Israel on Wednesday experienced its worst night of internal Jewish-Arab chaos for many years, amid the ongoing armed conflict with Gaza, as scenes of unrest, rioting, hate rallies and growing social chaos spread throughout numerous cities, some of which were once seen as symbols of coexistence.
Violent confrontations erupted in Lod, Acre, Jerusalem, Haifa, Bat Yam, Tiberias and many other locations, with people injured, some of them seriously, leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce he was looking at deploying the military inside towns to restore order.
More than 400 people were arrested.
Perhaps the most shocking scene of the night, and one that elicited expressions of disbelief and horror from Israeli leaders, was footage of hundreds of Jewish extremists in Bat Yam vandalizing Arab property and then assaulting an Arab driver in his car, dragging him out of the vehicle and beating him savagely.
Jewish mobs were seen roaming the streets of Tiberias and Haifa looking for Arabs to assault.
In Jerusalem, an Arab was stabbed by Jews and seriously injured at the Mahane Yehuda market.
“Death to Arabs” was heard in many locations of Jewish rallies.
Meanwhile, in Acre, a Jewish man was assaulted by Arab rioters and hit with rocks and iron bars, and was hospitalized in critical condition.
Arab rioting was reported in Jerusalem, Lod, Haifa, Tamra and elsewhere.
הבנתי שאתם מדברים המון על בת ים ורק קצת על עכו כי מבת ים יש ויזואליה.
אז ליקטתי עבורכם קטעי וידאו מהלינץ בעכו.
תוכלו לשדר תחת סעיף 27 לחוק זכויות יוצרים pic.twitter.com/ZxtxAfuTtV
— Yossifoon Kaufman (@TheYossifoon) May 12, 2021
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.
In Lod, which had been at the center of unrest for the two previous nights — with Arab mobs torching synagogues, stores and cars overnight Tuesday-Wednesday — a curfew had been declared between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. Yet gangs prowled the streets and vandalized unimpeded for hours, with police containing some events but failing to effectively control the crowds. There were reports that two people had been shot and lightly to moderately injured, though their identities weren’t immediately clear.
In Tamra, a Jewish man was stabbed and assaulted by an Arab mob, Channel 12 reported, with an Arab paramedic saying the attackers almost burned the man inside his car before he helped evacuate him to safety.
The key event of the night came when hundreds of extremist Jews, in a rally organized on social media hours prior and explicitly defined ahead of time as having violent intentions, marched along the Bat Yam promenade, smashing Arab property as they headed toward neighboring Jaffa, with police doing little to stop them.
At a certain point, the mob identified a driver on the road as Arab and began attacking his car.
בת ים, הערב: זה לא ניסיון דריסה, זה פחד של הנהג מההמון הקיצוני. לינץ' בנהג ממוצא ערבי, למה? כי הוא ערבי. תוהו ובוהו. pic.twitter.com/o5Z0iLCd5n
— אור רביד | Or Ravid (@OrRavid) May 12, 2021
Participants in the protest told Kan news that the man had deliberately tried to run them over, but footage and reports from the location indicated the driver panicked and attempted to drive away as he was accosted.
Video shared on social media showed the car approaching the crowd, then rapidly reversing away but colliding with a vehicle behind it. The car then sped into the crowd, apparently without hitting anyone, and attempted to pass a line of traffic in the way but crashed into another car before coming to a stop.
אומייגאד. לינץ בשידור חי בכאן. בת ים. pic.twitter.com/zjl3UTWuAF
— Khen Elazar (@KhenElazar) May 12, 2021
The driver was then pulled out and beaten by dozens of rioters before eventually being left alone. He was taken to Ichilov hospital, which said he was in serious but stable condition.
In an incident in Haifa, an Arab driver found himself in the midst of a mob chanting “Death to Arabs.” As he was pelted with stones, the driver turned the vehicle around to escape but hit one of the rioters, 26, causing him moderate injuries. The driver, 20, sped away but was later detained by police.
Disgusted condemnation from politicians
The well-documented incident in Bat Yam brought on expressions of disgust from politicians, from the prime minister to far-right Knesset members. In a video from his office, Netanyahu told the public that such incidents were “intolerable.”
“I don’t care if your blood is boiling. So it’s boiling. It’s irrelevant. You can’t take the law into your own hands,” he thundered. “You can’t come to an Arab civilian and try to lynch him, just as we can’t see Arab citizens do so to Jewish citizens. This will not stand.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid decried the “total loss of control.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that Israeli internal divisions were “no less dangerous than Hamas.”
Yamina chief Naftali Bennett called the scenes in Bat Yam “un-Jewish, immoral, inhuman.” His No. 2 Ayelet Shaked decried the “moral bankruptcy” of such an attack.
New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar warned the country could be sliding toward civil war.
סירנות ועימותים באום אל פאחם, בתוך השטח הפלסטיני הכבוש
صافرات الإنذار والمواجهات في أم الفحم بالداخل الفلسطيني المحتل pic.twitter.com/KOOLc9Zklq
— مجلة آية (@magazine_aya) May 12, 2021
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef put out a statement imploring Jews not to turn violent against Arab citizens.
“Innocent Israeli civilians are attacked by terror organizations, the blood runs hot and our hearts are outraged, the scenes are difficult to watch. But we mustn’t be dragged to provocations and to hurting people or harming property,” he said.
He added that the Torah does not permit one to take the law into one’s own hands. “The work of restoring order must be left to police,” he said. “We must be a light unto the nations, and not, God forbid, the opposite.”
The far-right leader of the Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich, long accused of stoking racial and religious tensions, said he was “shocked and ashamed to the bottom of my soul” by the attack on the Arab man. “We are in difficult days, under attack, frustrated… but damn it, how can Jews be so cruel?! Terrible,” he tweeted.
Netanyahu slams ‘anarchy’ of Arab rioters
Politicians also expressed a fair share of criticism toward Arab violence, with Netanyahu bemoaning the “anarchy” of Arabs rioters “setting synagogues alight, setting cars alight, assaulting police, attacking peaceful innocent civilians. We can’t accept it.”
He said he would give full backing and more powers and resources to police to enforce the law, and said he was also looking at sending military forces into cities to the extent that the law allows it. “If need be, we’ll legislate further [to do so],” he said.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said Arab attacks on Jews were unacceptable, as were Jewish attacks on Arabs. “Violence mixed with hatred should be condemned outright,” he said. “We have no other country. We must live here together.”
In an uncustomary phone interview with Channel 12, President Reuven Rivlin implored Israelis of all ethnicities and religions to stop the “madness” unfolding on the streets of Jewish-Arab cities.
“I am very worried,” he said, adding that he was “crying out” for internal peace.
“I call on and beg of all local leaders, religious leaders, on citizens, on parents. Do all you can to stop this terrible thing that is happening before our eyes,” he said. “We are dealing with a civil war between us without any reason. Please stop this madness… I beg of you. This country belongs to all of us. Desist.”
Joint List chair Ayman Odeh and Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas both condemned the violence on Arabic-language radio, while asking Arabs not to leave their homes so as not to be attacked by Jewish mobs.
The two Arab Israeli political leaders also stressed the need for Arab youth not to respond with violence against people or property.
Odeh also attacked Ohana, who he accused of giving support to Jewish rioters in “taking the law into their own hands” after he spoke in support of Jews suspected of shooting Arab rioters earlier this week, and said “civilians carrying weapons are helpful to authorities in immediately neutralizing threats or dangers.”
“The madness must be stopped,” Odeh said.
At TV studios, anchors and pundits were despondent, with many describing the night’s events as unlike anything they’d ever experienced, and as signifying a breakdown of social cohesion that could take years to mend.
Only around midnight did police state that they had managed to bring most hotspots under control, with at least some 400 people arrested, among them several who were suspected in the Bat Yam attack. Police said 36 cops were hurt during events.
Other incidents of note:
- In Tiberias, a mob of Jewish protesters assaulted an Arab driver who required treatment for light injuries. A police officer was also injured as he tried to protect a woman who was a passenger in the car. Four people were reportedly arrested in connection with the incident.
- An Arab man, 30, was seriously injured during violence near Or Yehuda, close to Tel Aviv, Hebrew media reported.
- Clashes broke out around Lod’s central mosque, which was apparently targeted by Jews who threw rocks at the building and confronted local Arabs, Kan news reported. Police moved to intervene and disperse the crowds that also attacked Arab homes in the city. Skirmishes also broke out between Arab residents and cops. A police patrol car was set on fire.
Israel ordered a massive boost earlier Wednesday to police forces deployed in cities with Jewish and Arab populations. The move came hours after the state of emergency was declared in Lod.
The rare emergency declaration in the central Israeli city prompted the urgent dispatching of several Border Police companies to work to restore order.
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 increasingly escalating clash with terrorist groups firing rockets into Israel from Gaza.