Another Tack: Spit isn't rain – holiday frolic

Acre’s recent woes didn’t unexpectedly spring forth on Yom Kippur when an Arab driver saw fit to race though a still and silent Jewish neighborhood at 1 a.m. of the most solemn date on its calendar, with earsplitting music blaring from his car amplifiers. Likewise the trigger wasn’t the ensuing onslaught by ax-wielding Arabs on Jewish streets.

The riots sprouted from longer roots. Nobody should have been surprised by horrific scenes in which hardly-spontaneous attackers, hoarsely screaming Itbah el-Yahud (slaughter the Jews), swooped down, smashed cars and windows of businesses and dwellings, threatened to invade homes, banged on closed shutters and shouted to terrified families sheltering inside: “Hide in your holes, mice, or you’re dead.” We’ve been there, seen that – not far away in a dark dismal corner of yesteryear’s Diaspora, but right here in the supposedly proud, free and sovereign Jewish state, which (last we heard) still includes Acre.

It happens regularly during holidays, especially the High Holy Days, but our officialdom prefers not to notice. Its lackey media prefers to downplay the news. The weary citizenry collectively prefers not to pay attention and then forgets what it preferred not to acknowledge. If we get good enough at denying reality, it may just go away. The spit in our face may turn to rain. Delusion is ever-sweet and hence its own reward, even if a temporary one.

Following Simhat Torah 2006 I reported in a Tack column that the hesder yeshiva in Acre was besieged by a mob of hostile Arabs, foiling the traditional festive procession. The yeshiva head was punched in the face, knocked to the ground and kicked mercilessly as he lay bleeding on the asphalt. Other Jewish worshipers were wounded. The police failed to arrest the knife-wielding Israeli-Arabs who assaulted the congregants.

Somewhat later another Tack detailed more routine anti-Jewish violence in Acre. On December 3, 2006 pupils of the Torah Elementary School found their classrooms ransacked, prayer books ripped to shreds and the walls smeared with swastikas, accompanied by abusive and menacing Arabic graffiti. Damage and defacement were everywhere. The principal shouted plaintively: “Is this Germany?”

THE AIM in Acre is undisguised – to rid at least parts of town of any Jewish presence. But as long as the Jews on the receiving end of the aggression didn’t rise up and respond in kind, the authorities didn’t mind. As long as the victims were law-abiding and shunned vigilantism, everything could be conveniently glossed over.

It’s so in other “mixed towns” too. In cosmopolitan Jaffa during Ramadan, gangs of local Arab youths are given to attacking synagogues, stoning them and, at the height of the unimpeded frenzy, beating Jews (mostly elderly) who dare venture out. For years succot are regularly burned and firecrackers tossed into synagogues during Simhat Torah. The police appear unperturbed. Anti-Jewish brutality is dog bites man. Jewish response is man bites dog.

The phenomenon, however, is no longer exclusive to bi-ethnic communities, where disorder can be excused by condescending rigmarole and socio-babble. Veteran peaceful Kfar Tavor in the lower Galilee, Yigal Allon’s birthplace and hardly an extremist hotbed, can attest to that.

On traffic-free Yom Kippur 2007, nine-year-old Tal Zino was run down by an all-terrain vehicle driven by Assad Shibli from nearby Arab a-Shibli. His cousin Muhammad was with him. The two were joy-riding at full speed, whooping loudly and doing daredevil stunts in front of the small village synagogue where Yehiel Zino was among the worshipers. His daughter stood on the sidewalk with her bike and lots of playmates. The ATV circled confrontationally, then, accelerating, seemed to aim directly for the children on the pavement. They all managed to scatter away just in time but Tal was a crucial second too slow.

The police first charged the intruders with murder but then settled for manslaughter, claiming premeditation is hard to prove. Tal’s mother, Haya, is sure her daughter was “the first victim of the new fad of vehicular terror, now manifested in Jerusalem. There’s no way this was accidental. Folks who were there couldn’t doubt the homicidal deliberation. Hooligans plowing into a crowd of youngsters plan on taking lives.” She adds: “The driver and his accomplice didn’t run a red light. They came here to mock us, to provoke Jews on their most sacred day – as Arabs do throughout the Galilee for over a decade. The Shiblis can’t plead ignorance. They live with us and attend the same Kadoorie School as our kids. They know when Yom Kippur begins and that nobody drives then, just as we know about Ramadan. It eases the police’s burden to pretend otherwise.”

CLOSELY RELATED to Yom Kippur taunts are the deafening music and celebratory fireworks common in Israeli-Arab towns on Holocaust Remembrance Day and on Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers. These are preludes to designating Independence Day a nakba (catastrophe), a day on which Israeli flags are burned inside Israel.

This in-your-face animosity motivated Arabs in the Wadi Ara area to hold drag races on Route 65 during the just-past Yom Kippur. When police attempted to disperse the 500 youths assembled for the heady spectacle, they were pelted with rocks. The officers withdrew after having detained only one “disturber of the peace.” By their own admission, they strove to “avoid confrontation.” That seems to be our constabulary’s logic everywhere – to lay off rampaging Arabs and hope that bad situations won’t worsen. But that’s not how things work. Israeli leniency toward unbridled provocations by its own Arab citizens, for instance, cannot but impact on local Druse. This was unmistakably demonstrated via the October 2007 arson, pillage and grenade-lobbing against Jewish homes in Peki’in.

JEWISH OCTOGENARIAN Margalit Zinati, whose family has resided in Peki’in for almost 2,000 uninterrupted years – long before any Arabic-speakers arrived – explains: “Youths here converted to radical Arab nationalism – we assumed only a few dozens. The riots showed that they number many hundreds. They’ve been terrorizing us for years, torching Jewish- and Christian-owned cars and vandalizing whatever they can. The police did nothing. At most they wrote our complaints down. Absolute helplessness!” When action, finally became inescapable, the belated and bungled police response encountered a violent pre-sprung ambush.

In life nothing stands still. Timidity and pernicious lack of conviction may parade as enlightenment. Yet super-circumspection constitutes the perfect cop-out for diffident cops and may trigger dangerous dynamics. It invites trouble rather than averts it. Our struggle for survival in this land doesn’t merely hinge on border demarcation technicalities or on territorial concessions. Spit isn’t rain but if we willfully prefer to misidentify it, nothing at all will stay under control and nothing should shock us.

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