Ben Gvir widely panned for warning of renewed Jewish-Arab intercommunal riots

Touring Sderot, far-right minister says he’s ordered police chief to prepare for potential repeat of ethnic violence in mixed cities, drawing accusations of fearmongering

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a tour of Sderot on October 11, 2023. (Screenshot: X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a tour of Sderot on October 11, 2023. (Screenshot: X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir was rebuked across the political spectrum Wednesday for raising the possibility of renewed Jewish-Arab violence in Israel’s mixed cities such as took place two years ago, with police sources accusing the far-right leader of fearmongering.

During a visit to a police station in Sdeot, a city that has been hit hard in recent days by the Hamas terror group’s shock onslaught, Ben Gvir said he had instructed Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to be prepared for “a scenario of Guardian of the Walls 2,” a reference to the severe inter-communal riots in mixed Jewish-Arab cities that accompanied a previous conflict with Hamas in 2021.

Ben Gvir said his ministry had “turned Sderot into an eligible town,” meaning that all Sderot residents are now able to obtain and bear firearms as part of the National Security Ministry’s efforts to bolster civilian security.

“In parallel, I have instructed the police commissioner to be prepared for a Guardian of the Walls 2 scenario… to be prepared for the infiltration of towns,” he added.

A spokesman for Ben Gvir confirmed he was referencing the possibility of Arab citizens of Israel rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

Ben Gvir made similar comments on Tuesday as he announced the distribution of assault rifles to civilian security teams in border towns, West Bank settlements and mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

“This war proves that the citizens are heroes, this war proves how important it is to arm the civilians, the civilian security teams, alongside a strong police force,” said Ben Gvir.

A man walks past Sderot police station, which was destroyed during battles to dislodge Hamas gunmen inside, on October 8, 2023. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

Hamas terrorists infiltrated and occupied a central police station in Sderot during its savage assault on Israel on Saturday, which was eventually destroyed in an effort to kill the terrorists.

Ben Gvir’s remarks were quickly slammed by Social Equality Minister Amichai Chikli (Likud), who wrote: “Thus far, the Arab population has shown much solidarity and responsibility, and this is especially true for the Bedouin population in the Negev, which has suffered casualties and missing people and is displaying responsibility and solidarity with quite a few initiatives for hosting families and helping distressed citizens.”

According to the Maariv daily, senior government officials criticized Ben Gvir for his comments, calling him “an irresponsible person” and telling him to “compose himself.”

Israel Hayom quoted an unnamed police source criticizing Ben Gvir — who is in charge of the police — accusing him of invoking the idea of a Guardian of the Walls 2 “for his own ends,” and saying the minister had done so in January ahead of budget discussions as well.

Torched synagogues, cars and vandalized stores in Lod, following a night of ethnic rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel, May 12, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The source added, “The police are preparing and are prepared and the proof for this is that no irregular incidents have happened so far. Naturally, such a scenario is being taken into account and we will respond forcefully to any case of violence if one occurs.”

The source was also quoted as saying that Hamas has been trying to incite Arab Israelis to instigate violence, adding that Ben Gvir’s words could inflame tensions.

Israel’s mixed Jewish-Arab cities were the scene of intense riots during the May 2021 conflict with Hamas. Three people were killed and hundreds more were hurt in days of violent unrest in mixed cities.

Ben Gvir, at the time an MK but not a minister, urged armed Israeli civilians to go to these cities to combat Arab rioters, leading police chief Shabtai, who is still serving in his position now under Ben Gvir, to reportedly blame the far-right politician for the riots.

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