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Gantz orders callup of Border Patrol reserves as Jewish-Arab violence spirals

Defense minister signs order for 10 companies of reservists, vows that army will not be used for police activities; assaults, vandalism continue

Border Police in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, amid violent riots between Jews and Arabs across Israel. May 11, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)
Border Police in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, amid violent riots between Jews and Arabs across Israel. May 11, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

After a night of violence that saw Jewish and Arab rioters wreak havoc in several towns, overwhelming local police, Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday ordered a major call-up of Border Police reservists to bolster officers working to contain the unrest.

Ten companies of reservists from the paramilitary Border Police were to be brought in, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“We are in a time of emergency,” Gantz said, noting the nationalist background of the turmoil. “At this time a massive response by forces on the ground is needed.”

However, Gantz stressed that no IDF soldiers would be involved in police activities, “which are not part of the IDF’s mission as a people’s army.”

His insistence that the army be kept off the streets was in direct contrast with the approach of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who announced the night before that he was looking at deploying the military inside towns to restore order.

Gantz added that policing and enforcement were not a replacement for “responsible leadership and reducing the tensions.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a press conference in Tel Aviv, April 22, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The minister said that on Wednesday night he met with the mayors of 30 Arab Israeli municipalities and that he would hold further meetings during the day with Arab and Jewish leaders “in order to cool things on the ground, and to stop the incitement and agitation that is tearing Israeli society apart from within.”

His order came after the worst night of internal Jewish-Arab chaos for years, as scenes of rioting, hate rallies and growing social chaos spread throughout numerous cities, some of which were once seen as symbols of coexistence.

Despite two previous days of ever-expanding unrest, and a call-up of reinforcements for both police and Border Police, law enforcement once again seemed woefully unequipped to handle the scope of the chaos, and many scenes of violence went ahead with little police interference.

Violence continued Thursday morning with a Jewish man, 34, stabbed near a market in Lod, a city with Jewish and Arab populations that has become an epicenter of the ethnic violence gripping the country. The injured man was on his way to prayers and was attacked near a mosque in the city, according to Hebrew media reports.

He suffered moderate injuries and was taken to the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in Rishon Lezion for treatment, the Israel Police said in a statement. The stabber escaped.

Meanwhile, an Arab woman in the city was seriously injured by a rock thrown at her head. She was pregnant and gave birth to a healthy baby at the hospital after the attack, according to reports.

In the south of the country, street lights were toppled into the road along Route 31 between Beersheba and Arad, the Kan public broadcaster reported. Video footage showed cars driving slowly under the lamps. One driver said that stones were thrown at his car, and that police were not taking any action.

In other incidents during the morning, a small hotel was set on fire in Jewish-Arab Acre and two police patrol cars were torched in the Arab town of Kfar Qasim.

Five people were arrested in Jerusalem on suspicion of attacking a Jewish man near the Damascus Gate to the Old City, police said. In a video of the incident, several youths can be seen running up behind an ultra-Orthodox man, knocking him to the floor and trampling on him before running off. The man required medical treatment, police said.

Thursday saw improvements in the condition of two of the most seriously injured from the clashes the night before, a Jewish man attacked by Arabs in Acre, who left him in serious condition, and an Arab man who was seriously injured by a mob of Jewish rioters in Bat Yam who pulled him from his car and beat him to the ground.

Doctors at the Galilee Medical Center said the condition of the Jewish man, 37, had significantly improved though he was still sedated and on a ventilator. The man, who has already had one emergency operation to address head wounds he suffered in the attack, will require more surgery, doctors said.

The Arab man, whose assault was caught live on camera and became the focal point of calls from the country’s leadership for the violence to stop, also reportedly improved, with his condition now considered moderate.

Meanwhile, Avi Har-Even, 84, a former director of the Israel Space Agency, remained in serious condition from injuries he suffered when the Efendi Hotel he was staying at in Acre was set on fire Tuesday night. Several other guests in the hotel were also injured. Har-Even, a past winner of the Israel Prize for security, was being kept sedated and on ventilation at the Rambam Medical Center.

The Bat Yam violence saw the Jewish rioters also attacking Arab property in the coastal city.

Henri Sasin, whose Victory ice cream shop in the city was ransacked, told Channel 12 of his feelings of insecurity following two decades of operating in Bat Yam. “They smashed the whole place,” he said as he surveyed the damage. “I have no idea of the [extent] of the damage.”

“I don’t feel safe and it is very bad for me,” added Sasin, who is Arab.

“I have been here 21 years and 20 years ago was the last time it happened,” he said, apparently referring to unrest during the second Palestinian intifada. “Now it has happened again and I don’t know when it will end.”

Screen capture from video of Henri Sasin whose ice-cream parlor Victory was ransacked by a Jewsh mob in Bat Yam, May 12, 2021. (Channel 12 News)

Violent confrontations continued Wednesday night in Lod, Acre, Jerusalem, Haifa, Bat Yam, Tiberias and many other locations, with many people injured, some of them seriously.

Police arrested over 400 people and 36 officers were hurt in clashes.

On Thursday police said 32 people who were arrested during violence in southern Bedouin towns and communities would be brought for remand hearings during the day.

Violence between the Jewish and Arab communities spiraled from confrontations in Jerusalem surrounding the month-long Muslim month of Ramadan and clashes on the Temple Mount, and came to a head as Israel engaged in an escalating clash with terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.

President Reuven Rivlin, who celebrated a Ramadan iftar meal just weeks ago, on Wednesday condemned what he termed a “pogrom” by a “bloodthirsty Arab mob.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that “what has been happening in the last few days in the cities of Israel is unacceptable.”

“Nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews and nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs.”

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