Visiting the central Israeli city of Lod, which has been the scene of major Jewish-Arab riots over the past few days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he would approve far-reaching measures to quell the violence seen across Israel, including deploying military forces.
His comments contradicted those of Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who has said he does not agree to using the military for policing operations.
Meeting with Border Police officers sent to the city, Netanyahu said: “We have no bigger threat now than these pogroms, and we have no choice but to restore law and order via determined use of force.”
Speaking after the worst night of internal Jewish-Arab chaos for years, with scenes of rioting, hate rallies, and growing social chaos spreading throughout numerous cities, Netanyahu said the Israel Defense Forces were trained in containing such unrest and should be called in “to prevent these riots, this calamity and violence.”
Citing the response to the 1976 “Land Day” mass protests in which IDF troops were deployed to several Arab Israeli cities (and four Arab Israeli civilians were killed by the IDF), Netanyahu said there was precedent for such a move and that Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai “has the approval and permission to use IDF forces in the way that is already permitted by law today.”
It is unlikely that Netanyahu has authority to approve such action independently.
Apparently siding with Gantz, Shabtai was quoted by Hebrew media following Netanyahu’s comments as telling associates that he objects to deploying the army.
Netanyahu also proposed the use of administrative detention of rioters, a controversial measure commonly deployed against Palestinians in the West Bank.
“There are nationalist elements here who are breaking the law, in fact, disturbing the framework of the State of Israel, so in the face of such a threat, it is possible to use administrative detentions,” Netanyahu said.
Administrative detention enables authorities to detain people for extended periods of time without leveling formal charges against them, in a practice decried by critics as undemocratic and abusive, but defended by the security establishment as a necessary measure in cases where revealing the evidence would harm national security.
Amid criticism of police actions in the past week of riots across the country, including in Jerusalem, Netanyahu told Border Police officers in Lod to act without the fear of investigation of their actions.
“We hear talk of apprehension over [future] commissions of inquiry, investigations, inspections — we will give you all the tools to protect yourself and the citizens of Israel,” he said. “You have our full backing, do not be afraid.”
Gantz on Thursday ordered a major call-up of Border Police reservists to bolster officers working to contain the unrest, but specifically ruled out deploying troops at this time.
“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.”
Gantz added that policing and enforcement were not a replacement for “responsible leadership and reducing the tensions.”
Later Thursday, Gantz, who also serves as justice minister, was reported to have agreed with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and other senior officials that top priority would be given to investigating the violence that is currently taking place across the country.
Despite two previous days of ever-expanding unrest, and a call-up of reinforcements for both police and Border Police, law enforcement once again Thursday seemed unequipped to handle the scope of the chaos, with many scenes of violence going ahead.
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 went to the car and on his way, a group of Arabs shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ and attacked him with stones and rocks,” his wife told Army Radio. “One pulled out a pocketknife and stabbed him in the back. He managed to fend him off and escape, but another Arab man still tried to grab him.”
“I saw the whole thing from the window of the house. I screamed for them to leave, but I was afraid to come down in case something happened to me,” she said.
The man 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, Kan news 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.
בכביש מערד לב"ש הופלו עמודי תאורה כדי לחסום רכבים של יהודים ולפגוע בהם, לצד מחסומי אש. נהג יהודי לכאן חדשות: "השוטרים חסמו את כביש 31 – אבל לא את הכניסה אליו. רגמו אותי באבנים 4 ק"מ מהמחסום שהיו בו שוטרים. הם לא עשו כלום"@pozailov1 pic.twitter.com/Xft8rxUTrC
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 13, 2021
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 were 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.
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.” As Jewish mobs joined the fray, he later called on all sides to “stop this madness.”