ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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'They wanted to lynch me'

Taibe bike shop torched after Arab Israeli owner donates bikes to Jews

Shopkeeper Alaa Amara has received over NIS 550,000 in donations after arsonists target him for his gift of 50 bicycles to kids who evacuated their homes due to the Hamas onslaught

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Composite image widely distributed on social media showing Alaa Amara distributing bicycles to evacuee children, on Thursday, October 12, 2023. (used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Composite image widely distributed on social media showing Alaa Amara distributing bicycles to evacuee children, on Thursday, October 12, 2023. (used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

As his bicycle shop in the central Arab Israeli town of Taibe was being looted and torched in the early morning hours of Saturday, business owner Alaa Amara was asleep with his phone silenced. It was only when he awoke a few hours later that he learned what had happened — but he wasn’t completely surprised.

A few days earlier, on October 12, he had made a donation of some 50 kids’ bicycles to families evacuated from Gaza-adjacent communities to the majority-Jewish town of Tzur Yitzhak near Taibe.

Since Hamas launched a bloody terror assault on October 7, killing 1,300 and taking roughly 200 hostages — mostly civilians — Israeli populations living near Gaza — and Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, which has been seeing cross-border bombardment from the Hezbollah terror group — have been evacuating their homes and taking shelter in various locations around the country as violence rages on and Israel appears on the cusp of a ground offensive into Gaza.

Amara, an Arab Israeli who lives in Tzur Yitzhak himself, told The Times of Israel that “my friends around there gave them items, food, they had what they needed… but there were a lot of kids there, they didn’t have anything to do, no school.”

So Amara brought 50 bicycles from his shop as a donation. “I did it to benefit the children. They don’t know about war,” he said.

Images of the original bicycle donation were shared on Israeli social media, and then championed by Arab Israeli media commentator Yosef Haddad, who is strongly pro-Israel and therefore a controversial figure in the Arab Israeli community.

According to Amara, it was Haddad’s posting that made the larger Arabic-speaking community aware of the bicycle giveaway. In many cases, the broader Arab and Palestinian public has labeled members who work with Israelis “collaborators,” sometimes with violent results.

Image capture showing Alaa Amara’s Taibe bicycle shop going up in flames, on Saturday, October 14, 2023. This image was widely circulated on social media. (used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“We were afraid of damage, of a response,” Amara said, though not to such an extent. He knew that if certain people in Taibe knew that he was supporting Jewish refugees from Israel’s war with Hamas, there would be trouble.

The response was swift. “At 2 a.m. people came to the store, stole everything there and then set it all on fire and burned it totally,” Amara’s wife told Walla News. “They were armed and shot out the cameras. Some wore masks… the damage is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of shekels.”

Amara later learned that the perpetrators evidently had tried to call him during the act, to lure him into the store. “They wanted to lynch me,” he said. An unverified video sent to The Times of Israel shows a group of masked men loading up their vehicle with items. Obscenities in Arabic were also spray-painted on the shop.

Image capture of an unverified video alleged to show a group of masked men looting a bicycle shop in Taybeh, on October 14, 2023. (Courtesy)

No one was hurt in the arson attack. The event was reported to the police and security services, who did not reply to a request for comment on the incident.

The Muslim-majority town of Taibe is directly adjacent to the West Bank, only a stone’s throw across the security barrier from the Palestinian city of Tulkarm. Over the years, Taibe has seen multiple incidents of violence relating to the complexities of Jewish-Arab relations. In 2021, during a period of unrest and riots by Israel’s Arab population, a Taibe resident was assaulted by a group of Jews outside a mosque in Herzliya.

Earlier this year, a security guard for Mayor Shuaa Masarwa Mansour was shot and killed by gunmen, part of a crime and murder wave that has plagued the Arab sector.

After the arson, videos and images of the looted shop went viral on Israeli social media. A post by activist Tom Wegner, which was shared thousands of times, stated that the issue of the bicycle shop was “a historic crossroads” because it gave the Israeli public, at a critical time, a chance to show Arab citizens that they had broad support. The majority of Arab Israelis don’t support Hamas or other extremists but are afraid of reprisals, he said.

Haddad was interviewed by Channel 13 about the saga. “Why did it go viral? Because the Jewish nation is starting to see that those who love Israel won’t keep their mouths closed,” Haddad said. He added that the authorities should catch the perpetrators of the arson if the state wants to help the Arab population cease fearing extremists in their midst.

Haddad, who has said that his organization would make a donation to Amara, could not be reached for comment for this article.

Amara didn’t have fire insurance for his store. He estimated the total damage to be around NIS 800,000. But the virality of his story has helped, and donations are pouring in. A friend set up a PayPal account for donations from abroad. One crowdfunding effort has raised more than NIS 550,000 ($137,000).

Given the high costs in Israel, Amara isn’t sure about his next step. “It was a huge shop, the money raised still isn’t enough… If I do open another bicycle shop, I will do it in Kfar Saba or Hod Hasharon. I am afraid to be in Taibe now,” he said.

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