Jerusalem police launch probe of soccer fans caught attacking Arab workers at mall
Video footage shows hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem fans rioting against Arab workers in Malha Mall; investigation delayed because no complaints were filed, say police.
The Jerusalem Police announced Sunday that it had opened an official investigation over the riots that erupted last week when 300 Beitar Jerusalem fans attacked Arabs at the capital's Malha shopping mall.
Hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem supporters who went to the mall after a match last week were caught on video assaulting Arab cleaning personnel, in what was said to be one of Jerusalem's biggest-ever ethnic clashes. "It was a mass lynching attempt," said Mohammed Yusuf, a team leader for Or-Orly cleaning services.
Despite CCTV footage of the events, no-one was arrested. Israel Police chief said Rosenfeld said no investigation was launched before a Haaretz article on the incident stirred a controversy, because no one sought medical attention or filed complaints.
Witnesses said that after a soccer game in the nearby Teddy Stadium, hundreds of mostly teenage supporters flooded into the shopping center, hurling racial abuse at Arab workers and customers and chanting anti-Arab slogans, and filled the food hall on the second floor.
"I've never seen so many people," said A, a shopkeeper. "They stood on chairs and tables and what have you. They made a terrible noise, screamed 'death to the Arabs,' waved their scarves and sang songs at the top of their voices."
Shortly afterward, several supporters started harassing three Arab women, who sat in the food hall with their children. They verbally abused and spat on them.
Some Arab men, who work as cleaners at the shopping center and observed the brawl, came to their rescue. "How can you stand aside and do nothing?" said Akram, a resident of the Old City's Muslim Quarter who was one of the cleaners who got involved. CCTV footage shows that they started chasing the rioting youths, wielding broomsticks.
It seemed the workers managed to chase the abusers away, but a few minutes later supporters returned and assaulted them. "They caught some of them and beat the hell out of them," said Yair, owner of a bakery located in the food hall. "They hurled people into shops, and smashed them against shop windows. I don't understand how none shattered into pieces. One cleaner was attacked by some 20 people, poor guy, and then they had a go at his brother who works in a nearby pizza shop and came to his rescue."
The attackers also asked Jewish shop owners for knives and sticks to serve as weapons but none consented, witnesses said. Avi Biton, Malha's security director, sent a force of security guards in an attempt to restore order, but they were outnumbered. He called the police who arrived in large numbers about 40 minutes after the brawl started. At about 10.30 P.M., they evacuated the mall and the management shut its doors.
"I've been here for many years and I've never seen such a thing," said Gideon Avrahami, Malha's executive director. "It was a disgraceful, shocking, racist incident; simply terrible."
Biton said that his department would step up security measures when Beitar matches take place. "This event was unusual for Beitar fans," he said. "We've learned our lesson and from now on we'll make more serious preparations ahead of Beitar games."
Beitar fans are known for their staunchly anti-Arab positions and have been previously involved in attacks on Arabs.
On Tuesday, a day after the incident, Avrahami gathered the mall workers and apologized to them. "He promised it would never happen again," said Akram.
Beitar Jerusalem's management said in a statement that the club "firmly condemns violence and leaves it to the treatment of the authorities."
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