Clashes erupted on Sunday between protesters and police, hours after the head of a yeshiva in the city was attacked, marking an escalation in the fight over plans to sell a local building to the Jewish religious institution.
Police said they arrested two Jaffa residents in their 30s as suspects in the attack on Rabbi Eliyahu Mali.
The director of the Shirat Moshe Yeshiva was also attacked. Both filed police complaints over the assault, which occurred in the Ajami neighborhood, where the yeshiva is located.
Throughout the evening, dozens of people gathered to protest the attack, with counter-protesters, mostly from the city's Arab community, chanting "Settlers out." Clashes then broke out between demonstrators and police.
Jaffa residents said the attack was motivated by the talks on selling the building, which some locals see as part of an attempt to push Arab residents out. Police offered a similar explanation, given that both suspects are currently renting apartments in the building in question.
The police are expecting that the recent confrontations in Jerusalem and Jaffa will last for another few days as the Ramadan fast continues and the coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
“Every incident that is filmed, such as the attack on the rabbi in Jaffa, only adds fuel to the fire and the tension that already exists every year during the period of Ramadan,” said a police official.
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“We will not allow it to reach a place where people who want to pray or go out shopping are afraid, whether they are Jews or Arabs.”
Jaffa residents have recently held weekly demonstrations against the sale of assets that the government seized decades ago from Arabs who fled the country during 1948 war, which led to the establishment of Israel.
A student said the two yeshiva officials were walking down the street when the suspects “told them ‘you can’t pass here.’ Then they attacked them. We try hard to avoid friction and we have no quarrel with most of the residents. But here and there, some people pursue us.”
Abed Abou Shhade, a Tel Aviv-Jaffa councilman hailing from Jaffa, charged that yeshiva officials and “settlers” had tried “to come to the family’s home, and Jaffa’s young people had to set limits for them and tell them there are people who will respond and they shouldn’t try to test the limits. The way to calm tempers now is for the yeshiva people not to expel Arab families.”
But right-wing councilman Haim Goren said: "We’re staying here and will strengthen the institutions of the yeshiva and the [Jewish] community."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the attack on Mali Sunday evening and thanked the police “for their swift arrest of the suspects. I expect the full force of the law to be exerted against them.”
Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai also condemned the attack, calling it “a severe blow to the coexistence that we try so hard to nurture in Jaffa. We’ll continue to make every effort to develop an inclusive society that’s capable of living together in our city.”