Acre pogrom highlights Zionist anti-Arab racism

By Kim Bullimore

Violent attacks by Jewish residents in the Israeli city of Acre last month have left 14 Palestinian families, a total of 72 people, homeless. All 72 are Israeli citizens who had their homes destroyed. For the more than 1 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Jewish “riots” in Acre are only the most extreme example of the systematic discrimination they face within the Zionist state.

According to a report issued by the Mossawa Centre, an advocacy centre for Palestinian citizens of Israel, many of the 14 families were too frightened to return to what’s left of their homes. The October 20 report noted that the violence against the Palestinian families, which began on October 8, resulted in three homes being burnt to the ground and that in the case of several families the attacks were “another in a series of anti-Arab aggression[s] directed against them”, with at least one family having had their home “destroyed four times since 2000”.

Violence erupted after Acre Jews attacked a Palestinian man, Tawfiq Jamal, for driving his car through a Jewish neighbourhood to pick up his daughter from a relative’s house on the eve of the Jewish religious holiday of Yom Kippur. Jamal, along with his son, were attacked by hundreds of Jews when they arrived at the house of relatives, the Sha’aban family. According to an October 14 report issued by Badil, the Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugees, Jewish residents surrounded and attacked the family home, besieging 15 people inside, “while police stood outside”. As the attack continued, Palestinian Arab residents rushed to the aid of the besieged family, clashing with Jews attacking the house.

Over the next four days, Jewish residents carried out repeated violent attacks against the 52,000 Palestinian Arab residents of Acre, who make up a third of the city’s population. Mobs of up to 1500 Jews wandered the streets stoning Palestinians and torching Palestinian residences, cars and businesses. The Israeli media reported that many in the Jewish mobs chanted “Death to the Arabs” as the attacks were carried out.

On October 13, the Israeli Ynet news service reported that the Northern District police commander Major-General Shimon Koren as saying, “the dominant elements behind the riots in Akko seem to be Jewish instigators”. Despite this, many Palestinians who attempted to defend themselves and their families from the pogrom were arrested. According to Badil’s October 14 report, while the police arrested equal numbers of Jews and Israeli Palestinians, the Israeli courts had systematically “released most of the Jewish detainees, while the time of detention for the Arab detainees is extended”.

On October 13, the Israeli police also arrested and charged Tawfiq Jamal for “harming religious sensibilities” by breaking the Jewish tradition of not driving on the Yom Kippur holiday. The Haifa District Court later sentenced Jamal to a week’s house arrest and suspended his driving license for 30 days. This was despite the fact that there are no Israeli laws which stipulate that it is illegal for either Jews or non-Jews to drive on Yom Kippur.

In response to Jamal’s arrest, Palestinian Israeli MP Ahmed Tibi from the United Arab list told Israeli radio on October 14 that the arrest was “unlawful”. Tibi went onto state that “the arrest proves that police had yielded to Jewish hooligans and I wonder if from now on they will start arresting Jews who eat and drink during Ramadan”, the Muslim holy month.

Israeli MP Mohammed Barakeh from the predominantly Arab-supported Hadash party also condemned Jamal’s arrest saying it was “aimed at appeasing right-wing extremists”. Barakeh told the October 15 Tel Aviv Haaretz daily that Jamal should be released immediately and that “the police abused a lynch victim while protecting gangs of extremists and settlers”.

The October pogrom in Acre isn’t the first to be carried out by Jews against Palestinian Israelis in Acre or other “mixed” cities in Israel. The anti-Arab riots by Jewish residents in Acre, however, have increased over the last decade with the establishment of a hesder-yeshiva, which combines military and religious training in the city, and with thousands of Israeli settlers being relocated to the city in the wake of Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

The violent attacks against Palestinians inside Israel are reflective of the similar attacks carried out by illegal Israeli settlers against Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). On September 13, more than 100 Israeli settlers from the illegal colony of Yitzhar attacked the Palestinian village of Asira al-Qibliya in the Nablus district of the occupied West Bank. The attack, described as a “pogrom” by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was just one of thousands of attacks carried out by illegal settlers against Palestinians since 1967.

In 2001, the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem noted in their report, Free Reign: vigilant settlers and Israel’s non-enforcement of the law that “settler violence against Palestinians is extensive and has been prevalent in the Occupied Territories for many years”. B’Tselem noted that between December 1987 and October 2001, 124 Palestinians had been murdered by Israeli settlers. The report went onto note that the Israeli military and police regularly failed to protect Palestinians from such violent attacks. B’Tselem’s website notes that since 2001, the situation in the occupied West Bank has not changed but instead gotten worse.

Both the Acre pogrom and the ever-increasing settler attacks in the OPT have highlighted the systematic racism endured by Palestinian citizens of the “Jewish” state, despite its “democratic” facade, as well as the Zionists’ racism against Palestinians living in the OPT. While Palestinian citizens of Israel are supposedly afforded full citizen rights by the Israeli state, Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, notes that the Israeli state systematically discriminates against its Palestinian citizens, who account for more than 20% of Israel’s total population. According to Adalah, Israel has never sought to integrate its Palestinian citizens, instead “treating them as second-class citizens and excluding them from public life and the public sphere. The state [has] practiced systematic and institutionalised discrimination in all areas, such as land dispossession and allocation, education, language, economics, culture and poltical participation.” Adalah notes that Palestinian Israelis are not recognised as a national minority. Instead, Adalah points out that “successive Israeli governments maintained tight control over the community, attempting to suppress Palestinian/Arab identity and to divide the community within itself”.

A March 2007 survey by the Israeli Centre Against Racism found that more than half of the Jewish population in Israel believes the marriage of a Jewish woman to an Arab man is equal to “national treason”, that 75% of Israeli Jews did not approve of apartment buildings being shared between Arabs and Jews. Sixty percent said they would not allow an Arab to visit their home, 55% said “Arabs and Jews should be separated at entertainment sites”, and 30.7% felt hatred when they heard Arabic being spoken on the street.

The violent attacks by Jews against Palestinians in Acre and in the OPT are a result of the institutionalised discrimination and racist bigotry that are an integral part of Israel’s official Zionist ideology. Israel originated as a European colonial-settler state that continues to grant privileges to Jews, while systematically discriminating against its non-Jewish Arab citizens.

This racism in Israel, as Joseph Massad, an associate professor in Modern Arab politics at New York City’s Columbia University noted in an March 2007 Al Ahram essay, Israel’s right to be racist, is manifest “in its flag, its national anthem and a bunch of laws that are necessary to safeguard Jewish privilege”. As long as Israel continues to function as a “Jewish” state and continues its illegal and brutal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank there will be no resolution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict. As Massad notes, “no resolution will ever be possible before Israel revokes its racist laws and does away with its racist symbols, thus opening the way for a non-racist future for Palestinians and Jews in a decolonised bi-national state”.