The Israel Police arrested a 16-year-old from the central Israeli city of Lod on Monday on suspicion that he took part in a violent attack on two young gay men in the Jaffa Port on Saturday. The suspect is being investigated for aggravated assault and committing a hate crime.
The police said they had obtained “grim video evidence of the brawl, which was even disseminated on the internet.” Police said that the court granted their request to extend the suspect’s detention until Thursday at noon, adding they are still investigating the assault and trying to locate other suspects.
In the video clip of the attack, two young men can be seen beating two others on a jetty. Another man tries to separate them and even throws one of the attackers into the water.
Itzik Avneri, the owner of the ship next to where the attack took place, told Haaretz that he was a witness to the attack and tried to intervene.
At first, the reason for the attack was unclear and the police thought it was a business altercation. But when Avneri gave his testimony, he said there was no doubt the attack was the result of homophobia.
"I have a tour boat in the port, and there was the holiday [of Eid al-Adha] for the past few days when a lot of Muslims come to the port to have a good time and take a cruise,” said Avneri. “Two guys got on the boat to go sailing and when it ended, they got off and sat on the dock next to each other. Other people saw them and spat at them.”
He said that he asked one of the passersby why he was spitting. "Because we're Arabs and they're gays, and there won't be gays among the Arabs, it gives Arabs a bad name," he answered.
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One of the victims said they were attacked after getting off the jetty, “and these two guys started making faces. They seemed violent and the boat owner didn’t want to let them on board… They started arguing with us, so we went to eat at the [nearby] Clock Square. While we were gone, they told the boat owner, ‘We don’t approve of gay Arabs, they’re an embarassment.’ They said they would beat me, and told him they’re looking for me.”
When they later returned “about 20 people jumped on me and started beating me. I took out pepper spray and sprayed the entire can, so they ran away. Then the owner came and started pushing them away, until only the two seen in the video were left."
“I pulled the victims out and put them into the private area of the port where the ships dock, because there is a fence there so I could protect them," recounts Avneri. "Two of the gang jumped over the fence and they began to hit and kick them.”
Avneri described that it was hard for him to stop one of the young attackers: “So I threw him into the water. This violence was just because of the hate. There was no talk between them, all they did was look a little bit different, that’s all.”
Avneri said that he remained next to the couple "for every phase of it. What I saw brought me back to the dark 80s in Tel Aviv. There was no conflict before, there was nothing going on between them. It wasn't just that [the couple] didn't curse at them, they didn't understand what was happening – it was a complete surprise." He added that "What you don't see in the video is 500 people, not a single one of them lifted a finger" to help.
"They wanted to throw me into the water," the victim also said. "They wanted to kill me. I thought I would die… The port was full of people. No one helped.”
"The homophobic attack in the Jaffa Port is a horrific event that must not overlooked," lawmaker Ofer Cassif from the Hadash faction in the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties said. "I expect the attackers to be treated as perpetrators of a hate crime in every way... Homophobic hatred is as ugly and dangerous as any other form of discrimination."
Cassif is the first representative of the Joint List, the major Arab political force in Israel, to comment on the event. In July, Walid Taha, one of his colleagues from the United Arab List, sparked controversy when he told Kan radio that "the gay phenomenon almost does not exist in the Arab community."
"The severe beatings seen in the video are the nightmare of every LGBT child in Israel," IGY, Israel's LGBT youth group said in response. "We congratulate the police on the prompt arrest of the criminals. It should be clear – violence against LGBT people continues to rage, and we must fight it with all our might, and in all parts of Israeli society."
The Aguda - Israel's LGBT task force said they are accompanying the victims of the assault, regardless of their personal circumstances, and that this should come as a red flag. "If no concrete steps are taken to improve the status of LGBT people in the Arab community, it could end up much worse," the organization said.
The Different House for Empowering the Arab LGBT Community said in a statement that “While there was some uncertainty about the circumstances leading to the incident at first, compiling evidence shows that homophobic sentiments triggered the assault."
“This is yet another example to the existing homophobia in the Arab community and the urgent need for change, including from Arab leaders. Our organization will continue its daily work on the ground to help the victims of homophobia, build the LGBTQ community and change the discourse in Arab society,” the statement read.