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Israel Police Under Fire for Handling of Arab-Jewish Street Violence
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with members of the Israel border police in the central city of Lod, near Tel Aviv, on May 13, 2021, a day after Israeli far-right groups clashed with security forces and Arab Israelis in the mixed city. (Yuval Chen/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel Police Under Fire for Handling of Arab-Jewish Street Violence

The scale of the rioting in cities across Israel is the worst it has been in more than two decades

The current deadly conflict between Gaza and Israel erupted after weeks of tension between Israelis and Palestinians in east Jerusalem that culminated in a series of nightly clashes at Al Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, located on the site also known as the Temple Mount. The site is revered by both Jews and Muslims and has long been a flashpoint for violence.

The clashes also have triggered street violence between Jews and Arabs in mixed cities across Israel – with Arab mobs assaulting Jews and Jewish rioters assaulting Arabs. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described the rioting as “intolerable” and condemned the violence on both sides.

A shocking video of a Jewish mob attacking a driver in the city of Bat Yam, located just south of Tel Aviv, was broadcast live on Israeli television Wednesday night. The victim is in serious condition following the attack, according to Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

In another incident, a Jewish man in his 30s was attacked in the northern city of Acre by Arab Israelis. The man, who is in serious condition at Galilee Medical Center, was attacked as he drove past a rioting mob in the city. Footage purported to be from the scene shows a group of men chasing and beating the man on the ground as he attempts to protect himself.

Israeli Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said on Wednesday that the scale of the rioting in cities across Israel is the worst that he had seen in more than two decades.

“This is the first time we’ve seen local residents using weapons [and] opening fire,” Rosenfeld told reporters from foreign media outlets gathered in Ashkelon. “The response from our units has been also using live fire in order to prevent anyone from being killed. The situation is very dangerous on the ground.”

According to Rosenfeld, thousands of police officers have been deployed across the country. Nevertheless, many political leaders have criticized security forces for allowing the situation on the ground to get out of hand.

New Hope party Chairman Gideon Sa’ar on Thursday decried the “poor” conduct of police during the riots, stating that it was a direct result of appointing “unsuitable people at the political and professional level” to crucial positions. Ayelet Shaked, member of parliament for the Yamina party, meanwhile said that police had “waved a white flag” in the face of the onslaught.

That level and that scale of thousands of people in the streets burning synagogues, attacking Israelis, burning vehicles – that is something that we didn’t expect

When asked whether police had made any mistakes in their strategy, Rosenfeld said that forces have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of people taking part in riots.

“That level and that scale of thousands of people in the streets burning synagogues, attacking Israelis, burning vehicles – that is something that we didn’t expect,” he said.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz called up reservists from Israel’s border police to be deployed in cities throughout the country to control the violence.

“We are in an emergency situation due to the national violence and it is now necessary to have a massive reinforcement of forces on the ground, and they are to be sent immediately to enforce law and order,” he said.

During a meeting on Thursday with the heads of local authorities in the Negev area, Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, called on the leaders to condemn the violence between Arabs and Jews in the streets of cities across Israel.

“Condemn these events outright. Do not allow them to happen. We are better than this. Our home is on fire, and we don’t have another one,” Rivlin said.

“The violent disturbances we saw yesterday are a genuine threat to Israeli sovereignty. We must not allow it – even through silence – but must speak out clearly to commit to the rule of law in Israel, and to our shared existence. We must not allow extremists to set the tone. We must not allow violence to triumph,” he also said.

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