The word takes on a new meaning as Jews celebrate the Day of Atonement, reports Khaled Amayreh from Acre
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Israelis look at a car that was flipped over during riots between Jewish and Arab residents of Acre; Israeli policemen arrest a rioter for driving during Yom Kippur (below)
Racism raised its ugly head in the northern coastal town of Acre this week, exposing Israelis' shocking bigotry and intolerance towards its non-Jewish citizens, especially the sizeable Palestinian minority which constitutes nearly one fourth of Israel's population.
It all started the evening of 8 October, the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, when an unsuspecting local Arab resident of the city drove his car through a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood, reportedly to pick up his daughter from her fiancé's family home.
Upon spotting the middle-aged man, dozens of Jewish fanatics ganged up on the man, beating him and stoning his car, injuring him and his son.
"Suddenly, five metres from the building we were trying to reach, a group of young men came out and started shouting Mavet le Arabim! [Death to the Arabs!] and throwing big rocks at us. My son was hit in the face, back and chest. I dragged my son out of the car and we all ran up the stairs," said Jamal Tawfik.
Soon, hundreds of Jewish fanatics converged at the scene, shouting anti-Arab slogans, and preventing Tawfik and his son, who was badly bleeding, from reaching hospital.
"We eventually succeeded in leaving the building, jumped over a number of ditches, and headed for a police car. Suddenly Jewish youths spotted us and began throwing rocks at us. We got into the car, but the police officer couldn't get the engine started.
"Eventually, the officer told us, 'Forget it. Run for your lives!' So we all ran away though we had no idea where we were. I saw a construction site. We entered a guard's hut and asked him to protect us. We hid on the floor, and the mob passed us by. It was the Jewish guard, Nessim, that saved our lives."
Having let the man escape "from under their very eyes" -- remember, this is at the start of the Day of Atonement, when Jews ask God for forgiveness for their sins -- the fanatics then laid siege to the Arab home where the man's daughter was staying, chantting Mavet le Arabim! and "Arabs out of Acre!"
Soon afterwards, word reached the old town, where the town's Arabs are concentrated, that a local Arab was being lynched and killed by Jewish extremists and that Jews were laying siege to an Arab home in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. This prompted dozens of youths to take to the streets in an effort to rescue the Arab family.
However, as the disgruntled youths were heading towards the home in the northeastern suburb of the town, police reinforcements intervened, shooting tear gas, rubber bullets and beating the Arab protesters, effectively preventing them from reaching the building where the Arab family was being besieged. As many as 20 protesters were reportedly injured.
Infuriated by police brutality, the protesters vented their frustration on parked Jewish cars and shops, smashing windscreens and vandalising property. Israeli sources said some 40 shops and a hundred cars were damaged, which further enraged the Jewish inhabitants of the city.
The Jews retaliated by torching several Arab homes.
Seeking to justify the hysterical overreaction to the original "provocation", the rumour was spread that the hapless prospective father- in-law was paid by "extremist Arab elements" to provoke the Jews and that he was drunk, smoking and playing his car stereo loud.
The man categorically denied all these charges, saying, "I am a religious man and the last thing I would do is to hurt people's feelings. I just want to go home, I am a religious Muslim. I don't drink at all, and I wasn't playing music. I wonder where the police are getting this information from?"
Some sources spoke of dozens of Jewish settlers from the West Bank, including followers of Rabbi Meir Kahana, who advocates ethnic cleansing of non-Jews from Israel-Palestine, arriving in Acre to further incite violence against the Arabs.
However, even without the arrival of such settlers, many Jews of Acre needed no further incitement to jump on the bandwagon of hate. One Jewish lady shouted at reporters, "Get all the Arabs out of here. We don't want them here. They've made our lives a misery."
One particularly nasty message that was posted on extremist Jewish sites reads, "We will no longer buy anything from Arabs, we will not honour any of their holidays or any of their holy places. Arabs of Acre, go find you place in the villages." The message was signed with the following epigram: "A Jew is the son of a king; and Arab is the son of a dog."
As tension and incitement continued, Jewish and Arab youths hurled rocks at each other at the Acre train station and other "friction areas" with several people sustaining injuries.
According to the Mosawwa (equality) Centre for Arab Human Rights, 14 Arab families, a total of 50 people, were left homeless after Jewish hooligans either burned their homes or forced them to fee, stealing or destroying their property. Earlier, the families narrated to reporters how Jewish thugs threatened to lynch them if they didn't leave their homes, forcing them to leave without taking anything with them but the clothes they were wearing.
Arab leaders, including Knesset members, accused the police of siding with Jewish rioters against the Arabs. The charges are supported by the fact that the police failed to stop rampaging Jewish fanatics even five days after the original incident.
The Israeli government called on the police to take decisive action to stop the violence, with outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saying that there was a feeling that the inhabitants of the city were being "held hostage by a group of extremists".
However, despite this seemingly even- handed approach to the violence, it was clear that Israeli politicians were reluctant to call a spade a spade, given the pre-electioneering atmosphere in Israel.
Avigdor Leiberman, a notorious right-wing politician and former cabinet minister, described the events in Acre as a clear vindication of his calls for the expulsion of non-Jews from Israel.
On Monday, 13 October, the police arrested Jamal Jawfik, apparently to appease Jews in Acre. Arab Knesset member Ahmed Teibi called the arrest "unreasonable" and "amounting to punishing the victim instead of punishing the criminal. This is a kind of appeasement, the police are only trying to appease Jewish hooliganism at the expense of the Arab citizens of Israel."
The communal violence in Acre, Jewish and Arab leaders admit, epitomises the simmering tension that could eventually spark a wider conflagration in the so-called "mixed towns" such as Jaffa, Haifa, Ramleh and Lod.
Haaretz quoted a community activist in Lod (Al-Led) as saying that they were worried that the violence could spread to their town. "I don't know if it will be happen in a day, two days, or two months, but it is certainly a possibility," said Buthaina Debit, who pointed out that the Arab community was suffering from social and economic distress due to long-standing discrimination by the Israeli state.
"It happened in Acre, but I thought it would happen in Lod because there are masses of Arab residents who have nothing to lose, and there are many poor Jews stuck here. Acre could just be the beginning."
A Jewish activist, also interviewed by Haaretz, warned that what happened in Acre was a signal to all those involved. "Too many people are sitting on the fence. This is the time to act, for both government and social organisations. We must invest in the mixed cities," said Aviv Wasserman.
Interestingly, even Olmert himself recognised that the Arab citizens of Israel are discriminated against and that this discrimination creates frustration and indignation amongst the Arabs against the state.
But Olmert, as was the case with all his predecessors, wouldn't say why he failed to rectify this systematic discrimination which renders the claim that Israel is "democratic state" devoid of meaning.