A little Bosnia in the making
A young woman - kerchief on her head, baby in her arms - stood behind the barred windows of her apartment yesterday and shouted: "Get all the Arabs out of here... We don't want them here... They've made our lives a misery."
The balcony blinds of the adjacent apartment are shattered. Its former residents, the family of Mahmoud Samary, are gone, having temporarily fled the hail of stones on their home. The young woman yelled: "They should get out. The Arabs are taking all our girls."
It was Saturday afternoon at number 18, Burla Street in Acre - part of a crowded, shamefully neglected housing project where three Arab families and 29 Jewish families inhabit a single building. At the entrance to the building, a group of policemen stood around idly. The street was lined with cars with shattered windows.
It was not only Bosnia that Acre called to mind yesterday; the city was also reminiscent of Nablus - checkpoints at every corner, hundreds of policemen under every parched tree. A city that could have been a tourist attraction was instead the most miserable in Israel. My colleague Jack Khoury, an Israeli Arab, said as we entered the neighborhood: "I don't believe I'm traveling here in such fear and tension."
A young man who lives in the project told us aggressively: "Don't you dare enter the Old City. The Arabs will kill you with knives." He would like us to leave his neighborhood, too.
But the Old City, just a few minutes' drive away, was another world: In that beautiful but neglected neighborhood, which was virtually empty yesterday, people were mourning the cancelation of Acre's theater festival and still speaking of peace and coexistence.
Acre went up in flames all at once. It was a clash between poor and poor, Jews and Arabs, egged on by nationalists, with a religious holiday as the catalyst - the most dangerous of all possible clashes, which threatens to ignite a conflagration. The fire could be out by press time, but as of yesterday afternoon it seemed liable to break out anew: Young men from the housing project had agreed to meet at 7:30 P.M. that evening, God only knows why.
Yet even if the fire is extinguished now, it will reignite someday. This binational city is sitting on a volcano - a volcano of nationalism and distress, fear and hatred.
If the housing project was the tensest party of the city, the saddest was the Old City, where the empty halls were all that remained of the theater festival that was supposed to have taken place this week. The spotlights had been removed, the actors and directors were gone, the tables in the cafe on the lawn remained folded. Instead of the festival, Acre got a scandal - the scandal of its cancelation.
The technical crews said it was outrageous to cancel the most important event of Acre's year "because of 100 or 200 psychos." They suggested holding a reconciliation festival instead, and promised to ensure the guests' safety. "You also fight with your wife, but then you go to bed with her," analogized one, Asfari Khalil.
Munir Abu al-Tayir, who sells pomegranate juice, had thus far sold exactly two glasses all day. At a nearby felafel booth, a young Arab responded to Jewish claims that the riots were provoked by an Arab driver blasting music on Yom Kippur by saying that during Ramadan, the Jews had offended Arab sensibilities by drinking beer, but there were no Arab riots. Issam Jalem, owner of a barbershop, warned that without the festival, "things will not be good."
To all, it was clear that Mayor Shimon Lankri's hasty decision to cancel the festival had one purpose, and one only: to punish the Arabs who earn their living from the event.
F., an Arab resident of the largely-Jewish Kibbutz Galuyot Street, fled his house with his wife and children; now he fears the house will be torched. Salim Najami, a city councilor, denounced all extremists, Jewish and Arab alike. Daoud Halila, director of an Arab non-profit organization, accused the police of "pampering the Jews." Long-time communist Salim Atrash blamed the disengagement from Gaza, saying an extremist yeshiva that opened in the city following the pullout has been fanning the flames.
Atrash pulled out a copy of a notice that has been circulating on the Internet: "We will no longer buy anything from Arabs, we will not honor any of their holidays or any place of theirs. Arabs of Acre, go find your place in the villages." The notice was signed with an epigram: "A Jew is the son of a king, an Arab is the son of a dog."
Welcome to a little Bosnia in the making.