Arabs and Jews on Edge a Week After Stabbing Attack in Northern Israel

In the town of Afula, Arabs are keeping a low profile and Jews brave a show of normalcy.

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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The quiet Afula bus station, October 14, 2015.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Amjad Abu Sabia from the northern village of Dabburiya has not recovered since an angry mob almost lynched him last Thursday. It happened shortly after two people were stabbed by a Palestinian in nearby Afula. Abu Sabia didn’t even know about it even though it took place a few hundred meters from the fast food stand he co-owns, near the central bus station. Suddenly a crowd of people holding clubs and stones appeared and started cursing and running wild. He says there were more than 100 people there “and they were all about to attack me, not a single one showed pity or compassion.”

He went inside, closed and locked the front and back doors and sat there while the inflamed mob outside broke garbage containers and the store’s sign. He sat there until the police extracted him and led him to his car. “I felt like a prime minister,” he tries to joke this week, admitting he still finds it hard to believe he remained alive.

For three days after that the stand that serves shawarma was closed. The sign outside, in both Hebrew and Arabic, enraged people in the city almost a year ago when the stand opened. Abu Sabia couldn’t understand why. “In our villages Arabic is the official language. The police station has signs in Arabic, the street signs are in Arabic – why do they see it as foreign here?” he asks.

The fast food avenue in Afula, like the rest of the town, is almost deserted. But the shawarma stand looks especially empty. “I keep silent and swallow the insult to my culture, my business and my dignity,” he says. “I don’t hate anyone. But for years I’ve lived with the Jewish people and never had such a thing happen to me.”

Yossi Rabi of Kibbutz Geva, a regular customer, one of the few who comes to eat shawarma that day, says: “In this area there have always been good relations between Jews and Arabs. I’m not afraid, but many are alarmed and it’s normal.

“Today there were no attacks, so it’s a little better,” says Yoav Grinspon, a florist in the Afula bus station. It was a few hours before the stabbings in Jerusalem and for a moment there seemed to be peace again. In the 54 years his store opened here, Grinspon had been through five or six terror attacks. In 2001 the store was damaged when shots were fired into it; before that an explosion destroyed the store. The attacks immediately affect flower purchases and the workers are afraid to come to work, he says.

At 4:30 P.M. the terminal was almost empty and seemed to have more security guards and soldiers than civilians. Yizhar Ben Zaken, 80, is holding a beer and seated on a bench in the bus station, along with his friend, David Eini, who collects empty bottles for a living. Ben Zaken says he hasn’t changed his routine a whit. Eini also says “we don’t change our routine – we have to show them we’re not afraid,” but sounds less convinced. The dwindling of people coming in and out of Afula, especially in entertainment centers, has harmed his living.

“I used to work happily, now day and night I wander around and there are no cans. I don’t feel like leaving home,” he says.

On the loudspeaker there is an announcement that a suspicious bag has been left on one of the benches and the soldiers and security guards quickly vacate the terminal. But in less than 20 seconds a soldier comes running. He only went to get a drink and left his bag therefor a moment. “Way to go, soldier,” someone on the loudspeaker says cynically.

Moad Zuabi, a bus driver from the village of Nein, says there have not been many passengers in the last few days and those who do get on the bus often curse the Arabs. “They know I’m Arab, but I continue working and hope for the best,” he says. He has avoided shopping in Afula after work for a week, afraid of being assaulted.

“I used to shop in Barta’a, Kafr Kara, Umm al-Fahm – today no way I’m going in there,” says a resident of Katzir, a Jewish community in Wadi Ara, speaking of the nearby Arab towns. She is sitting with a friend in a cafe on a central avenue in Afula, near the place where last Thursday’s stabbing took place. Only few people were in the usually crowded café. Her friend works in bed-and-breakfast rooms in the area and says many reservations have been cancelled.

Jack Ben Yishai from Ahuzat Barak and his wife Ilanit, an elementary school teacher, have coffee together as they do at the end of every work day in a bid to maintain routine. “From here we’ll go on to eat something in town,” he says.

Ilanit says there’s a building site (with Arab construction workers) near the school and the students’ parents are afraid. Some parents, who work for the security forces, volunteered for guard duty at the school but others simply kept their children at home.

Gavriel Dahan, who works in Mekorot in Migdal Ha’emek, says he went to the wedding of a work mate, an Arab from Yafia, on Tuesday. Before the wedding the workers made feverish phone calls discussing whether to go or not. In the end only six of about 40 Jews who were invited showed up. “A friend told me to take off my kippa. I did at first, then put it on again. They looked at me, but that was all. It was as though nothing had happened. It was great fun,” he says.