All seven of them came to work in Bnei Brak on Wednesday morning, as usual. But when the Palestinian workers passed through the checkpoint on their way into Israel, they noticed there were fewer people than usual taking the route. They assumed it was because their fellow Palestinian laborers were needlessly scared.
“There have been terror attacks in the past, there were intifadas, but we went everywhere around the country without fear. This morning, there was something different. It was the first time they looked at us that way,” said Ibrahim, a laborer in his 50s.
Along with six other workers, Ibrahim was standing on the second floor of a construction site in Bnei Brak, just a few meters away from where a Palestinian killed five people the night before. He heard about the attack right before arriving. However, he didn't imagine that the local residents, now fearful of more terrorism, would greet him with such hostility. Six hours after arriving at work, he had this to say: “I wouldn’t have come even for a million dollars.”
The contractor said all his other construction sites had been shut down for the day. “I have to get this done, so every day is critical,” he told Haaretz. “It’s my smallest site. All the others are closed today.”
Some of these sites, especially those at or near schools, were closed by local authorities following heavy pressure from parents, sources at several municipalities say, so that there "wouldn't be 50 Arabs wandering school grounds."
Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama HaCohen promised that he personally would be patrolling the streets with a gun.
The anger of Bnei Brak residents has been palpable since the night of the attack. Although scores chanted “death to the Arabs,” it appears there is a silent majority that simply fears another attack. “I don’t want to suspect every Arab, but it’s not as if I have a choice right now,” a local at the scene of the attack told Haaretz on Tuesday. “And I’m not ready to be looked at as a racist because of that.”
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‘We don’t know how we’ll get out of here’
The laborers have essentially been under siege since they entered the construction site. “Since this morning, people have been looking at us as if we’re terrorists,” said Tamer. “When we left the house we weren’t worried. Now we won't leave even to buy something at the grocery.”
On the streets adjacent to the construction site, groups of young men were roaming around, one of whom said they belonged to a yeshiva in Ramat Hasharon, calling on the public not to employ Arabs and distributing fliers urging them to “Fire tomorrow’s terrorist today.” The Palestinian laborers heard the same sentiment from other people.
In the afternoon, a group of teenage boys arrived at the construction site. They began rummaging through the construction workers' personal belongings, looking for something to steal. Among other things, they took one Palestinian's Israeli work permit. When they were told to put the things back, on account of the items not belonging to the terrorist, the young men answered, "So what, they’re Arabs.”
“Fifteen minutes after we got here, someone called the police on us. The police checked our permits and let us return to work,” said Fadi. “Another hour passed and someone arrived and said that ‘we don’t need Arab workers here.’ He threw rocks at us from below.”
Another 15 minutes passed and the police arrived for a second time, another worker sitting next to Fadi said. “Again, they checked our permits. We told them they can call the checkpoint. To tell you the truth, it would be better if they just closed the crossing altogether.”
Their workday was due to end at 3 P.M. But “we don't know how we’ll get out of here,” one laborer said. “I have 14 children – I didn’t come here to make trouble. I work constantly to support my family,” said another, who asked not to be identified at all by name, "there are crazy Arabs and there are crazy Jews. I just work – that’s the only thing I do here.”
Tamer said that they have four more stories to complete by the end of July, but the only thing that concerns them is “to get through the day without trouble.” They called their manager so that he would ensure that a van pick them up at the entrance to the building site. They were waiting for an answer.
“We want to work – in peace and without problems – as always,” said one of them. “A person must be able to leave his house to get bread, without having to kill or be killed. That’s it.”