Sunday, October 12, 2008

Acre riots

While most Israeli Jews spent Yom Kippur in prayer, contemplation or communing with their bicycles, a troublesome minority exploited the Day of Atonement to sin against public order.

In Kiryat Motzkin, Haifa, Beersheba, Holon, Rehovot and Jerusalem, loutish Jewish youths - overwhelmingly not haredi - stoned MDA ambulances in displays of juvenile delinquency that have become all too common in recent years.

Violence of a different order broke out in the northern town of Acre, where the population of 50,000 is about one-third Arab. Here, at about 11:30 p.m., Jewish youths hanging out on Yom Kippur took umbrage when Tawfik Jamal, an Arab resident of Acre's Old City, drove his car along Avraham Ben Shoshan Street in the Jewish part of town. Some of the youths claimed they feared he was about to carry out a vehicular terrorist attack - similar to those recently committed in Jerusalem.

Just what Jamal was doing on Yom Kippur eve in a Jewish neighborhood - where virtually no cars except emergency vehicles are on the road - is in dispute. His claim is that, accompanied by his son and the son's friend, he was picking up his daughter from her fiancé's place. The Jewish youths say he was blasting music and smoking a nargila in an act of ostentatious provocation. The initial police report backed the youths' version and suggested that Jamal was also intoxicated.

A verbal confrontation quickly deteriorated, with the Jews throwing stones and bottles at the Jamal party, which was eventually rescued by police.

An Arab who saw the altercation contacted a local sheikh and, within minutes, calls were made from mosque loudspeakers: "The Jews are attacking us!" Up to 2,000 rioting Arabs chanting "Death to the Jews" then converged on the Jewish part of town, rioting and looting. Hundreds of cars were damaged; scores of shops vandalized. The disturbances petered out with daybreak.

However, on Thursday night after the fast, sporadic violence reignited in areas where Jewish and Arabs neighborhoods abut. All told, about eight people were injured.

Several hours after Yom Kippur, the country's top cops were on the scene and taking charge. Some 700 specially-equipped police, outfitted for riot duty, were deployed. Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen ordered that no live fire be used in quelling any further disturbances.

Everyone recalls the October 2000 Arab riots which erupted simultaneously with the outbreak of the Aksa intifada. Jewish Israelis felt under siege then and the police reacted to the bloodshed as if it were a full-scale rebellion. A state commission of inquiry later criticized their handling of the violence in which 13 Arab citizens were killed.

What is essential now is that the violence, which has continued to flare intermittently over the weekend, not spread to other areas where Jews and Arabs live in close proximity. Constructively, over Shabbat, moderate Arab leaders publicly criticized Jamal for his insensitivity. Still, all eyes remain on Acre, where tensions have long been simmering between the mostly working-class populations, with the Arabs insisting that they're not getting a fair share of municipal services.

I have no sympathy with the band of Jewish youths who resorted to rioting when Jamal made his appearance. What they should have done was to call the police while seeking safety if they felt genuinely threatened. The behavior of the Arabs involved, many screaming "Itbah al-Yahud" [death to the Jews], disgusts me and is a reminder of how dangerously radicalized segments of the community have become. The police need to identify the lawbreakers and bring them to justice.

Sadly, the usual political arsonists played their predictable roles. MK Ahmed Tibi termed the Acre events a "Jewish pogrom," while MK Arieh Eldad also played the "pogrom" card. Eldad further fanned the flames: "One should not be surprised if Jews take up arms to defend themselves while the police does nothing to protect them."

Tibi and Eldad, predictably, got it wrong - as did local TV reports and several of the Friday Hebrew newspapers. Using the term "pogrom" in connection with Acre is an insult to the memories of the many Jews murdered in state-sponsored pogroms such as those organized by the Russian government in the 1880s.

A correct Zionist response is to insist that Arab and Jewish citizens live by the same rules and obligations. Anyone who advocates vigilantism undermines the Jewish state and should be shunned.

No comments:

My Archive