The clashes in Jerusalem seemed closer than ever to Tel Avivians on Wednesday morning, at least according to the headlines. The night before a motorcycle procession and rally in solidarity with protests over al-Aksa Mosque spun out of control, bringing the recent turmoil to the Tel Aviv area for the first time in months.
When the dust settled Tuesday night, a handful of policeman had been lightly wounded and six protesters were arrested for clashing with the police in a riot that saw masked stone-throwers attack a bus, torch dumpsters and face off with law enforcement officers on Yefet Street, Jaffa’s main thoroughfare.
It was some of the worst rioting in the city between Jews and Arabs since the second intifada, when clashes were followed by a boycott by Jews against local Arabowned businesses. In the years since, the town has seen many protests – against soaring housing costs, the passing of the Nakba Law and in solidarity with Palestinians during wars and IDF operations, among others.
Tuesday night’s headlines were a stark reminder of the October 2000 violence.
“Khaled,” a 31-year-old employee of a fast food joint on Yefet Street, who asked to be named as “anything that’s not my name,” said of the riots “it was a matter of time until something like this would happen.”
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators clash with police in Jaffa
He dismissed claims that leaders from the Islamic Movement in Israel incited the clashes, saying “what’s happening on al-Aksa affects everyone, we don’t need someone telling us what to do.”
He made comments that were somewhat contradictory – on the one hand he said the media was exaggerating about what happened the night before, things were quiet and would be back to full speed soon, and on the other hand the riot was a long time coming and the situation on the Temple Mount is volatile enough to set things off at any moment.
He scoffed at the notion that Tuesday night was anything like the riots in Jaffa during the second intifada.
He was only 15 at the time, but he said he remembers it as though it was yesterday seeing the stores on Yefet Street shuttered for three days straight; the rolling clashes with Jews from Jaffa, Bat Yam, and southern Tel Aviv; and the turmoil that gripped the city.
A few doors down at a fish store, 40-year-old Omar Ahmed said that without the situation on al-Aksa, Wednesday night’s clashes would have never happened.
“If you take away the gasoline, there’s not going to be a fire,” he said, adding that in addition to Jews looking to pray on the Temple Mount, there’s also the issue of police restricting Muslim worshipers.
When it was pointed out that police enact restrictions to limit rioting, he was dismissive.
He blamed the police for the violence the previous night, and regarding the city’s vaunted coexistence, he issued a common refrain: “We’re a very quiet place, we have coexistence, but you [Jews] have to be smart.”
Jaffa is host to a number of clichés – it is “an island of coexistence” in a horribly conflicted land; a “powder keg” that could potentially burst “the Tel Aviv bubble;” it is young men driving up and down Yefet Street with the bass from their speakers rattling their cars; a formerly crime-ridden town now beset upon by hipsters and gentrifiers; back alleys that are home to the country’s greatest hummus; and it is gun play and crime families sending young men, shot and suffering, to Wolfson Medical Center almost every weekend.
More than anything though, its location next to the heart of Israel’s media and cultural elite means that things that happen in Jaffa can be magnified like almost nowhere else in Israel.
The spokesman for the Islamic Council of Jaffa, attorney Muhammad Adriai, on Wednesday blamed police for the clashes, claiming that the motorcycle procession was peaceful until riot police stood at the Haj Kahil junction at the top of Yefet Street and began blocking and shoving youths on the motorcycles.
He blamed the media, saying that since Tuesday night he has seen a series of breathless reports that contradict the spirit of coexistence in the city, where Muslims, Christians and Jews live side by side.
Adriai said residents of Jaffa see “an effort to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, which is run by [Jewish] extremists supported by the government.”
Beyond al-Aksa however, he said that other issues cause great anger and frustration for Arabs in Jaffa on a dayto- day basis, such as soaring housing prices, which have made it impossible for young people to build a house and start a family in their hometown – forcing them to look elsewhere, in towns like Lod and Ramle.
“The problem of housing and rising prices is the most central and difficult one facing Arabs here. If Jaffa Arabs don’t stand up for al-Aksa, other Arabs will. But if Jaffa Arabs don’t stand up for housing prices in Jaffa, no one else will.
We can reach a point where protests over housing prices will make the protests over al-Aksa look like nothing.”
When asked about the vaunted coexistence Jaffa is known for, he said that the image is a flawed one.
“Coexistence means we’re all equal and we all have the same rights. Coexistence does not mean that wealthy Jews come in and eat hummus at Abu Hassan and leave.”
Ironically, not long after Adriai made his comments, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai posted a photo on Facebook of a bowl of hummus with all the fixings, below a caption reading “I’m eating now in Jaffa at Haj Kahil.
The hummus is great as always – just come.”
Head of the Ajami neighborhood committee Kamal Agbaria was making the rounds on Wednesday trying to put things in proportion. He said that the fact that only six people were arrested out of a population of tens of thousands of Arab residents shows that only a small minority was involved in rioting and that talk of the city being in flames was premature.
Agbaria said that walking up and down Yefet Street he could tell things were a bit slower on Wednesday, but he added that within a day or two he thinks things will return to normal.
He expressed hopes that calls for Jews to boycott would fall on deaf ears.
“I have heard some of the Jewish public calling to boycott the Arabs of Jaffa, but this is wrong, to boycott an entire population. I think we can solve our disagreements with dialogue; most of the public will not answer these extremist calls to boycott.”
Agbaria said that for the most part the demonstration Tuesday night was “peaceful and legitimate in a democracy,” and wasn’t unique, all things considered.
“This was the third or fourth rally we’ve had in Jaffa recently over the issue of al Aksa, but this is the only one anyone heard about or that was covered in the media – because there was violence.”