Violence Rattles Ancient Port City in Israel
An ugly wake-up call in a former model of Arab-Jewish coexistence.
October 11, 2008 - 12:30 am
On Israel’s Mediterranean coast, the usually sleepy port city of Acco has been hit by an ugly wake-up call: its Arab and Jewish residents currently need hundreds of police officers in riot gear to keep them from attacking one another.
Following the ongoing riots that first erupted hours after Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, Acco looks like a mini-war zone. The streets are littered with cars with their windows smashed in – some of them turned upside down. Police have been in full-force, physically dragging away demonstrators sometimes with the help of tear gas and water cannons, and blocking Jews from Arab neighborhoods and Arabs from Jewish ones as shopkeepers sweep the glass from their broken storefront windows.
“We are planning ahead for the scenario of, God forbid, violence spreading to other places. I call on leaders, both in the Jewish community and Arab community, to act sensibly,” said Avi Dichter, the Israeli public security minister. The two days of rioting began on Yom Kippur, when a hush falls over the country’s Jewish majority observing the holy day. Traffic across the country virtually comes to a complete halt on what is traditionally a day of fasting and reflection. There is no television or radio broadcasting and all stores in Jewish areas are closed.
Acco is a mixed Jewish and Arab city and on Wednesday, despite the holiday, Tawfik Jamal, an Arab resident of the city, drove through a Jewish neighborhood, reportedly at high speed.
Jewish youths in the area who said they saw the act as provocation swarmed him and his son when they emerged from his vehicle and hurled stones at them, forcing them to flee. The driver was protected by local police but word reportedly spread in the Arab community, incorrectly, that he had been killed.
Local mosques called for revenge on loudspeakers and soon after the streets filled with young Arab men chanting “Kill the Jews” which was returned the next day with Jewish residents shouting “Death to the Arabs,” residents said.