-ethnic conflict is important for the understanding of the violence among youth in Israel.

Clearly, there is debate regarding the cause of Palestinian violence. Left-wing supporters would blame the Palestinians' violent tendencies on the Israelis. This point of view states that the Palestinians act as they do as a result of what many will call "the occupation," referring to the Israeli presence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. James Ron, a Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in The Boston Globe in 2000 that we must

try to visualize life in the West Bank or Gaza. Prolonged curfews are common, and Israeli armor encircles Palestinian towns. Every trip involves a myriad of hostile military checkpoints, and fear of Jewish vigilantes is pervasive.h

Some liberals believe that the reason the Palestinians are violent is because of the conditions in which they live. It would be incorrect to state that the Palestinians bring these conditions upon themselves. However, their government—or lack thereof—since the death of Yasser Arafat, as well as the recent election of the terrorist organization Hamas, is unreasonable and is bringing poverty and misery to its own people. Palestinian children grow up in a violent environment, and Israeli children do as well. Hopefully the violence will decrease in the future, but first it is necessary to eliminate the violence among youth of the same ethnicity.

Studies show that as Israeli students get older, the rates of violence rise as well. It was found that 75 percent of middle and high school students were humiliated and insulted during a one-month period. The Israeli educational television network ran a recent survey that showed that 92 percent of Israeli children come across some form of violence while at school.i Similar to the cases of Yevgeny Ya'acobovitz and Gilad Raviv, approximately 9.5 percent of elementary school students, 8.7 percent of middle school students, and 6 percent of high school students had been threatened with a knife or a similar instrument. A statistic found that 5.2 percent of middle school students and 3.4 percent of high-school students reported that a peer or another student in a school setting had threatened them with a gun.

According to a recent survey conducted in Israel, 25 percent of boys and 6 percent of girls between sixth and tenth grade carry a weapon for self-protection, and 10 percent of all students bring a weapon to school.j One must consider the reasons why they come to school armed: it may be to protect themselves from other students, or it may be simply to provide their parents with the "peace" of mind that they could defend themselves against Palestinian terrorists.

Assa Kasher, an Israeli philosopher, blames the level of violence among the youth on the level of violence that is occurring in Israeli society—in other words, the cultural divide and conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Kasher says, "[Y]ouths regard part of the behavior of grown-ups as a license to kill."k When children are growing up in a society that is based around a conflict and is constantly in a state of war, they will grow up finding violence to be a normative response to their everyday lives. Israeli children grow up witnessing suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, and serving in the Israel Defense Forces is a significant part of their lives. The children grow up with hatred towards the Palestinians, and vice versa. The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians has indeed fueled the conflict among the youth of both sides, although the violence rate is far higher on the Palestinian side than on that of the Israelis, due in part to murders "for the honor of the family."l This interethnic conflict fuels and encourages violence among the younger generation as a result of the example set by the societies in which they live. The conflict is a problem not only politically or geographically, but also because it encourages violence among the youth. Growing up in a society that constantly needs to defend itself and its right to exist, often militarily, the youth become defensive and violence-prone.

Measures should be taken to ensure that schools maintain better security by inspecting what children are bringing to school. Although it could be seen as an infringement of privacy, in the long run it will save many lives. Many American public schools have metal detectors at their entrances. It would be beneficial to implement these same detectors at Israeli schools, because it would eliminate the bringing of unsafe objects to academic areas. This is not to say that all Israeli youth and all Israeli public schools have a problem and are very violent; it is just a safety precaution that should be taken. There are metal detectors and security guards outside every mall in Israel, and so should be the case with schools. It is better to be safe than sorry, and after the deaths of children such as Yevgeny Ya'acobovitz, precautionary measures are necessary.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak realized the problem of youth violence in public schools and began to take the necessary steps to eliminate the violence. After the murders of Raviv and Ya'acobovitz, Barak said that "The new government will take all necessary steps to create a framework within the schools so that pupils can safely go to the pizzeria or falafel stand without fearing for their lives."m In addition, Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani took a positive step towards safer schools when he suggested that knives in schools should be taken away. In addition, the government should have mediator-type officers or guidance counselors inside of public schools to prevent and stop conflicts as they arise. Israel needs to take initiative, control the situations in schools, and protect her youth by discouraging violence in all possible ways, firstly within the education system.

The government has been made aware of this problem, but while there are studies conducted and proposals made, it has failed to tend to the problem. According to Bar-Ilan University Professor Yossi Harel, who is also a member of the Knesset Education Committee, the government is not doing anything to solve the problem of violence in schools. "Every time a study comes out, it [the study] says there's a problem with school violence and then the government says it's going to do something about it, but it never does."n There have been many studies conducted in order to determine the severity of the violence, in hopes of curing this disease permeating the education system. The government has recognized that there is a problem of youth violence in the schools. The next step needs to be reform in the education system.

Many surveys have been conducted to determine the root of the violence among Israeli youth and ways in which it can be prevented. Frenkel, Horowitz, and Yinon carried out one such survey in 1990. Their study strived to understand violence and victimization in Israeli public schools. They interviewed Israeli students and asked questions regarding the violence that students had undergone in the past months, and they found that many students had been victimized so badly that they had dropped out of school. The study found that up to 15 percent of boys still attending public school had been knifed, and also approximately 26 percent of the boys that dropped out had been attacked in a similar manner.o This study found that the settings where the most violence occurred among youth and teenagers were in school, in the neighborhood, and on sports fields.

Another survey conducted in Israeli public schools was conducted on a younger group of subjects: children in fifth, seventh, eighth, and tenth grades. This study was also conducted in 1990, by Avi and Rina Dgani of the Geocartography Institute for Spatial Analysis, one of Israel's leading polling institutes. This study examined the contexts and factors that lead to violence in Israeli public schools. The results of this survey proved similar to the results from the Frenkel, et al experiment. Approximately half of the students surveyed stated that they had been seriously beaten in the past year. Approximately 8 percent of students surveyed who reported that they had been beaten had actually been injured from the beating, and approximately 5 percent reported that they had been beaten with a knife, stick, or an instrument of similar severity.p From these surveys, it is accurate to conclude that the weapons that are used by Israeli youth are easily accessible. The bottom line is that the education system in Israel needs to implement means of intervention and prevention in schools today. It is unsafe to allow this situation in public schools to continue, and it is necessary for the government and other authoritative bodies to intervene and put an end to the unnecessary brutality towards and deaths of youth as a result of peer violence.

After examining the different surveys and studies in Israeli society on the topic of youth violence, it seems as if Israel is a very violent place to grow up, and unsafe for youth and teenagers. This is not the case at all. Israel is a very free and open society. However, often youth are not disciplined at an early enough age, leading to misconduct later in adolescence. And while juvenile violence is higher in Israel than in European countries, it is still far lower than in the United
States.q The high rate of violence among youth is due in part to the continuous tension between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the constant broadcasting of violence on the news, and the lack of security and intervention in the Israeli public education system. The prevalent problem of violence among Israeli youth has increased over the last decade as a result of the ongoing intifada. According to Rahav, this increase in violence is due in part to the fact that the population of juveniles has increased by 25 percent over the past decade.r It is necessary that the government and the education authorities take the necessary precautions in order to stop the increasing violence in the school system. If tolerance is preached in schools, in the media, and at home, it will further benefit the well-being of Israeli youths and Israeli society as a whole. There are many causes for the violence among Israeli youths, but few steps have been taken to eliminate and prevent youth violence. By stopping a problem now that has been plaguing Israeli society predominantly over the past decade, Israeli society will be freed of a problem that will otherwise continue and spread down the generations. Israel, the Holy Land, should not be the land of juvenile delinquency, but rather should be raising peaceful individuals who one day will hopefully bring an end to the cultural division and the seemingly never-ending conflict of the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Works Cited

Dudkevitch, Margot, and Gil Sedan. "Slaying of Two Israeli Youths Raise Public Outcry." The Jewish News Weekly. 18 Jun. 1999. <>. Accessed 18 Apr. 2005.

Hoffman, Gil. "Survey Reveals Alarming Violence in Israeli Schools." The Jewish News Weekly. 11 Aug. 2000. <>. Accessed 19 Apr. 2005.

Jihad Watch. 20 Apr. 2005. <>.

Rahav, Giora. "Israel." Teen Violence: A Global View. Ed. Alan M. Hoffman and Randal W. Summers. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Ron, James. "Israel's Liberals Must Speak Out for the Palestinians." 4 Nov. 2000. Boston Globe and Johns Hopkins U. <>. Accessed 2 May 2005.

The Jewish Virtual Library: Youth Violence. 2000. Tel Aviv University News. 19 Apr. 2005. <>.

Zweibel, David. "The Dangers of Open Windows." Jewish Media Resources: Am Echad Resources. 19 Jul. 1999. <>. Accessed 20 Apr. 2005.

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Chalav U'Dvash: Brandeis' Journal of Zionist Thought (Print ISSN 1559-1069, Online ISSN 1559-1077) is an independent forum for discussion relating to Israel, Zionism, and the Jewish People and is a recognized club by the Brandeis Student Union. We publish a journal twice per semester, and copies are available free-of-charge to Brandeis students. Contact us to request copies.

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