By Ilan ben Zion and David Goldman
Israeli security forces guard the streets of Lod, weeks after rioters torched patrol cars, synagogues and homes. Attackers who killed an Arab and a Jewish resident are still at large. And a mayor whom some blame for setting the stage for some of the worst domestic unrest in Israeli history remains in office.
Israel and Hamas reached a truce two weeks ago to end 11 days of fighting in the Gaza Strip. But the roots of the upheavals that wracked Israel’s mixed Jewish-Arab cities during the war have not been addressed, leaving those communities on edge.
“It’s hard for me to say what tomorrow will be like. To say that I will have the same trust, it’s hard to say,” said Rivi Abramowitz, a Jewish resident of Lod’s predominantly Arab Ramat Eshkol neighbourhood.
Lod, about 16 kilometres (10 miles) southeast of Tel Aviv, next to the main international airport, is home to 77,000 people. About a third are Arabs — many of them descendants of Palestinians who formed the majority of the city before a mass expulsion amid the 1948 war around Israel’s creation.
Above: A worker passes torched cars piled up in a lot from clashes between Arabs, police and Jews in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Tuesday, 25 May, 2021.
Above: Israeli flags hang outside an apartment of a Jewish family at a building where Arab families also live in the Ramat Eshkol neighbourhood in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Friday, 28 May, 2021.
An urban landscape of low-rise housing projects from the 1950s and ’60s, the working-class city also is a bastion of hard-line Jewish politics. In the March 23 election, staunchly nationalist parties, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, won more than 60 percent of the vote in Lod.
Any tensions were largely below the surface — until last month.
Clashes between Jerusalem police and Palestinian protesters in and near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, and the planned eviction of Palestinians from homes in an east Jerusalem neighbourhood drove some Arab residents of Lod into the streets in protest.
On the night that war began between Israel and Hamas, the shooting of an Arab man by a Jewish resident of Lod touched off over a week of violence, and the city was placed under a state of emergency.
Similar disturbances, fueled by longstanding Arab grievances over discrimination and lack of opportunities, quickly spread to other mixed areas across the country.
Above: (LEFT) Ayelet-Chen Wadler, a member of the Torah Nucleus community, walks through the torched apartment of a Jewish family after recent clashes between Arabs and Jews in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Wednesday, 26 May, 2021. | (RIGHT) A car belonging to an Arab family sits torched from recent clashes between Arabs, police and Jews in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Tuesday, 25 May, 2021.
Above: Residents walk past the apartment belonging to a Torah Nucleus Jewish family which was damaged in recent clashes between Arabs and Jews in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Wednesday, 26 May, 2021.
In Lod, two residents were killed: Musa Hassuna, 32, by a suspected Jewish gunman, and Yigal Yehoshua, 56, by a suspected group of Arab attackers. No charges have been filed in either case, and police say investigations are ongoing.
Some Arab residents point to the election of Mayor Yair Revivo eight years ago as a turning point. Revivo has close ties with a religious nationalist movement known as the “Torah Nucleus,” which promotes what it calls Jewish values in impoverished cities.
Critics say Revivo, a member of Likud, has incited hate against Arabs, advanced discriminatory policies and empowered the Torah Nucleus in harmful ways. The group’s presence in Lod goes back some 25 years, but its numbers have swelled from two founding families to over 1,000 families today.
Before the rioting, Revivo railed against “Arab crime” in his city, calling it an “existential threat to the state of Israel.”
“Jewish criminals have a drop of compassion. Arab criminals, you don’t understand, don’t have any inhibitions,” he told Radio 103 in December.
In April, he urged the government to launch a military-style operation to clamp down on the “nightmare of gunfire, explosions, fireworks and calls to prayer amplified abnormally at 4 a.m.”
In a letter to Israel’s police chief and public security minister, Revivo described “an atmosphere of terror, a Wild West” perpetrated by Arab residents.
Above: A passing motorist argues with Arab protesters during a demonstration calling for justice in the killing of Musa Hassuna in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Friday, 28 May, 2021.
Above: Police stand by during a demonstration calling for justice in the killing of Musa Hassuna in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Friday, 28 May, 2021.
Days before the May 10 riots, Revivo toured Lod with Itamar Ben Gvir, an ultranationalist lawmaker with anti-Arab views, outraging Arab residents.
Ruth Lewin-Chen of the Abraham Initiatives, a nonprofit group based in Lod that promotes coexistence, said its Arab population has grown increasingly frustrated.
She cited socioeconomic disparities between Jews and Arabs, violent crime and the absence of effective policing, planning and housing policies. She also pointed to the growing influence of the Torah Nucleus.
Many Arabs in Lod view the group with suspicion because of its ties with the West Bank settler movement. Some Arab residents refer to all of them collectively as “settlers.”
During the unrest, Arabs targeted property belonging to the religious nationalist community. In response, armed West Bank settlers and other ultranationalists mobilized to Lod, fanning the flames.
“We are observant from the religious Zionist community. I don’t see why we’re put into the rubric of ‘settlers,’” said Abramowitz, who has lived in Lod for six years with her husband, who was born in the town and whose parents were among the founders of the Torah Nucleus. “Nobody has come to throw out anybody.”
Above: Rivi Abramowitz, background centre, holds her daughter, Ori, 1, on the playground of a Torah Nucleus Jewish school in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Thursday, 27 May, 2021.
Arab politician Mohammed Abu Shikri said that in his decades on Lod’s city council, “I’ve never seen a mayor of a mixed city of Arabs and Jews who incites against Arabs, brings in settlers.”
“I’ve known eight Lod mayors,” he said. Until Revivo, “the mayors always had good relations with the Arabs.”
Arabs comprise about 20 percent of Israel’s population and are citizens with the right to vote. But they have long suffered from discrimination, and their communities are often plagued by crime, violence and poverty. They largely identify with the Palestinian cause, leading many Israelis to view them with suspicion.
Above: Jews walk through the street with guns in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Friday, 28 May, 2021, in the wake of recent clashes between the two groups.
Above: (LEFT) Muslims take part in Friday prayers at Al-Omari mosque in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Friday, 28 May, 2021. | (RIGHT) mural depicting Arab, Christian and Jewish people decorate the side of a building in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Friday, 28 May, 2021.
Above: An Arab man walks with a child as Jewish man crosses the street to a Torah Nucleus school in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Sunday, 30 May, 2021.
A 2018 report by the Israel Democracy Institute noted disparities in Arab representation in mixed municipalities.
Although Arabs make up 30 percent of Lod’s population, only 14 percent of municipal employees are Arabs, with only four on the 19-member city council. The city hasn’t had an Arab deputy mayor in four decades, the report said.
“What does this say about the place of Arabs in the city?” asked Lewin-Chen. Lod lacks almost any facilities for “shared communal life,” she said, and city hall does little to bring Jews and Arabs together.
A rare exception seems to be the Maccabi Lod boxing club, where Jewish and Arab athletes trained together. “Here we are like family,” said coach Yaacov Wallach.
Above: Arab boxers from right, Nashat el Jamal, and Ahmed Abu Abdun, work out with Jewish youth Dominique Rudyakov, 12, at the Maccabi Lod Boxing Club in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Wednesday, 26 May, 2021.
Above: From left, Jewish boxers Noam Goldstein, 15, and Daniel Ilyushonok, 18, talk with Arab boxers Sofian el Okby, 17, and Safi Shabam, 16, while working out together at the Maccabi Lod Boxing Club in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Wednesday, 26 May, 2021.
But signs of division are widespread. The town’s community centre has separate exercise and music classes for Arabs and Jews.
In the tense Ramat Eshkol neighbourhood, members of the Torah Nucleus community held a circumcision ceremony for a newborn on a recent morning. The next day, an Arab family celebrated the birth of their boy. Although the events were just a block apart, there were no signs of the communities celebrating together.
Abramowitz, for her part, says she has cordial relations with her Arab neighbours. But she believes there are limits to how far things can go, saying she wants to “live together, but separately.”
“There are after-school activities for Arabs, there are after-school activities for Jews,” she said. “We are not interested in mingling — assimilation.”
Above: Jewish participants in a youth program that brings Arabs and Jews together, from left, Shay-Lee Vashaly, 19, Leeor Oz, 18, and Gal Benovich, 18, talk with their Arab counterpart Khadeeja Abu Ghanim, 19, right, for the first time since violent clashes between Jews and Arabs broke out in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Monday, 31 May, 2021.
Above: (LEFT) Samantha Sandovski, right, places her newborn son, Israel, on a pillow held by her mother, Ann Kravitz, during a brit milah, a Jewish circumcision ceremony, in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Tuesday, 25 May, 2021. | (RIGHT) Amar Watad holds her 13-day-old son, Nidal, during a birth celebration for the Arab family at the entrance to her apartment building as her mother-in-law Zakya Watad, right, looks on in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Wednesday, 26 May, 2021.
Above: Jewish resident Katya Michaelov, right, embraces her Arab neighbour, Obaida Hassuna, as she comes to pay her respects with her son, Adam, 7, after Hassuna's son, Musa, was killed in recent clashes between Arabs and Jews in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Saturday, 29 May, 2021.
Revivo’s office declined interview requests. But it dismissed claims of discrimination, saying he has worked “to improve the quality of life in the Arab community the likes of which hasn’t been recalled since the founding of the city.” It added that “throughout the city, Jews and Arabs live as good neighbours.”
Samah Salaimeh, founder of Arab Women in the Centre, a Lod-based advocacy group, said she’s optimistic the unrest will be a “wake-up call that we can’t continue this way.”
Above: Malek Hassuna prays over the grave of his son, Musa, who was killed during recent clashes between Jews and Arabs, at the family cemetery in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Thursday, 27 May, 2021.
Malek Hassuna, the father of the Arab killed in the unrest, stood by his son’s grave, which sits beside those of several generations of the deeply rooted Lod family.
“If it’s Jew or Arab, it’s one blood,” he said, expressing hope his grandchildren will live peacefully with their Jewish neighbours. “I want Lod to go back to how it was 40 or 50 years ago, how it was with coexistence with Jews.”
Above: Security cameras look over the Ramat Eshkol neighbourhood in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Friday, 28 May, 2021.
Bleed image: The minaret of the Al-Omari mosque and St. George Greek Orthodox church are reflected in the broken windshield of a vehicle sitting outside a synagogue in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Wednesday, 26 May, 2021 , in the wake of clashes between Arabs, police and Jews. The church shares a wall with a mosque and sits across from a synagogue in an area known as the triangle of religions.
— All photographs courtesy of David Goldman for The Associated Press