Neighborhoods in mixed Jewish-Arab cities have turned into battle zones in recent days as the two communities realize that the coexistence they have nurtured over decades has been badly shaken.
“We came home at around 10 P.M. after an event and saw about 20 people setting a tree on fire. Its branches reach our window – they were trying to set our apartment on fire using the tree,” said Yigal, a resident of Lod’s Ramat Eshkol neighborhood who declined to give his last name.
He said the interlopers were armed with knives, so he took out his gun, for which he has a license.
“We were under siege in our apartment. In the morning it was quiet for a few hours, but then from about 3 P.M. we were under siege again,” he said. “Hundreds of people were on the streets, shouting and throwing rocks at our windows. They saw Israeli flags – they know where we live. They’re our neighbors. Everybody I know had their cars set on fire.”
Anti-police violence broke out Tuesday at the funeral of an Arab man from the city, Musa Hasuna, who was killed the previous night, allegedly by armed Jewish residents defending against rioters. Clashes spread across the country following deadly Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and mass injuries to Palestinian protesters on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
In Lod, where a nighttime curfew is set to go in effect after a state of emergency was called, Yigal said the feeling was nothing short of awful.
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“You say the country is strong, with police, patrols and firefighters, but we found ourselves on our own as people tried to set fire to our home. Nobody came to put it out,” he said, adding that public institutions were receiving priority. “They said we were low priority.”
The police did not show up, “so finally we went down at about 3 A.M. to put out the fire.” Yigal said, adding that it took the police a long time to respond.
“I went outside brandishing my gun so they could see I had one, then we heard a burst of live gunfire. We also heard rubber-tipped bullets being fired in the background and realized we had nowhere to run to,” Yigal said.
“We raced back home, packed a bag and ran out, and saw a mob cheering the rockets falling – and we were rescuing ourselves with an unholstered gun. The residents have been deserted.”
Michal, who also declined to give her last name, also lives in Ramat Eshkol. She said she and her family couldn’t open their windows at home because of the smoke and tear gas.
“There was no electricity so there was no air conditioner or fan, and batteries run out,” she said. “On 30 Hadarim St., cars in a parking lot had been burned. We’re in despair. The police solve nothing – they come, toss a stun grenade and leave. It’s a disgrace.”
According to Oz Abramowitz, who also lives in Ramat Eshkol, “a bunch of guys went downstairs with clubs to protect our homes. The police don’t have enough power. It’s the army’s job. They throw Molotov cocktails and rocks at us. Hardly any cars in the neighborhood are untouched.”
On Tuesday night, his daughters were woken up by the air raid sirens and the explosions, most of them incoming rockets being hit by missiles from the Iron Dome defense system.
“We hug them, play them songs. I hope it helps. We’re living in a fog. We had coexistence here but I don’t know what will happen now. Trust has broken down. In a moment, everything is gone,” Abramowitz said.
“We helped the neighbors treat the wounded – a neighbor died in my arms. These are people I know, we share a neighborhood committee with them, and today they’re throwing rocks at my window. We’re scared. We want the army.”
Shai Zaid, another Lod resident, says he doesn’t envy the police who have to handle rioters, some with knives and Molotov cocktails. “What happened here hurts. There’s so much happening in the streets that the police can’t reach us. Rocks were being thrown from 3 meters away,” she said.
“We told the police that shots were being fired at us, then they came. I was near tears, I haven’t been that upset for years. It was horrible. We couldn’t go down and escape.”
Acre has also experienced violent nighttime clashes. Large contingents of police prevented demonstrators from reaching the Old City, but the Akotika Boutique hotel, the Uri Buri restaurant and a police station were arson victims.
A woman who gave her first name as Hannah was staying with a friend at the Akotika and had dinner at Uri Buri half an hour before it was set on fire. “Luckily, we had gone back to the hotel,” Hannah said.
“I was in my room and heard shouting in Arabic. Somebody smashed part of the door of my friends’ room. The police arrived in a few minutes and knocked on the door. I was afraid to open it because I thought it was the rioters. Then I realized it was the police. We were taken to the station and from there we took a taxi back to Haifa.”
A man who gave his name as Hamoudi lives next to the Efendi Hotel, which was vandalized. He says he saw people tossing gasoline.
“At first there were seven or eight people, then 50 showed up, wearing masks. I went into the hotel to make sure everything was okay. I went upstairs and saw the people in their rooms. They didn’t understand what was going on,” he said.
“I helped them leave through the hotel’s other exit. The rioters stole the guests’ gold, their phones. Lots of stuff. Usually relations in the Old City are good. I believe the people who came here are from Acre, because they knew where the Jewish businesses are.”