The Tensions Inside a Mixed Jewish-Arab City in Israel – The New Yorker

Posted By on May 25, 2021

Faten Alzinaty was heading to the community center that she manages in the Israeli city of Lod on Sunday morning when she noticed a familiar face. Itzik! she called out. A police officer wearing full body armor and carrying a semi-automatic rifle approached her, and the two embraced. We missed you, the officer told Alzinaty, who is Arab and has lived in Lod all her life. Whats all this? She scanned his getup. Its nothing; its for the camera crews, he said. He smirked uncomfortably. Take it off, she told him, her smile slightly fading. Its way too hot.

By day, the streets of Lod are quiet. Its a nervous quietthe kind that descends after an earthquake, say, or a tornado. When I arrived, on Sunday, torched, upturned cars were strewn all along a single road. Around the corner, charred dumpsters blocked the paths leading to the square where a mosque, a church, and a synagogue converge in what is known as the triangle of religions. I walked to the sound of glass crunching underfoot. Over here, a graffiti saying Death to the Arabs had been sprayed over but not hidden; over there, the second story of a Jewish prep school had been burned.

Every night this past week, duelling mobs of young menJewish and Arabhave descended on the citys streets, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, carrying knives and firearms. Three hundred people have been arrested, and the city has been brought to the brink of civil war, as its mayor has put it. Rockets are whirring daily into Israel from the Hamas-led Gaza Strip. Israeli warplanes are levelling buildings in Gaza. Its a conflict that repeats itself to devastating effect every few years. Amid this deadly escalation, an alarming new reality has set in, threatening to tear Israel apart from within. The mixed cities of Israel, where Jews and Arabs have lived side by side for decades, are experiencing the worst bouts of internecine violence since the countrys founding, in 1948. These cities were built on the foundationsome say the illusionof coexistence. These days, neighbors are turning against neighbors. Perhaps nowhere are the tensions more palpable than in Lod, an impoverished city fifteen miles south of Tel Aviv.

The history of Lod, or al-Lydd in Arabic, is both ancient and raw. The city dates back eight thousand years to Neolithic times. It is mentioned in the Bible as the place from which Jews fled after the destruction of Solomons Temple. In 1948, Jewish battalions, fighting a war for independence, entered the city, expelled the Palestinian population, and killed two hundred and fifty men, women, and children inside a mosquea massacre that is seared into the collective memory of Lods Arab population. Today, the city is 72.5-per-cent Jewish and 27.5-per-cent Arab. By law, Arab citizens of Israel are entitled to equal rights; in practice, though, many are barred from buying land or property. (Although the Arab population is now seven times the size that it was in 1948, the state has not built a single new Arab settlement since then, while it has added seven hundred Jewish communities, according to the Israel Democracy Institute.)

Last week, protests broke out in Jerusalem over the imminent expulsion of six Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the subsequent police raid of the holy al-Aqsa compound. These protests spilled into other cities across Israel, including Lod, where local Palestinians gathered outside the citys Grand Mosque, chanting to free al-Aqsa. A protester took down an Israeli flag and replaced it with the flag of Palestine. Police then stormed the area with stun grenades and tear gas aimed at protesters, some of whom threw back rocks and Molotov cocktails. As protesters marched through the streets of Lod, gunfire sounded and a local Arab man was shot and killed, and another wounded, apparently by Jewish rioters. The following night, a Jewish electrician driving home from work was pulled out of his car by a rioting mob and beaten; he later died from his wounds.

On Sunday, a week after the murder of the Arab man, thirty-two-year-old Mousa Hassuna, a small crowd gathered down the street from where he was killed for a joint peace demonstration of Jews and Arabs. Four Jewish suspects had been arrested in Hassunas death but were promptly released from custody after citing self-defense. Lawmakers from the right denounced their arrest as awful and morally despicable. At the peace demonstration, people held signs saying: Its simple: End the violence. A Jewish resident of Lod, in his sixties, walked up to the microphone. We are all on a rubber boat in the middle of the sea. One pinprick is enough and we will all drown, he said.

Just then, the windows of a passing car rolled down and the people inside screamed, Go back to Gaza!

Among the people at the rally was Abed Shahada, a thirty-four-year-old teacher at the local Arab high school. Shahada said that, while he had physically restrained some of his students from rioting, he understood their motive. True, there was violence and thats unacceptable, he said. True, there was vandalism and thats unacceptable. But there was anger. Pent-up anger. And the city couldnt contain it. Still, he spoke with guarded hope that something positive might come out of the tension. At the end of the day, a person doesnt only care about being a doctoras successful and normative as he may be, he would still have an inner self that says he is part of a national minority, he said. And the city needs to recognize that, even if its uncomfortable. Its being able to say Im Abed and Im a Palestinian. If we teach these young people to express themselves with words, they wont throw a rock.

Standing next to him was Mira Marsiano, the Jewish owner of a bridal salon who has lived in Lod all her life. Marsiano described a lifetime of friendships with her Arab neighbors. When I say I have Arab friends, these are not just people you go have hummus with, she said. These are soul mates. Its hard to describe the rupture. Last week, when violence erupted, Marsiano drove to her sons house in a nearby neighborhood to extricate him, his wife, and their baby while fire raged outside their building. I was scared senseless, she said.

As the crowd at the peace rally dispersed, some of the Jewish attendees decided to pay their respects to Mousa Hassunas family, one of the oldest and most well-regarded families in Lod. During the short drive over, Aviv Wasserman, a former deputy mayor, told the other passengers that Mousas father had been saddened that only a few of his Jewish friends had gone to visit. Why didnt you go there to say hello? Wasserman asked a man with a graying ponytail who was sitting beside him.

Well, because you dont know who youre going to run into, the man, Nissim Dahan, said.

Who? Wasserman asked, his voice rising. Who will you run into? A friendship of forever is erased because you dont know who youll run into? Is he a criminal?

Of course not! Dahan said. But you think everyone has balls like we do?

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The Tensions Inside a Mixed Jewish-Arab City in Israel - The New Yorker

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