Haifa residents say Arab-Jewish relations remain strong, despite arson accusations

Speaking in Haifa on Thursday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We are facing the terror of arsonists."

November 27, 2016 20:46
2 minute read.

Palestinian firefighters work with Israelis to put out flames

Palestinian firefighters work with Israelis to put out flames

As the flames that overtook sections of Haifa largely settled by Sunday, accusations that Arab-led arson attacks were the cause threatened the Arab-Jewish coexistence for which the coastal city has become world renowned.

Speaking in Haifa on Thursday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We are facing the terrorism of arsonists,” as Education Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted, “Only he to whom the land doesn’t belong is capable of burning it.”

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Yet Haifa residents who spoke with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday said such accusations were brought in by outsiders and foreign to Haifa.

“We think that the ones that are trying to gain politically from these accusations are the ones talking about incitement,” said Hadash Party secretary in Haifa Raja Zaatry. “In Haifa the business of racism and incitement does not go over well,” said Zaatry, who accused Netanyahu and right-wing MKs of seeking to stoke ethnic tension.

“It is the same as usual, before and after the fire we still say ‘Hi’ in the morning,” said Tidhar Teucher, 40, owner of Puzzle Cafe on Masada Street. The cafe’s location is a mecca for Haifa’s hip artists, activists, and college students – both Jewish and Arab. “I think that if this happened in any other place, in Jerusalem for example, the atmosphere would have been much different,” said Zaatry. “We are happy that the coexistence can survive incidents such as these.”

Jewish-Arab relations in Haifa have withstood the test of time, according to Itamar Radai, research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center and academic director of the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation.

“It is too early to estimate the repercussions [of the recent arson accusations], but we can say from the past that the relations have known some serious tests, like the second intifada,” Radai said. “And so far they have remained the same until now.”

Ronen Zeidel lives in the mixed Jewish- Arab Hadar neighborhood and teaches Iraqi history at the University of Haifa.

“Of course there were discussions and some people were expressing anti-Arab views. There are also anti-Arab feelings here in Haifa,” said Ziedel. “But I don’t think this will effect Haifa. The only thing that will effect Haifa residents is how much they get paid by the government for their [burned and damaged] residences.”

Nevertheless, in Haifa as elsewhere, some people break the mold.

“Two days ago I was at the supermarket and I heard a very anti-Arab speech from the manager, and he didn’t even welcome the Palestinian firefighters,” said Zeidel, “However, I discovered the man’s name was Imad – he was 100% Arab and he was speaking like a Likud supporter – these things happen in Haifa.”

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