Jaffa was quiet on Sunday following a tense weekend in which vandals spray-painted slogans such as "Death to Arabs" in two cemeteries - one Muslim and one Christian - and hurled a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue.
Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino sought an urgent meeting with the leaders of Jaffa's Muslim and Christian communities on Sunday, and the meeting was quickly set for that evening in Jaffa. By the time it occurred, police had also learned about similar graffiti in nearby Bat Yam, along with new slogans such as "There will be no Arabs on Maccabi Haifa" (a soccer team) and "Death to Russians." But Bat Yam residents say this graffiti is more than two weeks old.
Police said that ever since last week's torching of a mosque in Tuba-Zangaria, in northern Israel, they have been receiving reports of hate-graffiti from all over the country.
Prior to their meeting with Danino, Jaffa leaders met among themselves to formulate a list of demands they planned to present to him with the goal of bolstering security in the city. They agreed that the city's Arabs felt threatened, and some even said they feared Arabs would soon be attacked en route to prayers at local mosques.
Danino prepared by receiving a briefing on the investigation from Tel Aviv and Jaffa police officers. The police's current thinking is that even though one of the spray-painted slogans was "price tag," a phrase usually associated with right-wing extremists, the vandalism was not ideologically motivated, but was rather the work of local hoodlums, possibly soccer fans.
Danino opened his meeting with Jaffa's leaders by telling them, "I was born in Jaffa and spent much time there as a child. I'm very familiar with the city's coexistence and fabric of life."
He then said the police force has recently been working to "bolster policing and service in Arab communities."
"We view the incident that took place here as a grave one," he said. "The incident will be dealt with at the highest level; we'll make every effort to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Our top people will be devoted to this matter. I ask the community to continue to aspire to coexistence and a shared life while upholding law and order."
The community leaders said afterward that they would prefer less talk and more action.
Earlier yesterday, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai also met with leaders of Jaffa's Arab community and denounced the cemetery vandalism harshly.
"I expect the hands of those who commit such acts to be chopped off," he said, speaking figuratively. "But our job as public figures is to sit together and resolve the issues, as we have invested enormous efforts in recent years in maintaining life as usual here. The Jaffa public was always more mature than all the extremists, and we'll find a way to return to normal, despite the provocations."
Sheikh Saliman Setel, who heads the Islamic Movement in Jaffa, termed the meeting with Huldai positive and pledged to do his best to calm tempers in the city.
"For now, the situation is calm; there's nothing special happening," he said. "We don't want this to be temporary. Such things happen every year or two, and it's not acceptable to anyone. We live in coexistence; we don't want problems. Just as we respect everyone's holy sites, we want others to respect our holy sites."
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