Police say they were ‘underprepared’ for Jewish-Arab violence engulfing cities

Commissioner Kobi Shabtai says 1,000 have been arrested over riots, is evasive on whether he thinks far-right MK Ben Gvir is to blame for unrest

A police patrol car on fire in the city of Lod, May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
A police patrol car on fire in the city of Lod, May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Saturday conceded that forces were underprepared for the violence that swept through Jewish-Arab cities this week, particularly amid the ongoing threat of rocket fire from Gaza.

“There were a number of events we weren’t prepared to respond to simultaneously,” Shabtai told reporters. “Today we are prepared with greater intensity, with a concentration of forces, and there [will be a] response [to events].”

Tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities have spiraled into mob violence, turning some ostensibly ethnically integrated cities into veritable war zones as police have appeared unequipped to handle the most serious internal unrest to grip the country in years.

Shabtai had reportedly accused extreme-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir of being responsible for the ongoing riots and fanning the flames.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai (L) and MK Itamar Ben Gvir (R). (Flash90)

When asked to respond to the Friday report, Shabtai told reporters that “there are those from all sides of the political spectrum that contributed their share to the current situation.”

“Do the math yourself,” the commissioner said when asked if Ben Gvir specifically was the cause of the violence.

Shabtai added that some 1,000 people have been arrested so far for involvement in the violence over the past week and at least 420 of them remain in custody.

Several people, both Jewish and Arab, have been assaulted and seriously wounded in shooting incidents and beatings in the unrest.

In Lod, a central city with Jewish and Arab populations that has become an epicenter of the ethnic violence wracking the country, a curfew began at 8 p.m. on Saturday for the fifth night in a row.

Police officers clash with Arab Israeli rioters in Ramle in central Israel, on May 10, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Also Saturday, the Defense Ministry extended the state of emergency in the city by 48 hours, at the request of police, a spokesperson for the ministry said.

Saturday night remained relatively quiet aside from sporadic reports from the central mixed Jewish and Arab city of Ramle, and the southern Bedouin city of Rahat.

In Ramle’s market, at least two stores went up in flames on Saturday night. A spokesperson for the Fire and Rescue Services said firefighters managed to quickly extinguish both blazes, but did not confirm the cause.

In Rahat, police said two teenagers, aged 15 and 17, were detained after they hurled stones at a police station in the city.

There were no reports of injuries in any of the incidents.

Late Friday night, Arab rioters in the mixed Arab-Jewish city Acre torched the Acre theater, which locals have described as a symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence.

“It’s incredibly painful to see this happen,” Moni Yosef, one of the theater’s managers, told Ynet.

Clashes also broke out in the northern Arab Israeli towns and cities of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Fureidis, Umm al-Fahm, Jisr az-Zarqa and other areas in the north, including Haifa. Police said officers used riot dispersal means as violent protesters threw rocks and firebombs, and launched firecrackers. Police also said they made a number of arrests, with suspects taken in for questioning.

In Nahf, an Arab town near Carmiel, rioters set a truck alight, attacking officers with firebombs and rocks when they arrived at the scene. One person was arrested, the Ynet news site reported.

In Jaffa, a home in the Ajami neighborhood was firebombed, injuring two Arab children — a 12-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl — and prompting police to launch an investigation. Surveillance footage from the incident showed two hooded figures walking in an alleyway near the home before it was attacked.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana on Saturday said that the investigation into the firebombing is in progress.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, police are examining the possibility that the assailants were Arab Israelis who believed the home belonged to Jews.

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