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Driver who sparked Acre riots: I'd sacrifice myself to bring back coexistence PDF Print E-mail
Oct 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Haaretz Sunday, October 12, 2008


By Jack Khoury, Haaretz Correspondent, and Reuters

The Arab man who drove into a Jewish neighborhood in Acre on the eve of Yom Kippur, sparking a series of riots and violent clashes, told the Knesset Committee of the Interior on Sunday that he would "sacrifice his neck" to bring coexistence back to the bi-national nothern city.

"If what I did caused this, I am ready to sacrifice my neck right here on this table, on lowered gallows, just to return peace and quiet back to the city of Acre, to bring co-existence back to its place.

Jamal said that contrary to the accusations brought against him, he had not been drunk nor playing loud music when he entered the Jewish neighborhood last Wednesday. "I just wanted to go home, I made and mistake and tried to ask for forgiveness. This has been a harrowing experience."

He also said that he had been one of the founders of a community co-existence committee in Acre: "We invented co-existence," he said. "They have made me out to be a murderer, they've turned me into a fascist. We are not Nazis, we are not fascists.

Olmert: Acre residents being held hostage by extremists

Earlier Sunday, outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert called for an end to the violence between Jewish and Arab residents of Acre, saying that there was a feeling that the population of the city was being "held hostage by a group of extremists."

Olmert spoke at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, hours after the car of a Jewish Acre resident was set on fire before dawn as violence between the city's Jewish and Arab residents entered a fifth consecutive day.

So far, 54 people have been arrested over involvement in the riots, both Jews and Arabs. Sixteen of those detained are expected to be held in custory for another 48 hours, five of the detainees were released on probation, nine face extension of their remand, and the rest were released following interrogation.

One of the detainees has already been charged and three more indictment are expected in the coming days. The Galilee Police District has vowed to continue gather the evidence necessary to charge all those implicated.

Magen David Adom rescue service director Eli Been has ordered the heightened alert status of rescue crews in the city to continue.

Been placed the other MDA districts on a Level 3 alert, the highest alert status.

Another 10 ambulances were added to the available rescue vehicles in the Kriyot area south of Acre and north of Haifa.

Late Saturday, another Arab-owned home went up in flames as a result of a firebomb, the third home of an Arab family to be torched on Saturday, and according to some reports, the 12th since the riots broke out on the eve of Yom Kippur Wednesday.

"I have instructed the police to employ a zero tolerance policy in the face of the violence in the city," Olmert told the cabinet.

Later on Sunday, several Arab families who fled their homes during the clashes went to the Acre city hall and requested help relocating to new homes. When they neared the city hall building, they were met by police and security guards who attempted to block their entry.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also addressed the Acre violence at a Labor Party meeting Sunday, lamenting the city's decision to cancel the upcoming fringe theater festival, held annually over the Sukkot holiday.

"While we must restore security and order to Acre, we must also take action to hold the festival as planned rather than allowing a few outlaws to destroy the texture of life in the city, and the entire country," the Labor chairman said.

Since Wednesday, police have arrested some 54 alleged rioters, both Jewish and Arab. Some of them were subsequently released because they are minors. Police have also used water cannons to disperse stone-throwing rioters in the city.

On Saturday, the day began without incident, and many Acre residents hoped that the violence was finally at an end. But a few hours after sundown, it erupted anew, with the city's eastern neighborhood once again the focal point. Hundreds of Jewish rioters clashed with policemen, and Jewish and Arab mobs threw stones at each other.

Three Jewish rioters sustained minor injuries, and three people were arrested in connection to the stone-throwing.

This followed a series of violent incidents on Friday that included the torching of three other houses.

"Everyone thinks that only Jews are being hurt in the eastern neighborhood, and nobody's paying any attention to us," complained Subhi Murasi, owner of one of the torched houses. "All the money I invested in this house, and now everything has been destroyed."

He said that various Arab public figures - including Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, head of the northern faction of Israel's Islamic Movement - had promised to help the Arab families whose homes were damaged.

Acre residents flee their homes

Many neighborhood residents have fled their homes since the rioting erupted last Wednesday night, shortly after the start of the Yom Kippur holiday. Ramel, one such refugee, returned to the neighborhood on Saturday to get some valuables from her house, but was afraid to go in. "Some 200 people were standing there with murder in their eyes," she said. "Even the policemen who accompanied us felt pressured, so we left."

Thousands of policemen deployed at friction points throughout the city on Friday and Saturday, and for the most part, their presence seemed to be doing the trick.

But the city was hardly back to normal. The Old City, normally thronged on weekends, was virtually empty, aside from work crews dismantling preparations for the theater festival that was supposed to have taken place this week, but has now been canceled. And Arab merchants, their shops empty, were worriedly discussing an Internet posting that urged Jews to boycott Arab businesses and "deal with the Arabs forcefully."

Senior police officers met with local Arab leaders on Saturday, and all agreed on the need to restore normalcy as soon as possible.

MK Abbas Zkoor (United Arab List-Ta'al), an Acre resident, said that after the meeting, participants published a statement calling for reconciliation and even denouncing the Arab driver who, according to Jewish residents, sparked the riots Wednesday night by driving through the neighborhood blasting loud music while the Yom Kippur prayers were under way.

Residents furious over cancelation of yearly festival

Yet many Arabs were also furious over the city's cancellation of the theater festival, viewing it as an economic punishment aimed squarely at Arab merchants, for whom the annual festival is a major source of income. Representatives of local Arab and Jewish organizations issued a joint statement urging the mayor to rescind the decision.

Numerous politicians also visited Acre over the weekend, led by prime minister-designate Tzipi Livni and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter. Livni denounced the vandals from both sides and spoke of the need to strengthen Jewish-Arab relations in the city.

Sami Hawary, an Arab resident who heads a group that promotes cooperation between Arabs and Jews, told Reuters: "The tension is very high here, things are on a knife-edge."

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