Violence in mixed Jewish-Arab towns in Israel flared early on Wednesday amid growing anger within the country’s Arab minority over Israeli air strikes on Gaza and police raids on Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in Lod, near Tel Aviv, after reports emerged on Tuesday of Arabs setting fire to a synagogue and Jews stoning a car that was being driven by an Arab resident.
“We have lost control of the city and the streets,” Lod Mayor Yair Revivo lamented to Israel’s Channel 12 News. Garbage bins, knocked over and set ablaze, could be seen nearby.
Security officials said they had reassigned 16 border police companies to Lod from the occupied West Bank to deal with the violence.
Israel’s Arab minority – Palestinian by heritage, Israeli by citizenship – is mostly descended from the Palestinians who lived under Ottoman and then British colonial rule before staying in Israel after the country’s 1948 creation.
Most are bilingual in Arabic and Hebrew, and feel a sense of kinship with their fellow Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
And they often complain of systemic discrimination, as well as unfair access to housing, healthcare, and education services.
Police arrested dozens of people overnight in Lod as well as in majority-Arab towns in central and northern Israel, including Umm al-Fahm along the West Bank border and Jisr al-Zarqa along the Mediterranean coast.
“We condemn that our people’s solidarity and cohesion with our brethren in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip is being channelled through acts of sabotage to public and private property, as is now happening at Umm al-Fahm’s entrance,” said the town’s mayor, Samir Mahamid.
Israeli media reported that Uri Buri, a popular Jewish-owned fish restaurant in the mixed coastal city of Acre, had been set ablaze. Footage aired by Channel 12 showed the restaurant’s exterior blacked and burned, and its windows smashed.
In Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, Arab protesters clashed with police firing stun grenades to disperse them.
Clashes at Al-Aqsa on Monday morning were the immediate backdrop to the tension in Arab towns and surge in fighting between Israel and Hamas, which has left dozens in Gaza and at least three in Israel dead.
Israel launched dozens of air strikes in Gaza on Tuesday and overnight into Wednesday, and Palestinian militants fired hundreds of rockets from Gaza into Israel.
Neighbourhoods with Arab residents, including Lod and Jaffa, were among those in which sirens were triggered by rockets fired from Gaza. Two Lod residents were killed on Wednesday after a vehicle in the area was hit by a rocket, Israeli police said.
In Haifa and Jaffa, and in the Arab city of Nazareth, Arab protesters have flown Palestinian flags and chanted slogans in support of Palestinians facing eviction from an East Jerusalem neighbourhood under a long-running legal case.
Arab citizens of Israel were among the thousands of Palestinians who have clashed in recent days with Israeli police around Jerusalem’s Old City, the most sensitive site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A spokesman for Gaza’s Hamas militants, Abu Ubaida, encouraged Arab citizens to “rise up” against Israel.
“The Qassam Brigades is close to you, as it draws the map of the homeland with its rockets, and with its resistance, against our enemy and yours,” he said in a speech on Wednesday.