Two weeks after violence erupted in Lod, the city’s outdoor market is open (with fewer shoppers), the streets are busy and there are fewer police officers on patrol -- but this doesn’t mean that life has totally returned to normal. If there’s one thing that unites the Arabs and Jews in this city, it’s the fear that the violence will recur.
The burned-out cars in Ramat Eshkol and outside Al-Omari Mosque were moved to a sandy area near the entrance to the city, where scrap dealers are having a go at them (though there’s little metal left to salvage). The security tower by the shuk is one of the few remaining outward signs of what happened here. The damaged synagogues have been fixed up for the most part; one was also renovated.
In the blackened building that had housed the premilitary academy, a brit milah was held the other day for the infant son of Elyashiv and Samantha (who asked to be identified by their first names only). The building has hardly any ceiling left and the windows are all gone, but the smell of the fire has dissipated. The Border Police officers stationed at the entrance are another reminder that the situation here is not as festive as it may seem.
Samantha and Elyashiv fled the city with their young child the first night of the riots. Exactly two weeks later they returned with their newborn son. They have lived in the neighborhood for three years. Elyashiv is originally from the Kedumim settlement and Samantha is from Tel Mond, in central Israel. Elyashiv said they moved to Lod for ideology reasons, as well as for financial and geographic convenience. On the first day of the riots, Elyashiv was trapped with several dozen other people in the community center, hiding there with the lights out, while Samantha was at home.
“We decided to leave the next morning because we were worried about the funeral, we knew things would heat up,” Elyashiv said, referring to the death of Moussa Hassouna, 32, an Arab resident of the city who was shot and killed, presumably by a Jewish man, in rioting on May 11.
“The whole week was very hard for me: People came to watch over my house and I couldn’t do it myself. I had to watch over my wife. We had planned to move to Eilat in August but suddenly after what happened I don’t want to leave and neither does my wife. But practically speaking, I don’t know how it will work – just to walk our daughter the 70 meters to preschool is scary now. Shots were fired from two of the buildings here and there are other spots on the way to the school that are problematic. I don’t think it’s possible to just ignore what happened here. Someone hurt you and you’re supposed to just kiss and make up? It’s very complicated and I don’t know how we’ll do it.”
Behind Al-Omari Mosque is a burned-out car that was not removed. A group of young Arab men with a water pipe sit outside, but they declined to speak with reporters. Posters of Hassouna have been pasted on walls in the area. A demonstration is planned for Saturday night outside the district courthouse, to protest the release of the suspects in the shooting.
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The burned-out car behind the mosque belongs to the Hinawi family. Rawan Hinawi works in the family grocery store. On one shelf she keeps a rubber-tipped bullet and the head of a stun grenade. She said two of the family’s cars were torched and a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the house during the riots Saturday night a week and a half ago. She was home with her husband and children when the fire began to spread at the front of the house, close to the propane cylinders.
“I wore myself out seeking help from the authorities. No one helped us. The police told me that it was chaos all over Lod, so my brother came and got us out through the window. Things may have calmed down now but every day the police come to the shop asking to see security cameras, but they didn’t investigate anything about what happened to us. Whenever my young son sees police, he cries. I’ve already sent him to see a psychologist. It’s still scary for me, too. I don’t go walking anywhere because I’m afraid people will see my hijab and say - There’s an Arab. I don’t have a car now either if I wanted to go somewhere,” Hinawi said.
Jewish residents, especially of Ramat Eshkol, say they still face violence. A rock was thrown at a kindergarten, and more were thrown at a synagogue. A Jewish street cleaner was beaten on the street and old Molotov cocktails were found in the yard of a kindergarten when the teacher reopened it, after things were supposed to have returned to normal. The Jewish neighbors hired a security company to guard the schools.
The police said that these are the type of incidents that, in ordinary times, the press would not show any interest in. For their part, the police have withdrawn most of their forces from the city, with the number now down to 250 officers providing reinforcements for the local police force. The roadblocks have been removed too.
Lod Mayor Yair Revivo already knows who is to blame. “An angry post this time,” he wrote to introduce a message he uploaded to social media Wednesday. “There are various individuals in the right and the left, Jews and Arabs, politicians and journalists who think that this is their way to get ahead, and now they are all doing just one thing: Pouring fuel in the fire and creating hysteria in the city! Stop it, you irresponsible bunch!! You are the ones creating the hysteria, you are the ones causing stress to local residents. You take some comment and turn it into a ‘news story.’ In most cases, there is no truth to the report, it’s fake news... We are working to restore personal security, but we won’t become Switzerland in one day,” he wrote. The mayor also threatened to sue for slander.
The Chicago Community Center in Lod was another target of the violence and has become something of a symbol. Many Arab teens are inside the center, while a group from the Border Police, only slightly older than the youths inside the building, sit outside. The center’s staff said that they and the kids have been repainting trash cans that were burned and are trying to get back to normal, though it is difficult.
“The riots may have quieted down, but it’s still not quiet in terms of all the police,” said Lubna Abu Rabia, a local volunteer at the center who works with kids with special needs. The police "do a lot of searches of cars. There are a lot of arrests, which mostly happen at night. They started blindfolding and handcuffing the people," she said.
"It was especially hard for the kids to see that. They didn’t see the settlers or La Familia who came here because they were taking shelter at home,” she said, referring to a far-right organization of Jewish soccer fans. "They mostly see the police. I was born here, we grew up together and worked together with Jews and there was never this kind of tension in the city. It hurts."
A group of friends sat outside a train station, drinking soda. “During all the riots, I stayed home and was afraid. I guarded my area. I’m a man of peace and I get along well with my neighbors but there have always been problems in the last eight years with the Garin Torani,” said one of the men, Issawi, referring to a religious Zionist organization that places members in underserved areas, often in mixed Arab-Jewish cities.
“It’s just that no one ever talks about it. Arabs and settlers in this city won’t live together,” he said. But Issawi and his friends distinguished between Jews who have lived in Lod for years and these settlers: “The Jews and Arabs who lived in this city lived together like family and more, the whole country should have come to Lod to learn about coexistence. As long as there are all types of people and opinions and religions, it’s fine. But Jewish extremists came here and met our extremists and that’s how people were set off. That’s how everything was ruined,” he said. The whole group kept insisting that they have no problem with Jews, only with “settlers.”
As if on cue, just then, Lana Konietzky, who lives in the neighborhood, arrived at the building with large bags of groceries. She had just returned after two weeks away, having left home to escape the violence. The Arab neighbors offered to help carry the bags.
“There is a special religion that’s called being neighbors. It’s above all the other religions. People want to live together in peace and it doesn’t matter what they believe in. In the end, the person who is closest to you, who you go to in times of trouble, is your neighbor,” Konietzky said.
Konietzky moved to the neighborhood 12 years ago, a year after immigrating to Israel. “Last week, I fled the night they burned the electricity cabinet underneath the building. We were all without lights and air-conditioning. I am sure that it is always possible to find the solution and to live together. Someone who has a family and has something to lose won’t pick up a gun and go out to the street,” she said.