Visitors to Jewish shrine filmed brutally beating Druze guard heard speaking Arabic

Police arrest two suspects, are expected to bring in more from Mount Meron assault; victim: ‘I shouted to them that I’m Druze, hoping they might stop beating me, but they didn’t’

Jewish worshipers attack a Druze guard at the Meron shrine in northern Israel on May 6, 2023. (Screencapture/Twitter used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Jewish worshipers attack a Druze guard at the Meron shrine in northern Israel on May 6, 2023. (Screencapture/Twitter used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A group of young Jewish visitors to a religious shrine in northern Israel over the weekend were filmed brutally beating up a Druze security guard, who said Monday that the attack began after the assailants heard him speaking Arabic.

The incident took place on Saturday outside the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on Mount Meron, a holy site that on Monday night was set to be the destination of a major annual pilgrimage for Lag B’Omer attended by hundreds of thousands of Haredi Jews.

Police subsequently opened an investigation and arrested two men — a 17-year-old from the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modi’in Illit and a 19-year-old from the northern town of Beit She’an. The investigation was still in its early stages, with police saying additional arrests were expected.

The incident came amid already heightened ethnic tensions in northern Israel after a Jewish man shot dead an Arab man in a roadside fight over the weekend.

The victim from the Saturday assault in Meron was identified Monday as 27-year-old Hamoud Shafi. He was hospitalized as of Monday at the Ziv Medical Center in Safed, where he underwent surgery on Sunday to repair a severe fracture in his left hand and was slated to undergo another surgery on his right hand on Tuesday.

Security camera footage from the scene shows seven young men attacking Shafi, hitting him with iron bars, kicking him while he was on the ground, and throwing a traffic barrier on him.

Additional videos showed the incident started with the group converging near the security post and causing some damage — police said they had apparently been drunk — before walking up to the security guards and eventually starting to beat him after he attempts to break free and throw a garbage bin toward them.

Shafi, who has worked at the shrine as a guard for two years, told the Ynet news site that he and another guard were called in after a group was creating a disturbance.

“They heard us speaking Arabic between us and ran toward us and began beating us,” he said. He was interviewed from his hospital bed with his body covered in bruises.

“I shouted to them that I was Druze, hoping they might stop beating me, but they didn’t,” added Shafi, who served in IDF and was called up for reserve duty last month.

The second security guard who was beaten along with Shafi was briefly hospitalized at Ziv as well but did not require additional treatment.

Health and Interior Minister Moshe Arbel of the Haredi Shas party spoke Monday with Shafi, wishing him a full recovery, strongly condemning the attack and arguing it goes “against Torah values and the teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.”

Also on Monday, some ultra-Orthodox visitors to the Meron shrine clashed with police and security guards, with some throwing stones and bottles at the officers, who were forced to flee their post, according to the Haaretz news site.

The rioters oppose the police presence and security restrictions that were put in place last year after 45 people were crushed to death in 2021 due to overcrowded conditions at the shrine.

Rioters on Monday were heard shouting “Nazis” at the security guards, demanding that they leave the site. Over 200,000 people were expected to participate in the Lag B’Omer festivities later Monday evening.

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