Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Tuesday designated all rioters involved in the violent clashes in mixed Arab-Jewish communities last week as “terrorists,” drawing an angry rebuke from the right-wing public security minister who oversees him.
“From my perspective, anyone who was involved in the riots in the mixed cities is a terrorist,” said Shabtai, noting there were “terrorists on both sides.”
“This is how I relate to all those involved, and we, the police, will bring all the terrorists to justice,” said the police chief.
Shabtai made the comments as he unveiled a plan to local authorities in Lod and Ramle that envisioned using drones and cameras to crack down on unrest in the Jewish-Arab communities, following last week’s violence and the subsequent police crackdown. He said he would pitch the plan to the government as “the police won’t remain here forever with 1,000 officers.”
“This was not an easy week. Not for the residents and not for the police. We reached a situation that is unprecedented in Israel — issuing an order banning movement of people on the streets,” added the police commissioner, referring to night curfews in some of the cities.
He further predicted that the frayed ties between the Jewish and Arab residents in the shared communities would be mended, though he conceded it would take time.
“We will transform this place into a Garden of Eden, into the symbol of coexistence between Arabs and Jews,” he concluded. “We will set aside the violence of those extremists, since most of the population was not part of that cycle.”
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana subsequently criticized the “outrageous remark by the commissioner that should not have been said.”
“In order to deal with the problem, one must acknowledge what it is: Arab rioters attacked Jews, police officers and synagogues,” said Ohana. “The policy is to deal aggressively with the terrorist rioters. There is no moral equivalence and there never was.
“Yes, the few who attacked Arabs will also be dealt with severely. But there’s a long way from that to saying ‘both sides,'” he added.
Tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities spiraled into mob violence in multiple ethnically mixed communities over the past week, turning cities into veritable war zones, with police failing to contain the most serious internal unrest to grip the country in years.
A Jewish man, Yigal Yehoshua, 56, died Saturday of injuries he sustained last week when Arab rioters hurled stones at his car and a brick at his head in Lod.
Several other people, Jewish and Arab, have been assaulted and seriously wounded in shooting incidents and beatings during the unrest.
Intense Arab rioting broke out in Lod last Tuesday following the death of an Arab man a night earlier. Mousa Hassouna had been shot by Jewish residents in what Jewish witnesses asserted was self-defense during the rioting.
An initial investigation had indicated Hassouna was standing dozens of meters away from the Jewish suspects when he was shot. Nevertheless, on Thursday the four Jewish suspects in the fatal shooting were released under relatively lenient conditions. A police representative told the court that the suspects’ version of events had received a boost over the last few days of investigation.
In Jaffa on Thursday, a 19-year-old soldier was seriously wounded after being beaten, Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv said.
The soldier, Leon Shranin, later told Channel 12 news he had been heading to his grandfather’s home in Bat Yam, a nearby city. “There shouldn’t be clashes, it’s unnecessary, it’s nonsense,” Shranin told the network.
In a nearby hospital, Saeed Mousa, an Arab man who on Wednesday was attacked and savagely beaten by a Jewish mob in Bat Yam, was hospitalized in serious condition.
“He’s a human, just like me. No one deserves to suffer like this,” Shranin said when he heard about Mousa.
Tensions have significantly calmed since Saturday after police began mass arrests of those involved in the rioting, and Israel’s Shin Bet security agency announced it would be assisting in efforts to prevent violence between Jews and Arabs in mixed cities.
Over the course of the clashes, some 112 Jewish homes have been torched and another 386 looted amid the rioting, according to the Walla news site. It said there has been one case of an Arab home being torched, which resulted in the injury of two children — a 12-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl in Jaffa.
The firebombing in Jaffa was allegedly committed by Arab Israelis, in an apparent case of “mistaken identity,” an unnamed police official told Walla.
On Monday, the police announced it had arrested a 20-year-old Arab resident of the city on suspicion of being involved in the attack.
According to the Haaretz daily, the first 116 suspects indicted for incidents related to the unrest were all Arab, drawing accusations of discriminatory policing from left-wing lawmakers. Only on Tuesday were the first charges filed against Jews suspected of involvement in assaults on journalists from the Kan public broadcaster last week and of participating in the mob-beating of Mousa in Bat Yam.