A couple of Arab teenagers were arrested in Jaffa Wednesday night for throwing stones at a bus, causing damage but no injuries. Also, a few dumpsters were set on fire. That was it for the day. Not exactly the October 2000 riots in Galilee.
Despite Tuesday’s violent Arab demonstration in Jaffa and the politicians’ croaking about boycotting Arab businesses, Abu Hassan’s legendary hummus joint seemed packed with customers yesterday.
However, the regulars told me the place was empty compared to normal, so I silently thanked those who had feared to come for shortening my wait. It took me only a few seconds to find a table.
Next to me sat Michal Rechtman of the Kfar Sava artists’ association, who was preparing for the association’s upcoming exhibition at Jaffa Port. “What happened truly didn’t bother us; all the artists came today,” she said. When I asked what they said about the boycott, her partner quoted actor Uri Zohar: “You can fool a person, but not his small intestine.”
Outside, I met five Abu Hassan regulars from Rishon Letzion. “The ones who did this were Muslims, not Christians,” said a member of the group named Reuven about the protest. “We need to replace the Muslims with Christians; send those Muslims to Gaza or the West Bank. We give them a livelihood and this is what they do.”
I asked how Tuesday’s demonstration differed from protests by Ethiopian Israelis or the ultra-Orthodox, both of which also often end in clashes with the police.
“Because what happened here is what they call a fifth column; it’s from incitement in the mosques and can lead to escalation,” Reuven replied. “Ethiopians are residents of the country and they’re right; there’s discrimination. I supported them.”
I suggested that Arabs also suffer discrimination, but Reuven and his fellows disagreed. “I don’t think there’s discrimination; it depends on them,” he said. “If they’re okay, the Arabs will integrate. If they’re not okay, they won’t. You call the service hotlines, they’re all Arabs. All the pharmacists are Arabs ... So tell me, what discrimination is there? They’re accepted.”
Most of the Arabs I spoke with sought to downplay the demonstration’s importance, perhaps because I’m Jewish and a potential customer of their businesses. Some of the Jewish responses, in contrast, were much cruder; more racist or more arrogant.
Yafa is the center of Palestinian culture in Jaffa, a bookstore-cafe that’s always a pleasure to visit. The menus even have a tiny Palestinian flag on the back.
“When I realized there was going to be trouble, I closed up and went home,” an employee related. Another customer, who entered just then, panicked for a moment. “I thought you meant there was trouble now,” she explained. “If there were, I’d leave immediately.”
Some Arabs sounded like they were repressing what had happened. “I didn’t know about it, I heard only this morning,” said Mary, who works at an Arab-owned ice cream shop.
“I didn’t see yesterday’s demonstration,” said an employee of a café near the Clock Tower. “There are things it’s better not to see.”
At the famous Abulafia bakery, workers clearly didn’t want to talk about it; some acted as if they hadn’t even heard about the demonstration. They’re evidently used to the fact that sales decline whenever security tensions rise.
Yona Reuveni has sold juice at the nearby Doctor Mitz store story for 20 years. “It will pass, they do this every so often,” he said.
He’s been hurt, too; he said his sales so far that day totaled a mere 15 shekels ($3.90). “All in all relations are good here; the merchants know it doesn’t pay for them to make trouble,” he continued. He blamed the demonstration on incitement by the northern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement.
On the street I met Gil Sassover, who writes a fish column for Haaretz, has made several films and currently spends his mornings working as a fisherman with two Arab brothers. He seemed upset.
“What’s with all these calls to boycott businesses?” he demanded. “Are you a 9-year-old child? What should be done is the exact opposite.”
Orna Galili, from north Tel Aviv, has run a colorful galabia store in Jaffa called Alice in Wonderland for seven years. She heard about the demonstration from the media.
“What happened was surprising and disappointing, I was in shock,” she said. “I felt safe and I thought I knew the Arab population. We have peaceful, cooperative relations. In my opinion, they were teens influenced by Hamas incitement over the Internet ... not the old-timers, who are neighborly.”
I also asked her why people are so much more upset by Tuesday’s Arab demonstration than they were by June’s much larger Ethiopian Israeli demonstration. “The Ethiopian Israelis didn’t look like they were incited, and we didn’t feel like we were sitting on a volcano,” she replied.
The Arab demonstration took her by surprise, she said. “With the Ethiopians, it was predictable.”