Yom Kippur Marred by Arab-Jewish Tensions

By Julie Stahl | October 10, 2008 | 10:02 AM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar, was married by two nights of violence and rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Acre. There trouble lingered into Friday.
It began on Wednesday, Yom Kippur eve, when an Arab man drove into a Jewish area of the city with music blaring. When he refused to leave, angry Jews threw stones at his car, reports said.  
When false rumors spread to the Arab side of the city that someone had been killed, hundreds of Arabs rioted, reports said.
There were more riots on Thursday evening, prompting police to temporarily seal off the entrances to the city of more than 45,000 people.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying that preserving the coexistence between the two sectors of society was very important. He encouraged people living in Acre to get back to their normal routines.
But Israeli Arab and Jewish parliamentarians blamed each other and said there is a deeper problem that needs to be dealt with.
Arab MK (Knesset Member) Ahmed Tibi described the trouble in the coastal city of Acre as a “Jewish pogrom,” and MK Muhammad Barakei said “facist gangs in Acre carried out a pogrom against the Arabs, reminiscent of dark days in human history.”
Rightwing Israel Beiteinu MK Estherina Tartman said the “pogrom” pitting Arabs against Jews was “more proof that the Arabs of Israel are the real threat to the state,” the Jerusalem Post quoted her as saying.
Arab MK Ibrahim Sarsour accused “Jewish fundamentalists” of starting the trouble. He told CNSNews.com that the Jewish and Arab residents of the city lived peacefully with each other until about 10 years ago when Jewish troublemakers started moving into the town.
Sarsour said that as the head of the Islamic Movement in Israel, he condemns all kinds of violence no matter who is responsible, but he laid the blame for the Yom Kippur rioting solely on the “radical Jews,” whom he said had started the trouble.
But rightwing MK Zvi Hendel, who visited the area on Friday, blamed Arab provocateurs with nationalistic motives for the violence.
If the Arab man had driven into the Jewish area and trouble started, then the police would have been called and that would have been the end of it, Hendel told CNSNews.com.
But instead, the mosques called from loudspeakers (in the middle of the night) for people to bring mini-buses to transport Arabs to the site and they came with metal bars. This is something organized, he said.
To have hundreds of Arabs crying, “Kill the Jews” in an Israeli town is something “grave,” he said.
Hendel said he was told that during the recent Muslim holidays, the entire town of Acre celebrated together. But the minute it was a Jewish holiday, someone arrived in a car, an apparently deliberate provocation on Yom Kippur, when Israel shuts down.
Israel needs to deal severely and immediately with the “fundamentalists,” Hendel said, or else it will face an even greater problem later. He said there are those who would like the rioting to spread beyond Acre.
Early on Friday, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the city was under control but later rioting erupted again.
A hundred vehicles were damaged and some 40 Jewish-owned shops were vandalized on the city’s main street on Wednesday and Thursday. Seven hundred police are on standby in Acre, including 500 that were drafted to help maintain calm, Rosenfeld said by telephone.
In addition, security has been heightened in Jerusalem and other cities around the country to prevent sporadic outbreaks of violence, he said.
The mayor of Acre announced on Friday that a popular theater festival scheduled to take place during the weeklong Jewish Succoth holiday, which begins next week, would be cancelled. Soccer matches scheduled to be held in the city over the weekend also were cancelled, reports said.
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the Israeli population is 7,337,000 -- some 5,542,000 (75.5 percent) of the population are Israeli Jews, while 1,477,000 (20.1 percent) are Israeli Arabs. The remaining “others” include 200,000 foreign workers.
Prof. Hillel Frisch of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies said more Israeli Arabs are moving into cities that used to be exclusively Jewish, and that is causing some tensions, he said. About 7 percent of Israeli Arabs live in mixed cities, he said.
Most of them are moving because they want to improve their way of life. Land in most Arab cities is privately owned, and although the average population density in Arab areas is less than in Jewish areas, if Arabs come from a family that has no more land or they don’t want to live so close to their families, they move out into Jewish areas, Frisch told CNSNews.com.
On the other hand, in towns that used to have a predominantly Palestinian (Israeli Arab) population, including Acre -- Palestinian nationalist elements have moved in and tried to recreate an Arab Acre.
In Acre’s Old City, for example, the Islamic Movement has put up signs only in Arabic, some with religious connotations, marking alley names, giving the impression that it is “Muslim space,” said Frisch.
Nevertheless, rioting has been rare in Acre, Frisch said, and both sides have a lot to lose, especially in the area of tourism. “They might patch up their differences,” he said.
Acre, which is located on the Mediterranean Sea south of Haifa, has large fortresses from the time of the Crusaders. In the 19th century it was one of the largest towns in the area.