Right-wingers Beat Haifa Deputy Mayor During Anti-war Protest

Counter-demonstrators supporting the Gaza war shout 'Death to Arabs' and throw bottles and stones.

Rami Shalosh

Haifa’s deputy mayor and his son were beaten Saturday when right-wing activists attacked left-wingers protesting Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip. It was the second such clash in the northern coastal city in as many days.

The right-wing activists had gathered in the area, burned a Palestinian flag and shouted “Death to Arabs.”

They asked a reporter not to photograph them and discussed among themselves whether a man nearby wearing a red shirt was an Arab. They ran toward that man and a second one, some concealing their faces with their shirts. When they heard a police siren they fled, leaving the second man bleeding and bruised on the sidewalk.

That man turned out to be Haifa’s deputy mayor, a family physician, Dr. Suhail Assad. The right-wingers also beat the man in the red shirt — Assad’s son.

“They came up to us and asked where we were going,” Assad said Saturday night by phone from the emergency room at Carmel Medical Center. “I asked them why and they said ‘because we’re interested,’ and they started beating up my son and me. Four men attacked us.”

Assad said he tried to fight back but was struck in the face and fell. They continued to hit his son.

“Luckily he didn’t fall down; otherwise they would have finished him off. At that point a policeman arrived on a motorcycle, looked at everything and left, but they stopped," Assad said. "Two young women there protected us from [the right-wingers] and helped us. They brought us water, and I appreciate it. I’m not used to things like that in Haifa.”

Assad filed a police complaint Sunday.

The anti-war protest was organized by the Arab-Jewish Hadash party, which Assad represents on the city council. The demonstration drew about 300 people, apparently equally divided between Arabs and Jews. There appeared to be double that number of right-wing protesters, with the police trying to keep the two sides apart.

Protesters against the war carried Palestinian flags and red flags, shouting slogans such as “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” On the other side, protesters carried Israeli flags and cursed Arab MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad), as well as their shouts of “Death to Arabs.”

Initially, the war’s supporters threw plastic bottles at the other side; they later threw glass bottles. The police did not appear to be trying hard to protect the left-wing protesters.

A small amount of tear gas was also used, apparently by the right-wingers. The organizers of the left-wing demonstration called for large signs to be brought forward to be used as shields against the violence.

After the tear-gas attack, the right-wingers approached the left-wingers from the sides. They threw stones and shouted expletives as well as “Death to Arabs.”

A woman passing by upbraided the right-wingers for their comments; they shouted at her that she “sleeps with Arabs.”

The police then formed a shield around the woman and escorted her away. She said she had been on Kibbutz Kerem Shalom on the Gaza border last week and had stayed in a reinforced room at Kibbutz Nirim, also near Gaza. She said she endured the sirens and rocket attacks at both places.

The woman said she had also been in Ashdod further to the north, but that “this demonstration in Haifa was more frightening and dangerous, and not just for me.”

A police spokesman lauded the Haifa police, whom he said were not aware of the beating of the deputy mayor. “The district police acted as human shields between the two sides, and three policemen were slightly injured in the clashes,” he added.

“The district police arrested 14 suspects from both sides and intend to pursue the case to the full extent of the law. We will not allow demonstrations without permits, and we will treat lawbreakers with zero tolerance.”

Rami Shalosh