RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
There is a new enemy for some Israelis: Romance between Jewish women and Arab men, and vigilantes have banded together to fight it. The vigilante groups are walking the streets and towns across Israel. The largest and most notorious is in the Jewish settlements that have sprung up in and around traditionally Arab East Jerusalem. Sheera Frenkel joined one of the groups on patrol.
SHEERA FRENKEL: The small, white hatchback swings into a nearly deserted parking lot and does a quick look around. It's just after 10:00 at night, and the lot is clearly a prime destination for a teenage date night in the settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev. But David, a 31-year-old who lives here, is out for a different kind of prowl.
DAVID: (Through translator) Go down to that parking center. Stop, stop, one minute. That's them over there. Check if there is a Jewish girl in that car over there.
FRENKEL: Every night, David, who asked not to be called by his real name, patrols this and other neighboring Jewish settlements. His mission is to find Arab-Jewish couples and break up their dates.
DAVID: (Through translator) My heart hurts every time I see a Jewish girl with an Arab. It's extremely upsetting. I asked myself: How did we get to this situation? How did we descend to this level? It is a serious step backwards, in our eyes.
FRENKEL: David is the leader of a group of vigilantes that goes by several names, including Fire For Judaism and Love of Youth. They say they number between 30 and 40 men and patrol the streets each night. Officially, they're on the lookout for any mixed couples, but T.S.(ph) a member of the group who often serves as David's driver, says the problem lies solely with Arab men dating Jewish girls.
T.S.: (Through translator) These men approach the girl in a nice way. They buy her things. They build trust with the woman so that given some time, the girls just blindly follow them. And with time, one friend follows another, and soon enough, you have a commune made up of these kinds of girls.
FRENKEL: Comparable groups have formed across the country. In Petah Tikva, an industrial city in Israel's center, the municipality has formed a special division to address what it sees as the problem of underage Arab-Jewish couples. But in Pisgat Ze'ev, the couplings are an unforeseen byproduct of the growing number of Jewish settlements that have been built across largely Arab East Jerusalem.
The small stretch of benches outside Pisgat Ze'ev's only mall seems to be ground zero for teenagers here, no matter what religion. Alona Levy(ph), a 16-year-old Jewish teenager, says that she gets approached by Arab men every day.
Ms. ALONA LEVY: (Through translator) We were walking on our own to the mall and a group of Arab boys drove by and were yelling at us, hey hot girls, and we didn't pay them any attention. We aren't interested in them. This happens to us almost three times a day, at least.
FRENKEL: But she and her friends understand why some girls decide to defy local norms and date Arab men.
Ms. LEVY: (Through translator) There are a lot of girls that go out with Arab men because Arab boys are wild. They're bad boys. Some girls like that. I think they like us because Arab girls are all conservative and wear the covering on their hair and we dress normally.
FRENKEL: David says the mixed dating is a growing epidemic, one that his group hopes to stop by handing out explanatory discs and pamphlets to girls they call known-problem cases.
On one late night patrol, he spotted a Jewish girl entering a car with several Arab men. He intervened, but was unable to persuade her to leave, and the car sped off, hitting his leg. For nearly 30 minutes he followed the car as it threaded its way through the serpentine hill roads that connect the closely packed Jewish settlements and Arab villages east of Jerusalem.
DAVID: (Through translator) Using physical force with the girls won't work. Our goal is to talk to the girls and to convince them that their place is with the Jewish nation, not with our enemies. There are four girls that we have intervened with and saved since we started. Even if we rescued only one girl, we have done our part. We have done a good deed, and we thank God for it.
FRENKEL: Tonight, he gives up his chase when Israeli police agree to let him file a complaint against the driver of the car that struck him. He hopes that drawing attention to the incident will embarrass the girl and force her to leave her boyfriend. He says it's one more girl he might save. For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel in Pisgat Ze'ev.
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