A Tel Aviv court extended on Monday the detention of two Jaffa residents suspected of assaulting a local yeshiva head, in what police have dubbed as a racially-motivated attack. The suspects, Ahmed and Mohammed Garboua, deny any racial motives behind the Sunday attack, which ignited protests and clashes in the city, against the backdrop of plans to sell a building in the traditionally Arab neighborhood of Ajami to a Jewish yeshiva.
Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court Judge Or Mammon said evidence presented to him likely links the suspect to the assault, but added that their denial of racial motivation "sounds plausible."
The judge said that if the police cannot present any further evidence that the attack was racially motivated, the suspects should be released to house arrest after the two-day extension of their detention expires.
Besides Rabbi Eliyahu Mali, the director of the Shirat Moshe Yeshiva, Moshe Shandovich, was also attacked. Following the incident, dozens of people gathered to protest the attack, with counter-protesters, mostly from the city's Arab community, chanting "Settlers out." Clashes broke out between demonstrators and police.
The police representative at Monday's hearing said the suspects claimed Rabbi Mali had entered a fenced-off area owned by their neighbor before the incident.
The suspects' attorney, Mohamad Na'amnah called law enforcement's handling of the case "inappropriate and flawed. Telling the court it was a racist attack causes massive damage… It's dishonest and unfair. It hurts the suspects, as well as the city of Jaffa."
Shandovich, director of the yeshiva, said "a person came to us and told us he wanted to sell that plot. We spoke to him and met with him to see the plot. We'd barely been there for a minute or two before they started shouting and swearing at us."
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"We've never met these people," he said. "We don't know who they are. I guess they don't even realize they attacked a 65-year-old yeshiva head." It was "a shocking experience," Shandovich added.
Referring to local activists' claims over the yeshiva's part in attempts to push Arab residents out, Shandovich said: "We don't want to do anything that would cause harm." He went on to say, "There's no doubt, when they tell you to get out of here and don't want you as a neighbor, it's a clear statement."
On Sunday, police said the attack was likely motivated by conflict over the yeshiva's use of a building in the neighborhood, with Jaffa residents saying that there was disagreement over a plan to sell the building to the yeshiva.
Jaffa residents have recently held weekly demonstrations against the sale of assets that the government seized decades ago from Arabs who left in 1948.
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.”