JERUSALEM, Israel – As rockets from Gaza filled Israel’s skies, Jews and Arabs shed each other’s blood in the streets below.
The two groups unleased their wrath on each other Wednesday night amid a wave of the worst ethnic, nationalist, and religious violence Israel has seen in years.
The mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, once seen as a symbol of coexistence, is the epicenter of the clashes. For days, Arab rioters have torched cars and shops, attacked synagogues, and hurled rocks. There, the Israeli government has declared a state of emergency, but the nighttime curfew isn’t stopping Jews and Arabs from battling each other in the streets.
Lod’s mayor compared the scene to a civil war and Israel’s National Police Commissioner called it unprecedented.
“We are seeing a situation in the mixed [Jewish-Arab] cities that we have never seen before,” Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said.
On Monday, a young Arab resident was shot and killed in Lod during violent unrest. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the man was a part of a group of rioters attacking Jewish homes, and that Jewish residents opened fire in a “life-threatening situation.” He said three people have been arrested in connection to the shooting and police are investigating. But Arab residents of Lod disputed this account, saying the slain man was unarmed.
The violent confrontations have spread like wildfire across Israel with chaos unfolding in the cities of Acre, Jerusalem, Haifa, Bat Yam, Tiberias, and others. On Wednesday night, hundreds of Jewish extremists in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam vandalized Arab property and chanted “Death to Arabs.”
בת ים, הערב: זה לא ניסיון דריסה, זה פחד של הנהג מההמון הקיצוני. לינץ' בנהג ממוצא ערבי, למה? כי הוא ערבי. תוהו ובוהו. pic.twitter.com/o5Z0iLCd5n
— אור רביד | Or Ravid (@OrRavid) May 12, 2021
In a moment caught on live Israeli television, the mob pulled a man who they presumed to be Arab out of his vehicle and beat him until he lay motionless and bloody on the street.
אומייגאד. לינץ בשידור חי בכאן. בת ים. pic.twitter.com/zjl3UTWuAF
— Khen Elazar (@KhenElazar) May 12, 2021
Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital said in a statement that the man “is seriously injured but stable.”
In Jerusalem, an Arab was stabbed and seriously injured at the Machne Yehuda market and Jewish mobs roamed the streets in Tiberias and Haifa looking for Arabs to attack, Israeli media reported.
Meanwhile, In Acre, Arab rioters assaulted a Jewish man with rocks and iron bars. He was hospitalized in critical condition. In the city of Tamra, another Jewish man was stabbed and assaulted by an Arab mob. An Arab paramedic said the attackers nearly burned the man alive in his car before he helped him escape.
Police said they arrested nearly 400 people allegedly “involved in riots and disturbances” across Israel on Wednesday. Police said 36 cops were injured in the unrest.
The scenes of violence, particularly the attack in Bat Yam, drew disgust from politicians across Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on both Jews and Arabs to stop assaulting each other.
“It doesn’t matter to me that your blood is boiling. You can’t take the law in your hands," he said. “You cannot come and take an ordinary Arab citizen and try to lynch him - just as we cannot watch Arab citizens doing this to Jewish citizens. This will not happen. This is something that I am sure is shared by most Israeli citizens.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that Israel’s internal divisions were “no less dangerous than Hamas” and New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar said Israel could be heading toward civil war.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin urged Israelis of all races and religions to stop the “madness” in a phone interview with Israel’s Channel 12.
“We are dealing with a civil war between us without any reason. Please stop this madness…I beg of you. This country belongs to all of us. Desist,” he said.
Joint List Chair Ayman Odem and Mansour Abbas, the leader of Israel’s Islamist Ra’am party, condemned the violence on Arab-language radio.”
This eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, clashes on the temple mount, hate rallies, and escalating tensions between Israel and Gaza.
The violence has gotten so bad, Netanyahu said he was considering deploying the military inside Israeli towns to restore order. Gantz on Thursday ordered the callup of 10 reserve Border Patrol companies to bolster police efforts to stop the clashes between Arabs and Jews.
“We’re in a moment of emergency,” Gantz said. “At this time, there’s a need for massive reinforcements of the forces on the ground, which will be sent immediately to impose law and order.”