They've gone loco in Akko, it seems. Violence and tit-for-tat retribution continues in Acre/Akko, the scene of sectarian riots for the past four days, following an incident on Yom Kippur in which a crowd of delinquents turned on an Arab driver who had traversed a street in a Jewish neighbourhood during the holiday.
The northern Israeli city of Acre, once the Crusader port of the Holy Land, is like a tinderbox. It's comprised of mainly lower class Sephardic Jews, and one third of the population is Arab-Israeli, who by law have full rights as citizens. Mutual resentment often bubbles under the surface here, and cops are out on the street in full force. A claim by Jewish leaders that police efforts to quell the Yom Kippur riots constituted a pogrom is not credible. Such overstatement is an insult to victims of Kristallnacht. There were no deaths in Acre, thankfully. What transpired was that eight people got hurt in a melee, as cars, shops and houses were vandalized. Dozens of arrests have tamped down the furore for now.
Initial police reports said that the Arab driver had deliberately provoked a confrontation by driving his car in the silent streets at the hour of prayer. But in an interview with the rightwing Jerusalem Post, the driver recounts what happened. He insists that a humble Jewish construction site guard named Nissim was the hero of the night. He gave the driver and his sons sanctuary on the floor of his watchman's hut, saving them from the wrath of the mob.
Jamal Taufik, 48, of Acre's Old City, is widely blamed by police and Jewish residents for intentionally provoking the city's Jews and sparking off three nights of rioting and violence when he drove into the eastern, Jewish part of the city on Yom Kippur, blasted music from his car and refused to leave when asked.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, however, Taufik denied he intended to provoke Acre's Jews.
"It was the evening of Yom Kippur [on Wednesday night]. We have family in the eastern part of the city. My daughter was there. At around 11, I set off to bring her home. Although I knew it was Yom Kippur, I decided to drive through the side streets. I brought my son and his friend with me," Taufik said.
"Suddenly, five meters from the building we were heading for, a group came out and started shouting, 'Death to the Arabs,' and throwing big rocks at us. My son was hit in his face, back and chest. I dragged my son out of the car and we all ran up the stairs," he continued.
Police were called to the building, and an officer tried to evacuate the three men from the scene.
"The cop said, 'I will take you to the hospital.' I trusted him. We went down the stairs, jumped over a number of ditches, and headed for his police car. Suddenly, the youths spotted us, and began throwing rocks at us. We got in the car, but the officer could not get the engine started," Taufik said.
"The officer said, 'Forget it, run!' We all darted out of the car. We had no idea where we were. I saw a construction site. We entered a guard's hut, and a Jewish security guard, Nissim, turned off the light. We hid on the floor, and the mob passed us by," Taufik said, adding that Nissim had saved their lives.
Asked if he blasted music during the drive or was intoxicated, as police say, Taufik said, "I'm a religious Muslim. I don't drink at all. The radio was off. I don't know where the police are getting this from."
Taufik said the Arab mob that marched through the eastern section of town had intended to rescue him and his two passengers. "The police could not get us out, so they came to help," he said.
He called on Acre's residents to come together and put the violence behind them.
"Tomorrow, we will have to live here together, no one is leaving this city. We must find the way back to being good neighbors and friends," he said. "I have a lot of Jewish friends in Acre and I am a member of two Jewish-Arab organizations. I am not a guy who carries out provocations. I just wanted to pick up my daughter.
"I hope wisdom overcomes strength. Arabs and Jews alike must clasp hands and find a way back to normal life," Taufik said. "And I wish the people of Israel a Hag Sameach (Happy Holiday)."
Police said they were checking Taufik's depiction of a policeman fleeing the car as a group of rock throwers approached. A police spokesman said there was no question that Taufik's drive into the city was a provocation.
"This was a deliberate act," Galilee Police spokesman Ch.-Supt Eran Shaked said.