The Israel Defense Forces and Hamas have clashed repeatedly in recent years, but the latest round of fighting appears significantly different from previous iterations, with the conflict spreading into internal civil strife between Israel’s Arabs and Jews.
The current fighting started on Monday following weeks of Arab-Jewish clashes in Jerusalem over tensions on Temple Mount and in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. But as Hamas rockets began landing across the country, those tensions – which had previously largely been restricted to Jerusalem – began spilling beyond the capital.
The fighting spread first to the mixed central city of Lod, 24 kilometers (15 miles) east of Tel Aviv, where about 200 masked Arab protesters gathered outside City Hall, burned trash cans and threw stones and fireworks at the police.
One local Arab man, Moussa Hassouna, 32, was shot to death and another man moderately wounded during a confrontation with Jewish residents after some of the Arab protesters allegedly hurled stones at the latter’s homes. Two Jewish suspects were detained by the police over the shooting.
A video of the event showed people running toward a car, one holding a firebomb, followed by gunshots and screams of “Allahu akbar.”
In nearby Ramle, a few dozen protesters set trash cans and tires ablaze, vandalized a gate around the city’s fast lane construction site and pelted an Egged bus, which had no passengers, with stones. A number of synagogues in the city were vandalized and part of a new cemetery was set on fire.
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Israeli police also clashed with protesters in Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth, Kafr Kana and other Arab or mixed cities. In the northern village of Kafr Manda, rioters shot fireworks at the local police station. Protesters in a number of places also blocked local roads and set tires ablaze.
Hassouna’s funeral on Tuesday brought further violence, as mourners hurled stones at police officers who were trying to block their route, and set police vehicles on fire as well as a bus and other objects. Police forces responded with stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets. In total, 12 people were injured in the clashes.
The situation deteriorated further as a synagogue and 30 cars were set alight and a 56-year-old Jewish man was seriously injured after stones were thrown at his car.
Dozens of people rioted outside the emergency room at Shamir Medical Center, southeast of Tel Aviv, after some of the wounded from the violent incidents in Lod and Ramle were admitted.
The escalating violence prompted Lod Mayor Yair Revivo to compare the situation to the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom in Nazi Germany in 1938. He described the clashes as an “intifada” and “civil war,” and demanded that the army be deployed in the city.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Lod on Tuesday evening after declaring a state of emergency there, which transferred control over the city from the civil authorities to the police. By Wednesday morning, an additional 250 police officers had been deployed on the city’s streets.
“There were wild riots yesterday by hotheaded youths, which we cannot accept,” Netanyahu said. “Our directive is to do everything to maintain law and order. I expect all public leaders – first and foremost the leaders of the Arab community – to come forward and condemn these riots and do everything to restore quiet.”
In response to the violence, President Reuven Rivlin, usually an advocate of Arab-Jewish coexistence, issued a scathing statement lambasting the rioters and the leadership of the Arab community.
"The sight of the pogrom in Lod and the disturbances across the country by an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob, injuring people, damaging property and even attacking sacred Jewish spaces, is unforgiveable," Rivlin declared.
“The silence of the Arab leadership about these disturbances is shameful, giving support to terrorism and rioting, and encouraging the rupture of the society in which we live and in which we will continue to live once all this has passed," he continued, calling on the government to "pursue the rioters with a firm hand."
Hours before Rivlin issued his statement, United Arab List Leader Mansour Abbas called for an end to the violence on Wednesday, stating that the protests were “moving in a very dangerous direction as popular protests have escalated into violence.”
Abbas is seen as a key figure in the ongoing talks to form a new government to replace Netanyahu’s governing coalition. He called the situation “a threat to peace for young Arabs” and called on everyone “to behave responsibly and to adhere to the rule of law." He added: “I call on our leadership to act accordingly, and call on everyone to calm down and protect public order.”
Meretz MK Esawi Freij also condemned the riots, tweeting that it is “forbidden to be silent” at such a time and declaring that “the anarchy in the streets of Ramle, Lod and other places threatens our existence as a society.”
Far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, was accused of inflaming the situation when he visited both Ramle and Lod, where he led a protest march against what he termed the police’s inability “to deal with rioting gangs.”
Meanwhile, Arab Israelis Khalil Awad, 52, and his 16-year-old daughter Nadine, were killed by Hamas rocket fire in the village of Dhamas, near Lod. According to reports, they had no bomb shelter because their village was unrecognized by the state.
“We have nowhere to go. We don’t have a bomb shelter here for everyone. They built shelters for the Thai [migrant] workers, but we were not allowed because we’re not [seen as] human,” a relative, Ismail Arafat, was quoted as saying.
Further south, Arab protesters blocked off Route 6 near Shoket Junction early Tuesday morning. Police said they rescued a woman after her car arrived at the blocked intersection north of Be’er Sheva and protesters forcibly removed her from her vehicle and set it ablaze. At another junction nearby, Avichai Marciano told Haaretz that dozens of young people blocked the thoroughfare with burning tires and pelted his car with stones, before he was rescued.
An 18-year-old Jewish man was wounded Tuesday when he was stabbed in the chest in Be’er Sheva itself, not far from clashes between Arab demonstrators and the police near Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The police are examining a possible link between the stabbing and the nearby confrontations.
In the northern coastal city of Acre, which also has a mixed Arab and Jewish population, a police station and restaurant were torched and a nearby hotel had to be evacuated due to the fire. Nineteen people were arrested as rioters set trash bins ablaze and threw stones at police cars.