A stereo blast, a false ru­mour an­dac­i­ty­ex­plodesinanger

Ri­ots came last week to Akko, in North­ern Is­rael, as Arab-Jewish ten­sions flared. Michal Lev­er­tov re­ports from a city in fear

The Jewish Chronicle - - News -

ACROSS THE blue-col­lar hous­ing projects in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Akko,thesquares are strewn with chunks of bricks, frag­ments of tiles and shat­tered glass.

Po­lice guards are sta­tioned out­side the homes of Arab fam­i­lies and pa­trolling street cor­ners. Five days of ri­ot­ing have left this city, with 72 per cent of its 53,000 res­i­dents Jewish and 28 per cent Arab, swamped with fear.

Mir­vat Os­man, an Arab so­cial worker who lives in a mostly Jewish neigh­bour­hood, says she is re­fus­ing to let her three-year-old son play out­doors. “I don’t feel it’s safe,” she says.

Dina, a Jewish owner of a gro­cery shop in the hous­ing es­tate where most of the ri­ots took place, says that when the clashes be­gan, her daugh­ters, who were play­ing out­side, “were so fright­ened they knocked on strangers’ doors seek­ing a place to hide”.

The may­hem erupted on the eve of Yom Kip­pur, when Taw­fik Jamal, an Arab res­i­dent of Akko, drove into a mostly Jewish neigh­bour­hood, al­legedly play­ing loud mu­sic and smok­ing. He was at­tacked by a Jewish crowd and es­caped from his car just be­fore it was wrecked. Ru­mours that he had been killed swiftly reached the Arab quar­ter in Akko’s Old City and around 400 peo­ple hur­ried to the Jewish neigh­bour­hood, smash­ing cars and shop win­dows on their way.

The vi­o­lence con­tin­ued when a Jewish mob stoned and set fire to Arabowned cars and build­ings, aim­ing mainly at fam­i­lies liv­ing in Jewish ar- eas. Three houses were burnt down.

Jewish res­i­dents said stones had been thrown from Arab houses and heard cries of “Kill the Jews”. Footage show­ing ri­ot­ers shout­ing “Death to the Arabs” were broad­cast on Is­raeli TV. More than 100 cars were dam­aged, and 40 shops. More than 50 ar­rests were made of both Jews and Arabs.

Ms Os­man is an­gry at ex­trem­ists from both sides, but es­pe­cially at racist calls to boy­cott Arab busi­ness.

“I’m very dis­ap­pointed by the in­dif­fer­ence of my Jewish friends,” she says, point­ing out that Arab leaders apol­o­gised for the Yom Kip­pur in­ci­dents, while Jewish leaders re­fused.

In­deed, a mu­nic­i­pal­ity spokesman con­firmed that in a meet­ing on Satur­day night to try to stem the vi­o­lence, Akko’s chief Rabbi, Yosef Yashar, called the Arab leaders present “Nazis”, and re­fused to sign a con­cil­i­a­tion pa­per.

In the gro­cery shop fac­ing a burnt­down Arab house in Shedlitz Street, Dina re­calls the fear she felt dur­ing Yom Kip­pur. “They came over, 200250 Arabs, veiled, call­ing ‘ Al­lahu Ak­bar’ [God is Great] and ‘ It­bach el Yahud’ [kill the Jews]. They be­gun to hit ev­ery­thing, to break and shat­ter. Our kids were in the streets, but be­cause it was Yom Kip- pur they had no mo­bile phones. We were so wor­ried.”

She adds: “I wasn’t pleased to see the Arab houses burnt down. Stupid kids did that. The Arab van­dals were prob­a­bly not from Akko, but from neigh­bour­ing vil­lages. I hope it will get quiet, and we will make a fresh start.”

A teenager comes in to the gro­cery shop. He tells her: “I wish that only Jews would re­main here.”

On the doorstep of a shabby, two­s­torey house in Kib­butz Galuyot Street, Avra­ham Buza­glo chats with the po­lice guard. The Arab in­hab­i­tants were tak­ing care to stay in­doors. Buza­glo says he came over to show sol­i­dar­ity, and the for­mer fac­tory worker ac­cuses the young gen­er­a­tion of Jews and Arabs of break­ing the town’s spirit of co-ex­is­tence, though he mainly blames young Arabs for “cre­at­ing provo­ca­tions”.

In the Old City, most shops are closed due to the ab­sence of vis­i­tors. The at­mos­phere is gloomy. This part of town, which in 2001 be­came a Unesco World Her­itage Site, is the tra­di­tional home for the pop­u­lar Suc­cot The­atre Fes­ti­val.

The de­ci­sion of Akko’s mayor, Shi­mon Lankry, to can­cel the fes­ti­val is re­ceived here with much re­gret. Muneer Issa, eat­ing lunch at Os­man’s hum­mus joint, one of the few shops in the bazaar that are open, says that the can­cel­la­tion was in­tended to pun­ish Arabs by cut­ting their main source of in­come.

“No vi­o­lence was tak­ing place in Old Akko, it’s per­fectly safe here,” he says.

Issa ad­mits that on Yom Kip­pur “there­wasacry­forhelpinthe­mosques” which in­flamed the ri­ots. But, he con­tin­ues, he thinks the Mus­lim tol­er­ance here is much greater than the Jewish one. “A cou­ple of years ago Ra­madan fell pre­cisely on Suc­cot, but we ac­cepted the vis­i­tors who came to wine and dine at the en­trance of our mosques.”

In the wake of the ri­ots, pub­lic fig­ures flocked to Akko to call for co-ex­is­tence, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Shi­mon Peres, Is­rael’s two chief rab­bis and se­nior Mus­lim cler­ics.

Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert said Akko res­i­dents were “turn­ing into hostages of small groups of zealots from both sides”. Nev­er­the­less, a po­lice force of 500 of­fi­cers dur­ing the day and 700 at night pa­trol the city through­out Suc­cot.

On Sun­day, Jamal apol­o­gised for break­ing Yom Kip­pur’s sanc­tity. He was ar­rested the next day on sus­pi­cion of reck­less driv­ing, en­dan­ger­ing lives and of­fend­ing re­li­gious sen­si­bil­i­ties, and re­leased to house ar­rest.

Ten­sion and sad­ness re­mains in Akko, and the dam­age clearly runs deeper than mere at­tacks on prop­erty.

PHOTO: FLASH 90

Po­lice­men strug­gle with ri­ot­ers dur­ing the un­rest that rocked the coastal city last week­end

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