On the night of May 12 a gang of 30 men attacked three young women and vandalized their car in front of their house in Haifa’s German Colony. The attack took place in the wake of rioting in mixed cities following Hamas’ missile assaults on Israel and Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Some of the 16 video cameras the women’s family had installed around their property recorded the attack. A mobile phone video taken by a neighbor shows the young women shrieking and confronting the men who shove them, throw rocks at their car and smash the windshield with sticks.
The women – Sama Abunassar, 23, and her sisters Nardine, 20, and Hala, 16 – are the daughters of Reem and Wadie Abunassar. Wadie is the spokesman for the Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land and honorary consul of Spain in northern Israel.
According to accounts from the sisters and their neighbors, police officers from the Yasam special patrol unit were stationed some 50 meters down the street on either side of their home but did not intervene. One officer even pushed Sama away with the words “get away from here” when she begged for them for help.
“I was in shock that something like this was happening. I expected someone to come defend me. No one came, not the police, not the neighbors. It was just me and my sisters against 30 men,” Sama recalled a little over a month after the attack. “I didn’t know what to do. I thought this would be the end of me; that they would kill us. The only thing I could do was cry and scream.”
The next day, police took the family’s security camera video recordings. Wadie and Nardine gave statements to the police the night of the attack, but investigators did not take testimony from Sama or Hala.
No suspects were brought in for questioning for taking part in the mob rampage, which also caused damage to other Arab property along the street.
- This Jewish-Arab school embodies an Israeli utopia. Its Arab principal reveals what's beneath the surface
- Israeli police arrested thousands following Gaza war. Four of them tell their stories
- How a former Googler cracked the Israeli Arab market
On June 14 the Abunassar family was told their case had been closed for lack of evidence.
But more than questioning the lack of arrests of any suspected perpetrators in the attack, the family is asking why police officers – who were positioned only tens of meters away from where the rampage took place and witnessed the attacks – did nothing to stop the rioters, permitting the violence to continue.
‘I was screaming for help’
Notices were circulating on social media and by word of mouth earlier that day that there would be demonstrations in other Haifa neighborhoods in the evening, but there was no mention of the German Colony, situated below the Baha’i Gardens and normally favored by tourists for its trendy cafes and restaurants.
Sama was returning home from work at the Haifa Mall at around 9 P.M. when a line of Yasam police officers just meters away from her house stopped her. She asked for permission to drive the short distance to her home. They let her through, and she parked her car in the private parking spot in front of the house, stopping to chat in Arabic for a minute with a neighbor who was outside.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a throng of men, some of them with their faces covered with shirts, some carrying or wrapped in Israeli flags, many with their faces in plain sight, converged on them from the eastern part of the street, where another group of police officers were standing. They had not prevented the men from swarming the street.
The neighbor disappeared into her home and Sama was left alone as the mob surrounded her and began to swear at her, chanting “death to Arabs” and vowing not to leave even one Arab in the city. Pushing Sama, they pelted her new car with rocks and sticks, shattering the windshield and breaking the door handles. When they ran out of their own rocks, they picked up boulders from the family’s garden and threw them at the car, said Sama.
“I kept asking them why they were doing this. What were they achieving by doing this? Someone grabbed me and shoved me and said there will be no Arabs left, and sprayed me with pepper spray. I covered my face with my arms and my arm was burned,” said Sama. “They used the flag poles to smash the car windshield.”
At the sound of Sama’s screams, her two sisters came running out of the house to see her surrounded by the mob.
Terrified, Nardine called her parents, who had taken their youngest daughter, 13-year-old Eman, and a friend on a trip to Tiberias just before the Catholic Feast of Ascension on May 13, the first overnight outing following the long lockdowns and coronavirus restrictions.
“I cried to my parents to come protect us because there was no one else protecting us, not our neighbors, not our family, not the police,” said Nardine. “I remember one [rioter] cursed me with so many hard, crude words.”
She was too embarrassed to repeat the curses.
“We flew home, we just had to get home,” said Reem. Some 65 kilometers away in Tiberias, she had already seen the start of the attack as she monitored the surveillance cameras through an app on her phone. After two unsolved robberies of their house, she had gotten into the habit of regularly checking the cameras. “I saw the people coming and I just kept screaming to Wadie that we had to get home,” she said.
Wadie immediately called the Haifa police department and asked that they send a patrol car to protect his daughters. They would call two more times as they rushed home, demanding that a car be sent, but to no avail. No car had been sent by the time the Abunassars arrived to their house. Only some three hours later, at about 1 A.M., did a patrol car show up.
“I saw police standing on both sides [of the street] and not doing anything,” said Hala, recounting the attack. “I saw many men shouting, ‘death to Arabs,’ surrounding my sister. I wanted to help her. I was scared my sister would die. I am very angry at the police. I was screaming for help.”
Not a single suspect
During the interview Hala played it tough, saying she was not afraid, but Reem confided that now her daughter doesn’t sleep well and hasn’t been able to wake up on time for her final classes. Nobody sleeps very well, she admitted, and she and her daughters will soon begin treatment for the trauma. Reem herself refuses to leave the house at night for fear of not being there if her daughters need her. She knows she has become too overprotective of them when they go out, she said, incessantly calling and texting them.
Laila Sharif, 57, a neighbor from across the street, was sitting with guests in her back garden that night, celebrating Eid al-Fitr, when she heard the women screaming. She, her 17-year-old son Adam and her nephew came out to try to help the sisters.
“I heard the voices of the girls screaming. I know them. We are neighbors. I didn’t want to leave them alone. I thought I would be able to help,” said Sharif, a high school chemistry teacher.
But the mob pushed her back and smashed the entrance to her house. One man pulled out a gun from his pocket and told her to get back inside. They sprayed her son and nephew with pepper spray and started chasing her but she was able to escape through a hidden passageway to the back garden, she said. When most of the men had left she came back outside.
“There were police [nearby] and ... they didn’t do anything. I feel like the police were protecting [the rioters],” said Sharif.
When she got to the Abunassar sisters, they were already collapsed on the curb of the road, hysterical and crying.
“It was difficult for girls. The girls were in shock. They were in the street crying and screaming. The younger sister, Hala, … did not stop screaming. She was hysterical. I stayed there with them until their parents returned,” said Sharif.
She also filed a police report about the attack, but has not received a response.
She describes the man with the gun as in his late 20s or early 30s, wearing a kippa, a bit taller than her with light skin and brown hair. “If they show me a picture I would be able to identify him,” she said. “Since then I don’t feel safe anymore. In Haifa there are no fights between Arabs and Jews. They brought [the rioters] in from all over the country in buses.”
Police officers walked by them as the mob surged onward but didn’t even stop to see if the sisters were injured, said Sama. Neighbors began trickling down to the street and someone performed initial first aid on Nardine, whose leg was bleeding.
When Wadie and Reem arrived, they found their distraught daughters on the sidewalk with some neighbors around them. Still, neither the police nor an ambulance had arrived. The women were finally taken to Rambam Health Care Campus for treatment by a former neighbor, a Jewish ambulance driver who happened to drive by the scene on his way home from work.
“We didn’t imagine these things were serious and believed that police would be out and able to stop anything from happening,” said Wadie. “We wanted to believe things would be under control. I wanted to believe that nothing would happen because the authorities would do their jobs. We know Haifa as a city of tolerance.”
Wadie expected the police unit already positioned near his house to come to his daughters’ aid, just as police were able to enter Umm al-Fahm and rescue a Jewish family who had mistakenly entered the Arab town a day after the attacks on his daughters, he said.
“I saw how the police reacted against Arab rioters one night earlier,” he added. “Why out of the tens of people in the attack [on my daughters] have the police failed to find even one person?”
The family has filed a complaint against the police for their lack of response throughout the attack, and is appealing the decision to close their case.
With all the technology available to police and security forces, and all the video tapes taken from the Abunassars’ security cameras, there is a sense that the police have not acted to identify the perpetrators of the attack, said the family’s lawyer, Hani Khoury.
“Let’s suppose there were a lot of events and pressure that night, we understand that,” said Khoury. “There is still no explanation as to why police who were standing 50 meters from the house just stood there and did nothing, and that their response to the daughters’ cry for help was, ‘Get away from here.’”
Despite their shock at the violence against their daughters, and their disappointment in the way the police handled the situation, they still believe in the goodwill of people and the tolerance and coexistence in Haifa, said Wadie. They know there are hoodlums all over the world and in all societies, he said. They just expected the police to be there to protect people from the extremists’ violence.
“We have no other lovely country,” said Reem. “I love it and I want to live here in peace.”
In response to a query about the case, the police stated: “Upon receiving the complaint from the Israel Police about the case, an investigation was opened that was conducted in an equal and impartial manner, regardless of the identities of the suspects or victims, and in a professional and thorough manner in order to investigate the truth and bring justice to those involved. As part of the investigation, a variety of actions were taken, including gathering evidence, watching security camera videos and more. Despite the many investigative efforts and the extraction of all the required actions, no suspects were identified in the act. As more details are received by the police or additional information is raised that could lead to a development in the investigation, these will be checked as usual.”