Spillover violence between Arabs and Jews in Israel over the ongoing conflict with Gaza has led to a appeal from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to “please stop this madness.”
The Israeli leader made his emotional plea in a phoned-in statement during a Channel 12 broadcast.
“We are endangered by rockets that are being launched at our citizens and streets, and we are busying ourselves with a senseless civil war among ourselves,” said the President, whose role is largely ceremonial.
The strife was ignited by often violent pro-Palestinian protests by members of Israel’s 21% Arab minority incensed at the IDF response to the heavy missile attack launched by Islamist Hamas-led terrorists that began on Monday, 10 May.
A state of emergency was declared in the central Israeli city of Lod after intense Arab rioting broke out late Tuesday, that included the torching of 3 synagogues, numerous stores and dozens of cars set on fire. A 56-year-old Jewish driver was seriously injured when his car came under attack, while police had to escort some residents home from a community center as Arab mobs marauded through the streets, while hurling firebombs into some Jewish homes.
An Arab councillor with the Lod municipality identified as Ibrahim told Reuters, “What is happening now is (an) uprising that is going on (in) cities like Ramle, Lod, Jaffa, Acre and Haifa.” He went on to label incidents in Gaza and in Jerusalem – where Israeli police have clashed with Palestinians and Israeli Arabs at the Al Aqsa Mosque during the Islamic Ramadan holy month – a “red line.”
Lod Mayor Yair Revivo compared the situation to the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom by the Nazis, that was a precursor to the Holocaust, after the municipality and a local museum also came under attack. Revivo lamented that “civil war” had erupted despite decades of coexistence in the city.
“We are seeing a situation in the mixed [Jewish-Arab] cities that we have never seen before, including the incidents of October 2000,” said National Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, in comparison to widespread rioting by Arab-Israelis at the start of the Second Intifada.
By Wednesday, Arab riots erupted in Haifa, Tiberias, Jaffa and elsewhere. The hostilities opened a new front by fuelling tension between Israeli Jews and the country’s 21% Arab minority who live alongside one another in some communities.
A Jewish man in his 30s was hospitalized in serious condition after being beaten with sticks and rocks by an enraged mob in Tiberias.
Firebomb attacks were reported on Jewish homes in Ramle where cars were also being stoned.
One person was shot and badly wounded by Arabs in the town of Lod, where authorities imposed a curfew. Jewish and Arab groups attacked people and damaged shops, hotels and cars overnight, and there were over 150 arrests made in Lod and Arab towns in northern Israel. A Magen David Adom paramedic was moderately hurt when he was hit by gunfire.
Other incidents of nationalistically-motivated violence in Lod included arson attacks on a Muslim cemetery in Lod, a restaurant and a hotel in Acre.
A massive riot broke out in Bat Yam, where a mob tried to force their way into nearby Jaffa to clash with the local Arab population before being stopped by police. Horrified viewers of live television watched as an Arab driver sustained moderate wounds after being dragged from his car and beaten by a mob shouting “Death to Arabs” in the coastal city, where window fronts of Arab-owned stores were smashed.
Meanwhile in Jaffa, a 19-year-old IDF soldier was brutally attacked by an Arab mob and evacuated to hospital in serious condition with cerebral hemorrhaging last night. A car was overturned and burned amid fights between the two sides.
A Jewish family of five – including three young children – was attacked in their car near the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, and had to be rescued by police.
A driver in his 20s was arrested and undergoing questioning in Haifa, after he is believed to have accidentally run over a pedestrian during an attack by rioters. The 27-year-old victim is in moderate condition.
Appeals by religious and political leaders for calm, and police reinforcements and mass-arrests, appeared to have done little to stem riots in several ethnically mixed towns. Horrified viewers watched what it described as “near-lynchings” of Jewish and Arab motorists on live Israeli television.
Some of the Arab victims were attacked by Arab mobs who mistook them for Jews, while some of the Jewish victims were beaten by other Jews after being mistaken for Arabs.
“This violence is not who we are” and “I don’t care if your blood’s boiling,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a demand for the cessation of violence. “There is no justification for taking the law in your own hands” and the ‘attempted lynching’ of Jew against Arabs, or Arabs against Jews will not be tolerated, he said in a forceful video statement.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz called the Jewish-Arab violence “no less dangerous than the Hamas rockets.”
“We must not win the Gaza battle and lose at home,” he stressed, as he ordered the deployment of 8 reservist Border Police units.
Israeli-Arabs are mostly descended from ancestors who lived under Ottoman and then British colonial rule before staying in Israel after the country’s 1948 founding; and the majority are believed to feel allied with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel’s domestic unrest has been welcomed by Hamas, one of whose spokesmen urged Arab citizens to “rise up” against “our enemy and yours.”
Ayman Odeh, a senior Israeli Arab lawmaker, accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative government and potential far-right allies of inflaming ethnic tensions. “We must not yield to this,” Odeh said on Twitter. “A common struggle by Arabs and Jews is the response to the violent vision of Netanyahu, (Itamar) Ben-Gvir and (Bezalel) Smotrich.”
Another local Israeli Arab politician was more circumspect.
“We condemn that our people’s solidarity and cohesion with our brethren in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip is being channelled through acts of sabotage to public and private property,” said Samir Mahamid, mayor of the northern Arab town of Umm al-Fahm.
Israeli President Rivlin held an online meeting yesterday with all Arab and Jewish local council heads from the Negev region, during which he called for the restoration of calm, an end to violence and preservation of the fabric of shared existence.
President Rivlin called for all the local leaders to “Condemn these events outright. Do not allow them to happen. We are better than this. Our home is on fire, and we don’t have another one.”
Underscoring that “We are determined to maintain the security of our citizens, and that determination must direct us in dealing with the violence that is raging on the streets of Israel,” President Rivlin said, “This is home to us all, and we all bear the right and the duty to protect it. To defend it from all those who seek our harm beyond our borders, and to defend it from criminals fomenting disorder at home.”
“The violent disturbances we saw yesterday are a genuine threat to Israeli sovereignty. We must not allow it – even through silence – but must speak out clearly to commit to the rule of law in Israel, and to our shared existence. We must not allow extremists to set the tone. We must not allow violence to triumph. We are the moderate majority, Jews and Arabs, who want to continue to live here together.”
The president expressed his appreciation to all those participating in this important gathering, saying “In the last few days we have been under a criminal assault of rocket fire on Israeli’s citizens. The IDF is responding with all might required, committed to the security of all Israelis, wherever they live. Whether they live close to the border or in the center of the country, whether in towns or villages, whether in Jewish, Arab or mixed communities. We are determined to maintain the security of our citizens, and that determination must direct us in dealing with the violence that is raging on the streets of Israel.”
The president added, “Like everyone, I watched with deep shock, a heavy heart and great anger the violent and unrestrained disturbances that claimed lives and mental anguish, and that set alight restaurants and houses of prayer. People’s homes were pelted with rocks, synagogues were set alight, people were beaten with barbaric cruelty. I remembered the days when, as a child in Jerusalem, we dreamed of the day when we would have a sovereign state. Of Israeli government, an Israeli army, an Israeli police force, with a system of Israeli law and justice. The violent disturbances we saw yesterday are a genuine threat to Israeli sovereignty. We must not allow it – even through silence – but must speak out clearly to commit to the rule of law in Israel, and to our shared existence. We must not allow extremists to set the tone. We must not allow violence to triumph. We represent the moderate majority, Jews and Arabs, who have lived here together for 73 years and wants to continue to live together in the State of Israel, a Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish state that is committed to the security, welfare and prosperity of all its people. All of them!”
“Extremists are the only ones who benefit from setting the streets alight, and it is us all who pay the price – today and in the days ahead. None of the groups in Israel society is going to disappear. This is home to us all, and we all bear the right and the duty to protect it. To defend it from all those who seek our harm beyond our borders, and to defend it from criminals fomenting disorder at home, to defend it from the unraveling of the delicate fabric of partnership between us.”
The president called out to leaders of all communities at all levels – other local councils, schools, institutions of higher education, youth movements, businesses, parents and family members: “Condemn these events outright. Do not allow them to happen. We are better than this. Our home is on fire, and we don’t have another one.”
Those participating in the call include: the Head of the Federation of Local Authorities Haim Bibas; head of Arara Banegev local council Naif Abu Arar; head of Kseifeh local council Elaziz Nasasra; head of Neve Midbar regional council Ibrahim Alhashula; head of the El-Qassum regional council Salameh al-Atrash; Mayor of Dimona Benny Bitton; Mayr of Yeruham Tal Ohana; Mayor of Hura Has al-Atuna; head of Lakiyya local council Ahmad al-Asad; head of Tel Sheva local council Omar Abu Rakaik; Mayor of Arad Nisan Hemo; head of Bnei Shimon regional council Nir Zamir; head of Ramat Hanegev regional council Eran Doron; and head of Omer local council Pini Badash.
Head of Ar’ara Banegev local council Naif Abu Arar thanked the president for his remarks and said to the heads of the local councils, “I permit myself to speak to you, from the heart. The situation is very worrying and can easily get out of control, and there is no way back. I have gone through uprisings of frustrated young people in my life. It’s a sign for us that we were not listening to them and did not take care of their needs. We have always said that there is both opportunity and danger, and unfortunately, we are on the way to dangers that could lead us to war between ourselves and the destruction of everything we have built together. Do what is required to change the situation.”