Neigh­bours — but not friends


CRIES OF HE­BREW and Ara­bic re­sound through­out the lanes of Akko’s mar­ket, where Arab men and Jewish women haggle over the price of meat. Said’s renowned hum­mus bar brims with Is­raelis of all kinds, jostling for space at the ta­ble as they wolf down pickles and hot pitta. Arab and Jewish fish­er­men trawl their fresh catch from the sea, dump­ing it onto mar­ket stalls, where it sits flap­ping, wait­ing to be spiced for Shab­bat din­ner.

But the ap­par­ent har­mony that charms vis­i­tors to this town be­lies the fact that re­la­tions be­tween Jews and Arabs are steadily de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in this an­cient port town, known in English as Acre.

Marie, a Moroc­can Jewish res­i­dent of Akko’s sub­urbs for 48 years, de­scribes how the dy­nam­ics are chang­ing: “When I ar­rived, this was a Jewish area, but it’s amaz­ing how many Arabs have moved in over the past few years. There are now four fam­i­lies in my block alone.”

Her grand­daugh­ter, Mor, chips in: “The place is full of Arabs now. It never used to be like this — Arab mu­sic ev­ery­where, Arab shops. It’s a dif­fer­ent city.”

But Marie chas­tises her grand­daugh­ter. “What do you want to do? Kill them? We are neigh­bours.”

Marie de­scribes how when she re­turns home with shop­ping, “my Arab neigh­bour runs to help me. I like to think we are friends. But there’s lit­tle trust be­tween the two groups.”

Marie’s ac­cent be­trays her Ara­bic roots. She and her friends chat in Moroc­can; she lis­tens to Ara­bian-Jewish mu­sic and speaks warmly of Ara­bic cul­ture.

Akko’s younger gen­er­a­tion, how­ever, though largely of North African ori­gin, has lit­tle in com­mon with its Arab neigh­bours. They go to sep­a­rate schools; few study Ara­bic, which Mor de­scribes as a “dis­gust­ing lan­guage”, and as they get older many Jews leave Akko for more ho­moge­nous neigh­bour­hoods.

Guy, 23, ex­presses dis­trust of the Arabs around him: “I don’t like them. Dur­ing the [2006] war they ar­rested 17 Arabs in the old town, spy­ing for Le­banon. The Jews used to run the old city, and the Arabs were quiet, but now the Jews have left. They’ve gone to Na­hariya, to get away from the Arabs.”

The younger Arabs, too, are los­ing touch with their Jewish coun­ter­parts. Marie’s neigh­bours’ chil­dren do not speak He­brew and whilst the older res­i­dents in­ter­act, con­tact amongst the youth is so min­i­mal that when the rock­ets fell on the north in 2006, young Arabs were filmed cheer­ing for Hizbol­lah leader Sheikh Has­san Nas­ral­lah.

It seems likely that the longer Akko’s two com­mu­ni­ties live to­gether, the fur­ther they will grow apart.

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