Majeda El-Batsh and Guillaume Lavallee (AFP)
Lod, Israel ●
Thu 13 May 2021
For years Jews and Arabs have lived together in the central Israeli city of Lod. This week it all fell apart, leaving a man dead, a synagogue on fire and neighbors facing hatred.
Intra-community violence erupted in Israel as unrest in Jerusalem turned into a conflict in which the Islamist group Hamas fired rockets from Gaza and Israel launched airstrikes.
Amid the murderous escalation, spirits flared and mob attacks sparked warnings of a “civil war.”
In Lod, an industrial town near Tel Aviv with drab rows of gray houses with barred windows, 40% of the population is Arab and tensions have exploded into violence for days.
Mussa Hassuna, a 32-year-old Arab-Israeli father, was shot and killed in clashes on Monday evening. During his funeral on Tuesday, protesters set cars on fire and threw stones and Molotov cocktails.
Despite a local state of emergency and a nighttime curfew, Lod was again ablaze on Wednesday evening, like many “mixed” towns in Israel, including Haifa and Acre, where a Jew was seriously injured by throwers of stones.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who celebrated an “iftar” Ramadan meal just weeks ago, on Wednesday condemned what he called a “pogrom” by a “bloodthirsty Arab crowd”.
Hours later, a far-right Israeli mob was shown on live television brutally beating a man they believed to be an Arab as he lay motionless on the ground on the seafront promenade. Bat Yam Sea, south of Tel Aviv.
‘Things have changed’
In front of the charred synagogue in Lod, Yoel Frankenburg, 34, remains furious.
“The Arabs are trying to kill us!” he said. “And why they want to kill us, I have no idea!”
“I have lived here for 12 years and most of the time I have been a good neighbor.
“They attacked me, they threw stones at me … I had to send my children out of town,” he added, saying that the five children were now staying with their grandparents.
He said several Jewish families had their weapons ready, because “the police are doing nothing.”
Arabs say families like Yoel’s are no different from Jewish nationalists settling in the occupied West Bank.
“Things started to change about 10 years ago, when extremist groups started to settle in the neighborhood,” said Wael Abo Sharkh, an Arab resident.
“As soon as these extremists started arriving, things changed.”
Many Arab citizens of Lod accuse the mayor’s office of facilitating the influx of “extremist” Jews.
Outside the local courthouse, dozens of Israelis staged a protest on Wednesday in support of three Jews arrested in connection with the Hassuna murder.
A slung semi-automatic weapon, Meir Layosh gathered the crowd with a loudspeaker while cradling a baby in a stroller.
“We are not violent … but we have to protect ourselves against terrorists and anti-Semites,” Layosh said.
“These people don’t want us here. But I have a message for them: we are staying put.”
“ Nothing justifies the lynching ”
Amid the growing brutality, there have been warnings to withdraw from the abyss.
Issawi Fredj, an Arab deputy from the left-wing Meretz party, said the footage of the beating of Bat Yam was a sign that the country was heading towards a “civil war”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that “what has happened in recent days in cities of Israel is unacceptable.”
“Nothing justifies the lynching of the Arabs by the Jews and nothing justifies the lynching of the Jews by the Arabs.”
Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has called for an end to attacks by Jews.
“Innocent citizens are attacked by terrorist organizations,” he said. “The hearts are heavy and the images difficult, but we cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into provocations and assaults.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who is now tasked with forming a government after the March elections, said that “the rioters in Lod and Acre do not represent Arab Israelis, the rioters in Bat Yam … do not represent not Israeli Jews.
“Violence will not dictate our lives.”