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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776

High Holiday Memories

Galilee Diary #410, October 5, 2008

Marc J. Rosenstein


What is the sound that I hear?
The cry of the shofar and the sound of drums;
All that we ask for - let it be.
-Naomi Shemer

On Yom Kippur, 1928, the Jews put up a makeshift mechitzah at the Western Wall; this "change in the religious status quo" was used as the excuse for a wave of bloody attacks by Arabs on Jews over the next year. On Yom Kippur, 1973, a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria began the most traumatic war in Israel's history. (Naomi Shemer's version of the Beatles' Let it be still evokes memories of those difficult days). Two days before Rosh Hashanah, 2000, the Second Intifada – and a wave of rioting inside Israel - broke out, maybe or maybe not because of Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. In response to the riots in communities around us in the Galilee, the violent reactions of the authorities, and the various perceptions of the causes and effects of the events, I began to write the Galilee Diary.

At midnight on Yom Kippur, 2008, an Arab drove his car into a Jewish neighborhood in the mixed city of Acco in the western Galilee. The exact details of how and why he made that trip are still unclear, but within a few hours mounted police in riot gear were using tear gas and stun grenades to separate mobs of Jews and Arabs throwing rocks and calling for each other's deaths. It is now a few days later and there is still a massive police presence maintaining a tense calm. The Acco Theater Festival, one of the high points in the Israeli cultural calendar that is held during Sukkot (and a significant annual boost to Acco's depressed economy), has been cancelled/postponed.

As usual, of course, everyone is an innocent victim: Arab communal leaders argue that the police should have been ready and prevented the escalation, as it is well known that in recent years the phenomenon of stoning cars driving on Yom Kippur has become quite common, not only by Ultra-Orthodox fanatics, but by bored kids (Yom Kippur is rather a drag in Israel if you don't do synagogue) – and the drivers are, of course, Arabs. Jewish communal leaders argue that this was an Arab provocation, meant to stir up violence and strike fear into the Jews, and that Arab rioters had been ready and waiting for a signal to threaten and vandalize. Calmer/calming voices suggest that there is a connection between the events and the current election campaign in the city; or that the "mobs" were primarily youth gangs; or that this was a predictable outcome of rising tensions noted for several years, based on the depressed economic situation in the Arab community – and the growth of a militantly nationalistic-religious Jewish community in the town. And while this time around the police were well equipped and trained, avoiding the use of firearms, there may be something to the claim that they were slow to respond while the incident was brewing.

For those of us who are "local-patriots" of the Galilee, and like to see the region as a model, albeit imperfect, of a multicultural society within a Jewish state, these events (that are still unfolding as I write this) are a depressing reminder of how far we still have to go. Actually, I think that everyone involved is in some sense an innocent victim – both the Jews screaming hysterically about the Arabs seeking to massacre them – and the Arabs pointedly referring to themselves as victims of "pogroms." They are all victims of the short-sightedness, mismanagement, corrupt leadership, and complacency, at all levels of government, that have allowed Acco – universally acknowledged to have great economic potential – to stagnate and fester in its poverty, crime, and intercommunal fear and loathing. I am not one for conspiracy theories, but I suspect there are more leaders, at various levels, who have an interest in exacerbating these fears than there are leaders standing for a vision of hope.

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