In Acre, Israel, this past weekend, what was supposed to be a joyous celebration of Simchas Torah degenerated into a near pogrom when for two nights an Arab mob physically attacked Jewish worshipers with crowbars, rocks and firecrackers, and verbally assaulted them with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slurs. The worshipers were students from the hesder yeshiva Ruah Tzfonit (Northern Wind) located in the mixed Jewish-Arab Wolfson neighborhood.
According to Rabbi Yossi Stern, who leads the yeshiva, "Each year we dance in the city's neighborhoods. On Friday, as we walked to where we planned to celebrate, the Arabs attacked us with rocks and firecrackers. We ignored them and kept walking to our destination."
Saturday night the attacks spun out of control. "We danced in a different part of town on Saturday night. As we returned to the yeshiva, the attacks began."
A group of some 100 Arabs attacked 60 or so yeshiva students with crowbars, firecrackers, rocks and dry blows. One of the students, a soldier on leave from the IDF for the holiday, was carrying his M-16 rifle. "He was being hit and his friends were being hit, and the Arabs kept touching his rifle. He felt that his life was in danger," Stern explains, "and so he shot a warning shot in the air to get them away from him."
According to Rabbi Stern, in the weeks that preceded the holiday, there was a marked rise in Islamic incitement of the Arabs in the neighborhood. "It was clear that there was organized incitement going on." Islamic flags were unfurled on homes and businesses. Posters of the mosques on the Temple Mount were hung throughout the neighborhood. Then, for the first time in the neighborhood's history, an Arab resident placed an enormous loudspeaker on his roof and began blasting the muezzin's calls to prayer five times a day.
Concerned about the possibility that the increased Arab hostility could lead to violence, Rabbi Stern contacted the police before the holiday and requested a police escort for the students during the holiday. The escort never arrived.
Once the soldier fired his rifle the situation degenerated still further. As the students fought their way to their yeshiva and holed up in their study hall, the Arabs surrounded the building and refused to leave. At this point, a large police contingent arrived at the scene. But, according to Rabbi Stern, the main thing that interested them was the shooting incident. The police seized the soldier's rifle and interrogated him for several hours before releasing him - without his weapon - to military police for further investigation.
RATHER THAN arrest the Arabs outside the yeshiva who were threatening further violence, or force them to disperse, the police demanded that the students leave the building through a back exit with police escort. The students refused. The stand-off continued for another three hours. At the end, the police agreed to escort the students to the bus station through the front door of the yeshiva. No arrests were made.
Rabbi Stern sees the riots as a watershed event in the city. "Until now the police and the municipal leaders tried to sweep these sorts of assaults under the rug and treated them as isolated incidents." Now, he hopes that a more systematic approach will be taken to contending with the increased hostility of the city's Arabs towards the Jews.
No doubt, such a reassessment is necessary. One only needs to look at what is happening today in France to understand what can happen if the police and political authorities maintain their refusal to enforce the laws towards Israeli Arabs without prejudice.
In France, some 2,500 French policemen have been wounded by Muslim attackers since the beginning of 2006. According to French police statistics, over the past month, 10-12 attacks against Jews have taken place every day.
The French police increasingly refer to the mob violence against them as an intifada, or a civil war. This week, a French patrol in a Muslim suburb of Paris was ambushed by a mob of some 30 rioters who attacked the police officers with tear gas and rocks. One of the officers was hospitalized with a shattered jaw.
The current state of lawlessness in the Muslim neighborhoods of France has been developing for the past several years. The French authorities' fears of the growing electoral power of the French Muslim community, their aversion to allegations of racism, and their hope to appease the Muslim minority and so avert further violence, have caused both the politicians and the law enforcement officials to refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and contend with it.
The reaction of the Israeli authorities to the rioting in Acre, like their treatment of organized Arab violence and separatism in general, is disturbingly similar to the behavior of their French counterparts. If allowed to go on, there is little reason to doubt that we will face the same problems as the French.
ISRAEL'S GENERAL policy of appeasement towards its Arab minority is nowhere more apparent than on the Temple Mount.
This week, a Jordanian government official let it be known that without debating the issue in public, the Olmert government has approved the construction of a fifth minaret on the Temple Mount. On the face of it, this is not something the general public should care about. What does it matter to Jews if the Muslims build a fifth minaret?
The problem is that the Islamic Wakf, which effectively acts as the sovereign on Judaism's holiest site, has for years been systematically destroying the remains of Jewish temples on the Temple Mount and intimidating the police and political authorities not to apply Israel's law which mandates free access and religious worship by all religions to sacred sites on the site. The construction of a fifth minaret is a clear attempt on the part of the Wakf to fill the Temple Mount with mosques and so prevent all Jewish worship and block any attempt to build a synagogue on the site.
Rather than deny the request, or condition its approval for the construction of a fifth minaret on the parallel construction of a synagogue or, at the very least, the permanent opening of the Temple Mount to all worshipers from all religions in accordance with Israeli law, the government has apparently agreed to the building request.
The authorities' actions in Acre and Jerusalem expose a dangerous reality: Without notifying the public, Israel's political and law enforcement leadership have enabled the establishment of two separate rules of law exist side by side in Israel today one for Jews and one for Arabs. The police in Acre over the weekend, who enforced the law against the soldier who shot his rifle in the air, refused to enforce the law against the Arab rioters.
Rabbi Stern believes that the lesson from the attacks against his students this weekend is that the police must enforce the law fully and without prejudice to all Israelis. He is right. The application of two different laws to Jews and Arabs has not led to increased integration but to increased segregation.
Last month the Harry Truman Institute at Hebrew University conducted a poll of Israeli Arabs in the aftermath of the war in Lebanon. Sixty-eight percent said they care about Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah, and 70 percent said they think that Nasrallah cares about them.
The cowardly refusal of state authorities to apply the law in the same manner to both Arabs and Jews, has contributed greatly to the unraveling of our common Israeli identity.
While Israeli Arabs who wish to be fully integrated into Israeli society find themselves isolated and intimidated, irredentist forces within the Israeli Arab community such as the Islamic Movement and the Adallah organization which demand communal autonomy rather than individual rights for Israeli Arabs, have gained unprecedented power and influence.
Many who applaud the police's prejudicial enforcement of the law do so in the name of the liberal value of equality. But what we see as the consequence of this prejudicial behavior is not the enhancement of equality, but the empowerment of illiberal, violent forces in the Arab Israeli community who far from advancing coexistence, have effectively debased the concepts of both equality and the rule of law to the detriment of Arabs and Jews alike.