An ugly situation unfolded in Acco Yom Kippur eve as tensions between Jews and Arabs in the city exploded into riots and vandalism. There was another demonstration Thursday night as well.
Neither side comes off very well here. It seems that the incident was started when an intoxicated Arab resident drove into a Jewish neighborhood blasting music on the holiest day of the Jewish year. He refused to leave, and Jewish teens attacked him. Arabs youths quickly heard about the scuffle and started rioting through Jewish neighborhoods. Rumors have caused riots among Arab repeatedly in the North, including the fighting between Arabs and Druze after rumors circulated that Arab youths were posting pictures of nude Druze girls on the internet.
It is especially disturbing that the Arab residents were yelling “Allahu Akbar” as they smashed the windows of Jewish-owned shops. It seems the police acted swiftly and effectively to bring the situation under relative control, but this is a reminder of how delicate the balance is in northern Israel between Muslim Arab,s Christian Arabs, Druze, Bedouins, and Jews.
A riot in Acre shattered the Yom Kippur calm on Wednesday night as hundreds of the city’s Arab residents vandalized Jewish-owned shops and vehicles and clashed with police.
On Thursday evening, tensions boiled over again during a demonstration held by Jews against the previous evening’s occurrences. Both Jews and Arabs clashed with police in various parts of the racially divided city, leading to 10 arrests. In total, at least eight people were lightly injured in the successive nights of violence.
For part of Thursday evening, the city was in lockdown, its entrances temporarily closed off, as hundreds of riot and border police armed with water cannons and tear gas worked to restore calm to Acre’s streets.
Police say the disturbances were sparked deliberately on Wednesday evening when an Arab driver, Tawfik Jamal – a resident of Acre’s Old City – made his way to the predominantly Jewish Ben-Gurion neighborhood in the eastern part of the city, blasting loud music from his vehicle as a provocation on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
Speaking to Channel 2 News, Jamal denied he had intended to provoke local residents, saying he had driven with his 18-year-old son and the son’s 20-year-old friend carefully and quietly from the Old City to the Ben-Gurion neighborhood, three kilometers away, to pick up his daughter from her fiancé’s home.
But police dismissed Jamal’s claims.
“This was a provocation. An Arab driver arrived in a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur with blaring music, and refused to leave when asked to by local residents. We believe he was intoxicated. This was a deliberate act,” Galilee Police spokesman Ch.-Supt. Eran Shaked said.
The verbal confrontation between Jamal and the local residents quickly deteriorated into violence, as rocks and bottles were thrown at Jamal’s vehicle.
According to Jamal, he and his two passengers fled the car. The three were taken to hospital where they were treated for light injuries and released.
In the meantime, police said, “False rumors that Arabs were seriously harmed or killed by Jews reached the Old City, and caused a far more serious and organized incident in Acre.”
Responding to the rumors, hundreds of Arabs set out from the Old City toward the Ben-Gurion neighborhood, walking down a main road, smashing store windows and cars along the way. Reports said the mob shouted “Kill the Jews,” “Allahu Akbar,” and “If you come out of your homes, you will die.”
At the same time, a few hundred Jews had congregated in the streets of the Ben-Gurion neighborhood. Fearing a deadly clash, police acted quickly, mobilizing “a very large force” to prevent the two groups from confronting one another, Shaked said.
“We used tear gas and other means to disperse the [Arab] group heading toward Ben-Gurion, thereby preventing a far more serous incident. Lives were saved because of this action,” Shaked said.
Five police officers were wounded by rocks, and two civilians were lightly wounded during the clashes, a result that Shaked said was nothing compared to what would have happened had police not acted swiftly to separate the two sides.
Shaked said violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in the city was an “unusual” event.
On Thursday night, tensions boiled over again, as both Jews and Arabs clashed with the police.
Police denied riots were taking place, saying a demonstration was being held by Jewish residents in the eastern part of the city against the previous evening’s incidents.
Jews tried to break through police lines without success.
“There is a demonstration and it is under control,” Shaked insisted on Thursday. Police, including officers on horseback, had positioned themselves in large numbers in sensitive spots considered likely flashpoints where Jews and Arabs could clash.
Police Commissioner Ch.-Insp. Dudi Cohen held a special situation analysis meeting at an Acre police station on Thursday evening. Cohen admitted that local police were caught off guard by the outbreak of hostilities.
“I am aware of the evidence and witness to the consequences,” Cohen said, alluding to the widespread damage. “It is difficult for me to assess whether the incident was nationalistically motivated or simply an act of hooliganism; we will know this later on. I wish to stress that the Acer Police Department prepared for this Yom Kippur in accordance with recent years and we had no information indicating that such as incident was about to occur.”
Cmdr. Shimon Koren, Northern District police chief, arrived in Acre to oversee police operations. “Our aim is to prevent Jews and Arabs from clashing,” he said. “We won’t allow anyone to riot.”
The riots garnered strong reactions from political leaders.
MK Ahmed Tibi called the riots a “Jewish pogrom,” and said the police were handling the “attack against the Arab residents” in a discriminatory manner.
Hadash MK Muhammad Barakei echoed Tibi’s words, saying that “fascist gangs in Acre carried out a pogrom against Arabs, reminiscent of dark days in human history. We have been warning for a while of the expansion of these gangs in Acre, whose only purpose is to harass the Arabs.”
“Mixed cities are supposed to serve as a model of coexistence… The police must impose order, otherwise these cities will turn into ticking time bombs,” MK Nadia Hilou (Labor) commented Thursday night. Hilou, who heads the Knesset lobby for mixed cities, called on Public Security Minister Avi Dichter to come to Acre. “I foresee an immediate danger – these sorts of riots might spread to the rest of the region,” she added.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in response to the riots that maintaining coexistence between Arab and Jewish sectors in Israel was a highly important mission. He called on Acre residents to show restraint and to do their best to make efforts to get life in the city back on track.
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni spoke with Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri, who updated her on events.
Israel Beiteinu MK Estherina Tartman said, “The pogrom in Acre is another proof that the Arabs of Israel are the real threat to the state. There is no solution [other than] a swap of territories,” she said.
Israel’s only Arab minister, Ghaleb Majadle (Labor) said he believed that the Acre riot was “an exceptional and unusual incident, and I hope it won’t repeat itself.”
MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) called the Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Police Chief David Cohen to resign. “Israel has become the only country in the world where pogroms against Jews are taking place, [with participants] harming them, their property and calling to kill the Jews. A police [force] incapable of protecting the Jewish residents of Acre and Peki’in needs to reassess itself,” Steinitz said.