Livni Tells Acre Residents: Don't Take Law Into Your Own Hands

Kadima chair visits riot-torn city; Israeli Arab MK brands Yom Kippur violence a Jewish 'pogrom' against Arabs.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Friday paid a visit to Acre, the site of recent clashes between Jewish and Arab residents, that she said was aimed at sending the message that no one should take the law into their own hands.

Livni, who is also chairman of the ruling Kadima party, said even if people are angry, they should let the authorities enforce the law. "It's obvious that it's the role of the police to do this."

She said that in light of the violence, there needs to be a "message of reconciliation and cooperation to calm tempers within the population, so that [residents] will continue to live together." Livni also affirmed that Yom Kippur is a part of Israel's heritage and that, "Every citizen has to respect this day."

President Shimon Peres on Friday called on Acre's residents and leaders to think of their city's image in light of the violence.

"There is no one in Israel who doesn't regret what is happening in Acre. Acre doesn't necessarily have to appear so, that grave events such as these would happen in Acre - events that embarrass all of the city's residents. No one will gain from these riots, everyone will lose from these riots," Peres said.

On Thursday, Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) responded to the clashes in the northern city , calling the violence a "pogrom perpetrated by Jews against Arab residents."

"The police displayed helpless discrimination in its treatment of the assault on Arab residents," Tibi said.

The riots erupted before dawn Wednesday when an Arab resident of the mixed town drove his car into a Jewish neighborhood during the holy day of Yom Kippur, during which even secular Jews refrain from driving out of respect. Jewish rioters alleged that the man defiantly played loud music, and proceeded to assault him, sparking large scale clashes between Jews and Arabs in the area.

Israeli Arab MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) said the incident had less to do with Yom Kippur than a deliberate "escalation of racist speech" ahead of Israeli municipal elections next month.

"We see a great danger in these attacks. They are similar to the pogroms that Jews were exposed to at the hands of the Nazi gangs in Germany," Barakeh told reporters.

When Acre police intervened, Barakeh said, "they fired rubber bullets and tear gas" to prevent Arabs defending their homes, to which police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld responded that police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse rioters, not rubber bullets.

MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz) also responded to the incident, saying "exactly eight years after the October riots [that sparked the second intifada], it appears that nothing has been done to implement the recommendations of the Or Commission in regard to Israel's Arabs," referring to the probe panel that investigated the 2000 riots, during which Israeli police shot and killed 12 Israeli Arabs and one Palestinian.

"We are sitting on a barrel of explosives, and every time we are surprised anew when the tension explodes, rather than making a genuine effort to stop it," Beilin added.

MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and the police commissioner must both resign over the incident. "The state of Israel has become the only country in the Western world where pogroms are carried out against Jews, with physical harm to them and their property and chants of 'death to Jews,'" he said.

"A police force that is unable to protect Jewish neighborhoods needs to take a hard look at itself," he added.

MK Eliyahu Gabbay (National Unity-NRP) said that "time after time Jews in mixed cities and in towns adjacent to Arab villages find themselves persecuted, victims of violent rampages by Israeli Arabs fueled by Arab nationalism and Islamic fanaticism and with the encouragement and incitement of Israeli Arab leaders."

"Israel's leadership needs to wake up, regain its composure and start protecting its Jewish citizens with actions, not just words," Gabbay went on to say. "Many Jews living in mixed cities feel that they live in the Diaspora. The government has to employ every measure to restore security to Jewish citizens."