Cablegate: Yom Kippur Riots in the Mixed City of Akko

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1. (SBU) Summary: On October 8, at the beginning of the Jewish
holy day of Yom Kippur, the drive of an Arab resident of the mixed
Arab-Jewish city of Akko (Acre) into the predominantly Jewish
neighborhood of "Ben Gurion" became the proximate cause for riots
between the two communities for more than 24 hours. A large police
deployment contained the violence, and there was no loss of life.
Simmering tensions in this mixed city have outed opportunists from
both ends of the political spectrum, who are only too glad to use
inflammatory rhetoric, and forced the cancellation of a planned
theatre festival. Minister of Public Security Avi Dichter visited
Akko on October 10 to praise the police and to promise to put
rioters behind bars. He said he regretted statements made by public
figures and MK's, both Jewish and Arab, whose remarks have inflamed
tempers in Akko and beyond. End Summary

2. (U) Most orthodox Jews observe the weekly Sabbath on Saturday
and Jewish holidays by refraining from driving vehicles, and it is
customary throughout the country for all Israeli citizens - save
emergency medical and security personnel - to refrain from driving
on Yom Kippur (and the evening before the holiday when observance
begins). This is the quietist day of the year when most Jews fast
and attend synagogue, and others navigate on foot or on bicycles.
Periodically, there are reports of attacks against drivers -- no
matter what their religious identity and often despite their
emergency mission -- who violate these norms. This most often
occurs when someone enter neighborhoods where religious observance
is customary, such as the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim
in Jerusalem. But the tension is often acute in mixed neighborhoods
or cities where religious identity and observance are most apt to
collide. For example, on Yom Kippur in 2007 a 20-year-old
Israeli-Arab man ran over and killed a 9-year-old Jewish girl while
she was riding her bicycle in the northern town of Kfar Tavor.

3. (SBU) Tawfik Jamal's drive into the Ben Gurion neighborhood of
Akko touched off riots for a number of reasons, some real and others
imagined. The initial facts of the event that touched off the riot
are in dispute. Akko Arabs maintain that Mr. Jamal was returning by
vehicle to his family's residence in the mixed Ben Gurion
neighborhood where his vehicle was attacked by Jewish residents who
were reportedly waiting to respond to any perceived provocation with
violence. According to Galilee Police spokesman Eran Shak, who is
quoted in the Jerusalem Post, Mr. Jamal was brazenly violating norms
by driving his car and blaring music from it.

4. (SBU) Mr. Jamal and fellow passenger fled and hid in the
family's house. According to Ahmad Odeh, an Akko city council
member from Hadash Party who is running for mayor this November, the
whole residential building of Jamal's family that included another
two Arab families was consequently surrounded by a large number of
Jewish residents from around 10:00 pm until 2:00 am on October 9
when the police finally managed to rescue the Arab families and take
them to their relatives outside the neighborhood. Rumors
purporting that the surrounded Arab families had been seriously
harmed or killed quickly circulated in the Old City of Akko, which
is mostly inhabited by Arab residents. Arab residents reportedly
headed for Ben Gurion neighborhood and caused extensive damage to
vehicles and storefronts.

5. (U) Israeli National Police dispatched hundreds of police to
Akko to disperse rioters on October 8. They remained in the city
throughout Yom Kippur and were on hand the following evening
(October 9), when Jewish groups gathered at the entrance of the Old
City to stage a demonstration. Some of these demonstrators
reportedly tried to cross police lines, without success. On the
afternoon of October 10, there were reports that the home of another
Arab family in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Manshyeh
has been surrounded by Jewish residents.

6. (SBU) Odeh said that what happened is an unfortunate event but
was just an excuse for the Jewish residents to inflame the situation
and prevent Arab residents from buying houses in mostly Jewish
neighborhoods. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab minority Rights in
Israel, has scheduled a hearing at the Supreme Court of Israel on
October 27 against the new Akko city law that will ban Arab
businesses from opening on Saturdays in a predominantly Arab
neighborhood in Akko.

7. (SBU) A senior Embassy FSN noted that Akko is a poor city, both
for Jews and Arabs, making confrontation that much easier to spark
given the numbers of disenchanted people on all sides. Arab members
of the Knesset reacted strongly, with one member reportedly making
references to these events as "Jewish pogroms." Right-wing Jewish
MK's from the National Union and other parties blamed the Arabs for
inflaming the situation. Minister of Public Security Avi Dichter
visited the city on October 10 and promised to put rioters behind
bars. He said he regretted statements made by public figures and
MK's, both Jewish and Arab, and said these remarks inflamed tempers.

8. (U) The two days of riots/demonstrations led the Mayor of Akko,
Shimon Lankry (Kadima), to cancel the "fringe theatre" festival

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planned for the upcoming Sukkot holiday next week. The Chair of the
Knesset Interior Committee, MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor), reportedly
went on the radio to urge reconsideration of this decision. He
announced plans to hold an emergency Knesset meeting to discuss the
Akko situation.


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