Assault on Rabbi That Sparked Protests in Jaffa Wasn't Racist, Indictment Says

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Riots in Jaffa, last week.
Riots in Jaffa, last week. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

An attack against a rabbi in Jaffa law week wasn't antisemitic, but rather motivated by the perpetrators' opposition to plans by the rabbi's yeshiva to buy a plot in the city, according to an indictment filed Monday against the two Arab brothers charged with the assault.

The indictment, filed with the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, accuses Ahmed and Mahmoud Garbua, both in their 30s, of threatening and assaulting Rabbi Eliyahu Mali, whose yeshiva is seen by some Jaffa residents as part of an effort to push its Arab population out.

On Sunday of last week, the indictment states, Rabbi Mali and Eliezer Moshe Shandovitz, an administrative head of the yeshiva, came to look at the lot that is up for sale and were accompanied by representatives of the owner of the premises. After going onto the lot, according to the charges, Ahmed Garbua arrived and shouted: “Get out of here and don’t come close. Don’t turn around …. If your lives are important to you, get out of here.”

Footage of the assault on Rabbi Mali in Jaffa.

After he and his group left the lot, Shandovitz photographed Garbua, who allegedly saw what he was doing and began kicking and hitting him in the legs, abdomen and face. Shortly after, Garbua’s brother Mahmoud arrived and the two continued assaulting Shandovitz and Rabbi Mali. They were kicked, punched and slapped over a considerable period before the brothers fled the scene, the indictment states.

Initially the police did allege that the attack was anti-Jewish, but the court determined last week that the police did not provide sufficient evidence indicating that was the case. Magistrate’s Court Judge Or Mammon ruled that such suspicions “have not increased and it’s possible to rule that they have even substantially weakened.” Testimony that the Garbua brothers called Mali and the director of the yeshiva “settlers” in a neighborhood with a large Arab population “is not necessarily an antisemitic statement,” the judge said.

Following the incident, dozens of people demonstrated in Jaffa last week, carrying Israeli flags and chanting “the eternal people is not afraid.” Residents of Jaffa faced off opposite them, shouting “Jaffa for Jaffans, settlers out.” Clashes with police ensued and three demonstrators were arrested. The following day, there was a demonstration in solidarity with the residents of Jaffa that resulted in additional friction with the police and arrests.

The Garbua brothers live on the neglected ground floor of a government-owned building adjacent to the lot Rabbi Mali sought to purchase. The Garbua family has lived there since 1992. After the government sued to evict the family, the court approved a settlement order giving them a year to move – and that period expired in December of last year.

Although the lot is privately owned, protesters had erroneously believed that Rabbi Mali had been seeking to purchase abandoned property that had been owned by Palestinians who had fled during Israel’s War of Independence.

The subject is a heated one in Jaffa, where property prices and housing shortage are constantly increasing. Although the law provides certain protection for tenants living in such abandoned property, for the most part, poor families in Jaffa cannot afford to buy the homes in which they are living. When the properties are put up for sale, most of the buyers are Jewish, which in Jaffa is perceived as proof that the government is seeking to replace Arab residents with Jews.

The government-owned Amidar housing company currently manages about 4,800 abandoned properties across Israel, about 1,200 of which are in Jaffa.

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