Police Brace for Holiday Clashes in Mixed Jewish-Arab Cities

Deployment ratcheted up to prevent possible violence on Jewish fast of Yom Kippur and Muslim feast of Id al-Adha, which fall on same day.

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Israel Police Special Patrol Unit vehicles stationed near the Western Wall compound. February 25, 2014.
Israel Police Special Patrol Unit vehicles stationed near the Western Wall compound. February 25, 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Concerns over possible violence in mixed Israeli cities next weekend, when Jews will mark Yom Kippur and Muslims will celebrate Id al-Adha, have spurred unprecedented deployment of police. District commanders are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss responses to possible outbreaks of unrest.

In Acre, where tens of thousands of visitors descend upon the restaurants and market on the eve of Id al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, large numbers of police and municipal inspectors will be on duty to maintain order.

The police are also working on creating alternative traffic routes to keep vehicles away from synagogue areas during the Day of Atonement. This is the result of a lesson learned when riots broke out in 2008 in Acre, after an Arab driver drove down a local street, arousing the ire of Jews who began throwing stones at him.

On Monday, educators representing various ethnic groups in Acre were supposed to meet with municipal representatives to discuss responses to incidents that may occur on the upcoming holidays. One educational forum has already begun to prepare Acre’s schoolchildren and youth groups for the weekend's events. Moreover, Jewish and Muslim clergy have pledged to convey to their congregations the need to respect the sensitivities of all the city’s residents.

Flyers will be distributed in Acre in Hebrew and Arabic, calling for residents to display tolerance and respect for all religions and traditions. The pamphlets will be signed by the city’s chief rabbi, Yosef Yashar and by Sheikh Samir Aasi, the imam of Acre’s Al-Jazzar Mosque.

In Jerusalem, in light of ongoing tension in the eastern part of the city, police will be out in unprecedented numbers – four times as many personnel as on Yom Kippur holidays in the past. According to estimates by senior officers in the district, hundreds of police will be needed to separate Jewish and Arab worshipers.

The main effort of the police will be devoted to securing traffic routes and to facilitating access to the Temple Mount by some 40,000 Muslim worshipers who are expected to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque there, while simultaneously allowing tens of thousands of Jewish worshipers to reach the Western Wall below.

Possible flash points, according to the police, include the roads leading to the Old City and the Temple Mount in particular, where traffic passes close to Jewish neighborhoods.

While Jerusalem district police report that the violence that was sparked this summer has declined in East Jerusalem during the past two weeks, they note that clashes still erupt every evening between their forces and young Palestinian men.

Also concerned about possible violence, directors of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, a nonprofit organization that promotes coexistence, have asked President Reuven Rivlin to call on residents of all the mixed cities in the country to show tolerance and restraint in the coming days.

“There is very high volatile potential here, which one cannot overstate,” says Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, co-director of the group.

“The main concern is that Jews who are fasting will mistakenly think that Muslims who are celebrating Id al-Adha in public are doing so as a provocation. There should be agreements between the Jewish and Arab publics and an orderly policy for dealing with situations like these,” he added.

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