Alcohol-fueled Violence Mars Independence Day on Lake Kinneret

When the manager of Lake Kinneret's Gufra Beach approached a group of youths to ask them to make less noise, the last thing he expected was an invitation to join the party. "They said, come on, sit down, we've got excellent dope," Menachem Regev recalled wearily.

But the evidence suggests that rather than being frustrated, Regev should have been thankful - not for the offer, but for not being physically attacked.

According to the Poriya Hospital in Tiberias, Independence Day concluded with nine people injured on the Kinneret's shores. One teenager was stabbed and seriously wounded, and was taken for further treatment to Haifa's Rambam Medical Center. Three other teenagers suffered moderate injuries, including one whose eye socket was fractured by a stone thrown at him on Halukim Beach, and five suffered light injuries and were released after getting treatment.

"People were getting drunk left, right and center," the commander of the Tiberias police station, Avi Partuk, told Haaretz. "We were running from beach to beach every five minutes. This was one of the roughest Independence Day holidays we ever had, despite dispatching large forces right at the beginning. The policemen got virtually no rest. They would take a short break at the end of the shift and go right back to the station."

"All the fights broke out because of alcohol," he added. "People used knives, spikes and rocks."

Moshe Rotter, manager of the Doga Beach, said, "You don't need any particular reason for violence like that to start. Someone says something wrong or looks the wrong way at someone else's girlfriend. But there are stimuli that prepare the ground for such outbreaks - overcrowding, alcohol, drugs and trance music. The nerve system becomes like a rubber band stretched to the limit, and once it's let loose, it's a recipe for disaster."

Rami Ron, Regev's partner at Gufra, said the main offenders are groups of young people "of about ages 15 to 25. They come already fired up and keep getting more fired up through the holiday and behave disgustingly. On the other side of the scale you have the families, to whom I want to give the best service possible."

"I came to work in the tourism industry," he added. "I don't want to end up with a knife in my stomach."

And though police said they were out in unprecedented numbers during the holiday, Regev claimed they were in short supply at the beaches.

Rotter said he managed to avoid violence because his beach attracts more families than young singles. Regev said he was less lucky.

"I've been here for 25 years, and I never experienced anything like this year's Independence Day," he said. "They get in, they go on a rampage, they riot."

In one of the worst fights, two groups from Carmiel brawled on the beach. Immediately afterward, 12 families packed up and left.

"I had families who are regular visitors come to me and tell me they were leaving," Regev said. "These are people with small babies who were literally afraid. They told me these guys were running after each other with knives, broken bottles and chairs."

"They wanted to open the Kinneret to the public, but that's an illusion," he continued. "The violent groups are slowly taking over. It's a war with the hooligans. The Clockwork Orange is taking over. Ordinary people are not safe here, and I feel like we're losing the Kinneret. "After this last holiday, I just feel helpless."

One fight between teenagers on the Kinneret was continued yesterday in their western Galilee school: A boy was stabbed in the stomach and lightly injured, while a teacher who tried to break up the fight was hit on the head with a bat.