Monday, October 13, 2008


The city of Acre or Akko was calm last night after four nights of riots. Police were out in force trying to keep a lid on things. Roadblocks were placed at the entrances to Acre as police mobilized hundreds of officers from its Special Patrol Unit and on horseback.

What some call riots, others call a pogrom against Palestinians.

In the housing project in the eastern part of town, it was easy to identify the Arab apartments by the damage they had suffered, with uniformed police stationed near some of the undamaged apartments.

Haaretz reports the Acre municipality on Sunday had to deal for the first time since the Second Lebanon War with residents who had lost their homes. "This time it was not because of Katyushas from Lebanon that did not differentiate between peoples, but the result of the recent vandalism and riots. This time, all the families who lost their homes were Arab."

Dozens of people gathered at the entrance to City Hall on Sunday to demand that the municipality finds them alternatives residences. The homes of some had been lost to arson, others were hit by rocks and some people were simply afraid for their lives if they went home.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner David Cohen said Monday morning that that 64 people - 27 Jews and 37 Arabs - had been arrested as a result of the Akko riots of the past few days, and that 34 are still in custody. The police have received 85 complaints of damage done to their cars many when hundreds of Arabs rampaged in a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur, smashing cars and store windows.

Police on Monday evening arrested Arab resident Jamal Taufik, who drove through an overwhelmingly Jewish neighborhood of Acre on the evening of Yom Kippur, after an investigation found that he allegedly drove at an unreasonable speed which some say triggered the riots.

Taufik told an urgent meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee that he "made a mistake" when he careened his car into a Jewish neighborhood on the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. He denied accusations that he had been drunk, and that he had been playing his car stereo excessively loud. In fact, he denied having been listening to music at all, and said the past five days had been a difficult experience for him.

Police also said they were hunting for a Muslim man believed to have taken control of the speaker system of a mosque in the Old City on Wednesday evening, at the beginning of Yom Kippur, and who wrongly broadcast that an Arab driver had been killed by a Jewish mob, causing hundreds of Arabs armed with axes and sticks to march on east Acre.

Whoever the guy is, he wasn't alone in trying to incite violence. Haaretz said that Jewish hackers broke into a Hebrew-language website and posted incitement calls against Arabs in addition to calling on the Jews to boycott all Arab-owned businesses.

Following the first quiet night in Acre since the outbreak of Arab-Jewish violence on the eve of Yom Kippur, President Shimon Peres arrived in the divided town and met with Arab and Jewish leaders. According to the Jerusalem Post, Peres expressed surprise over the good will that existed between the two sides, and stressed the need to keep the clashes from boiling over and spreading to other mixed towns.

During the meeting with Peres, Acre leaders decided to assemble an inter-religious forum that will be compiled of rabbi and sheikhs, who will be charged with taking to the streets to calm the charged atmosphere.

Not everyone was singing Kumbaya though.

An owner of a house torched by Jewish rioters, Subhi Murasi, told Haaretz: "Everyone thinks that only Jews are being hurt in the eastern neighborhood, and nobody's paying any attention to us. All the money I invested in this house, and now everything has been destroyed."

An angry Israeli Jew criticized the reporting of Haaretz about the riots writing in that paper,"No where do you mention how all those in the hospital are Jews, about the Jewish boy who may lose an eye or all the stores damaged by Arab rioters. WHY NOT??????????"

Arab Knesset Member Mohammad Barakeh (Hadash) blamed the riots on what he called radical Jews who he said were encouraged to settle in the city by "political elements sitting around this table." Barakeh also claimed that Jews had tried to burn down an Arab home with tenants inside it several months ago, with the full support of Mayor Shimon Lankry.

Agreeing with Barakeh were Arab residents of the northern city. They said those responsible were Jews who have moved to Akko from Gaza and the West Bank; and among them are many hesder yeshiva students, who wish to disrupt the current way of life in the city.

"Even our long time Jewish neighbors, tell us 'you know those responsible are not longtime Akko Jews,'" Akko resident Adal Hobashi told Ynet.

According to Arab residents, the establishment of the hesder yeshiva in the mixed Wolfson neighborhood was detrimental to the status-quo; citing examples the 2006 Simchat Torah riots, which broke out when the yeshiva students tried to circle the neighborhood; or the 2007 Ramadan incident, in which they prevented Muslims clerics form using speakers to announce the fast's end.

Out of some 52,000 Akko residents, Arabs claim that only several hundred can be described as "newcomers". City Councilman, Ahmed Ooda, claimed that "we are talking about some 500-600 families, who bring others in, especially from settlements. We have requested that they be removed, no one listened then, and no one is listening now."

In a mirror image of the Arabs complaint many Jewish residents of the city they call Acre say Palestinian extremist elements have moved into Akko in recent years from surrounding Arab communities. They are not long-time Akko residents, they said, and so they do not share a relationship of mutual respect with the city's Jews.

Shas (a religious Sephardic Jewish party) MK David Azoulay, a resident of the city, blamed the Arab police officers for not immediately taking control of the situation when the incident first occurred. Azoulay said Jamal (the car driver mentioned above) and other Arabs ran into Jamal's house and began hurling rocks at the Jews in the street below, as well as at the police "who went up and down but did not call on them to turn themselves in."

The Shas lawmaker added that it was not the first such incident, but rather a continuation of similar provocations that began at the end of the holiday of Simchat Torah last year, and the year before.

However, he added, "The problem is that the street is heated up, and harming the Jews on Yom Kippur Eve is not a regular thing. More than 200 masked people chant 'Allah Hu Akbar (Arabic for G-d is Great) and 'Itbah al Yahud' (slaughter the Jews) and the police are not present in the area."

Hamas held a mass march in the Gaza city of Jebalya on Saturday night, expressing solidarity with the Arab residents of Akko in their struggle against the "Zionist conquerors."

The main speaker, Hamas party whip in the Palestinian Authority legislature Mushir Al-Masri, fired up the crowd with his promise that, "The moment of victory is coming closer, and the day will soon come when soldiers of Hamas and the Al-Kassam Brigades will liberate Akko, with the help of Allah."

"The enemy will be crushed on the walls of Akko," Al-Masri railed, "just like the other invaders in past history... The normalization and the negotiations will never cause us to forget even one inch of our stolen land of Palestine."

The Islamic Jihad leader in Palestine, Nafez Azzam, is calling for a "deliberated" response to the ongoing attacks against Palestinian residents inside Israeli boundaries, most notably in Akko.

Jihad leader Azzam told the Palestinian News Network (PNN Monday), “This is confirmation that the state of Israel is racist and there is no room for coexistence between victim and executioner.”

Extreme-right activist Baruch Marzel of the Jewish National Front, visited Akko following the riots, telling Ynet News that he plans on "helping" local residents setup a "defense organization" for the Jewish population.

"I am sorry that these organizations need to be created in Israel, but it seems that the Jews of Akko feel like they are in the Diaspora," said Marzel. He also called on Jewish residents of the west bank, who were expelled for the duration of the olive harvest, to move to Akko.

Yigal Sarna in a column in YNet News writes:

"Iyad Barghouti, an Arab journalist and social activist who lives on Herzl Street, spoke to me about the Arab fear of Akko's Judiazation, about the settlers that are growing more numerous, about new Yom Kippur roadblocks aimed to marking boundaries in the city, about "Death to the Arabs" graffiti, and about the anti-Arab campaign over the past year that included the torching of doors. All the early signs."

Meanwhile, the Jews spoke to me about the city growing poorer, about the shift of Arabs into every neighborhood because apartments cost only $30,000, about shops declining on the main street, while Old City merchants grow rich."

Both sides, the Jews and the Arabs, feel like they are being screwed up, abandoned, and weak; there are many poor people and great distress in Akko – this is the war of poor against poor."

Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) is calling upon the Jewish and Arab public to take part in a solidarity meeting Tuesday. The theme will be confronting racism and violence, upholding coexistence and addressing of the severe poverty, unemployment and discrimination which it says are the root cause of the riots and violence.

The event will occur tomorrow, October 14, 2008, 12.00 on the Acre Esplanade (near the lighthouse).

The following is from Haaretz.

`Acre Jews warn: Arabs will kill you with knives`

A young woman - kerchief on her head, baby in her arms - stood behind the barred windows of her apartment yesterday and shouted: `Get all the Arabs out of here... We don`t want them here... They`ve made our lives a misery.`

The balcony blinds of the adjacent apartment are shattered. Its former residents, the family of Mahmoud Samary, are gone, having temporarily fled the hail of stones on their home. The young woman yelled: `They should get out. The Arabs are taking all our girls.`

It was Saturday afternoon at number 18, Burla Street in Acre - part of a crowded, shamefully neglected housing project where three Arab families and 29 Jewish families inhabit a single building. At the entrance to the building, a group of policemen stood around idly. The street was lined with cars with shattered windows.

It was not only Bosnia that Acre called to mind yesterday; the city was also reminiscent of Nablus - checkpoints at every corner, hundreds of policemen under every parched tree. A city that could have been a tourist attraction was instead the most miserable in Israel. My colleague Jack Khoury, an Israeli Arab, said as we entered the neighborhood: `I don`t believe I`m traveling here in such fear and tension.`

A young man who lives in the project told us aggressively: `Don`t you dare enter the Old City. The Arabs will kill you with knives.` He would like us to leave his neighborhood, too.

But the Old City, just a few minutes` drive away, was another world: In that beautiful but neglected neighborhood, which was virtually empty yesterday, people were mourning the cancelation of Acre`s theater festival and still speaking of peace and coexistence.

Acre went up in flames all at once. It was a clash between poor and poor, Jews and Arabs, egged on by nationalists, with a religious holiday as the catalyst - the most dangerous of all possible clashes, which threatens to ignite a conflagration.

The fire could be out by press time, but as of yesterday afternoon it seemed liable to break out anew: Young men from the housing project had agreed to meet at 7:30 P.M. that evening, God only knows why.

Yet even if the fire is extinguished now, it will reignite someday. This binational city is sitting on a volcano - a volcano of nationalism and distress, fear and hatred.

If the housing project was the tensest party of the city, the saddest was the Old City, where the empty halls were all that remained of the theater festival that was supposed to have taken place this week.

The spotlights had been removed, the actors and directors were gone, the tables in the cafe on the lawn remained folded. Instead of the festival, Acre got a scandal - the scandal of its cancelation.

The technical crews said it was outrageous to cancel the most important event of Acre`s year `because of 100 or 200 psychos.` They suggested holding a reconciliation festival instead, and promised to ensure the guests` safety. `You also fight with your wife, but then you go to bed with her,` analogized one, Asfari Khalil.

Munir Abu al-Tayir, who sells pomegranate juice, had thus far sold exactly two glasses all day. At a nearby felafel booth, a young Arab responded to Jewish claims that the riots were provoked by an Arab driver blasting music on Yom Kippur by saying that during Ramadan, the Jews had offended Arab sensibilities by drinking beer, but there were no Arab riots. Issam Jalem, owner of a barbershop, warned that without the festival, `things will not be good.`

To all, it was clear that Mayor Shimon Lankri`s hasty decision to cancel the festival had one purpose, and one only: to punish the Arabs who earn their living from the event.

F., an Arab resident of the largely-Jewish Kibbutz Galuyot Street, fled his house with his wife and children; now he fears the house will be torched. Salim Najami, a city councilor, denounced all extremists, Jewish and Arab alike.

Daoud Halila, director of an Arab non-profit organization, accused the police of `pampering the Jews.` Long-time communist Salim Atrash blamed the disengagement from Gaza, saying an extremist yeshiva that opened in the city following the pullout has been fanning the flames.

Atrash pulled out a copy of a notice that has been circulating on the Internet: `We will no longer buy anything from Arabs, we will not honor any of their holidays or any place of theirs. Arabs of Acre, go find your place in the villages.` The notice was signed with an epigram: `A Jew is the son of a king, an Arab is the son of a dog.`

Welcome to a little Bosnia in the making.

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