Taking the lid off coexistence in Lod

May 29, 2022 by  
Read on for article

Today is Jerusalem Day, the Hebrew calendar anniversary of the outbreak of Operation Guardian of the Walls…writes Sherri Oz.

Israel’s Border Guards arriving at the city of Lod as Israel declares a state of emergency in the city following violent riots of the Arab residents. Lod, May 12, 2021. Photo by Eitan Elhadez-Barak/TPS

On this day last year, Hamas launched missiles into Jerusalem and Arabs in Lod and other mixed cities rioted and attacked their Jewish neighbours.

“I work with Arabs; they are my friends,” a deeply traumatized Lod resident of the mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel says a year after deadly riots roiled the streets. Like mixed urban areas across North America, disparate communities remain wary and distrustful of each other after each wave of violence.

Walking along the streets of Lod today, it is hard to imagine that just over a year ago, these streets were a war zone, witness to the worst Muslim violence the country has seen in decades. Eleven days of rioting in one of Israel’s few mixed cities challenge a belief in the possibility for peaceful coexistence. While seemingly calm now, at any moment the situation can become explosive once more, Arab and Jewish residents say.

On May 10, 2021, Hamas launched seven missiles at Jerusalem in protest of what they termed as “storming” al-Aqsa. In fact, the Jews were celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem, marching in the traditional Flag Parade.

That evening, police were unable to contain an angry demonstration at the Grand Mosque in Lod. The mob spread out from there. The rioters burned parked cars and threw firebombs and paving stones torn out of the sidewalks at Jews who gathered for what they thought was simply a counterdemonstration but turned out to be a violent and dangerous confrontation. Thus began 11 days of hostilities between Arabs and Jews who lived together and worked together both in Lod and other mixed cities.

Three 18-year-old high school students are sitting in one corner of a large apartment balcony open to the late afternoon breeze that provides some relief after a hot day. Looking back at last May’s violence, Yair Prinz says that by the second day of the rioting it seemed almost normal that they were getting shot at instead of calling up friends to meet for a shwarma. He was volunteering at the call center quickly set up to manage community emergencies.

“My friend was on the call line and in the most serious voice I ever heard, he said, ‘Yair, listen, I’m here with another two guys. We’re crouched behind a wall and 20 meters away, there’s someone with an M-16 spraying us already for several minutes. We can’t move. What should we do?’”

Several of Lod’s Jewish residents admit that they were surprised by the outbreak of violence. Until that time, they felt safe in their city, walking everywhere without fear. Jews and Arabs living in the same apartment blocks had cordial neighborly relations. The infrequent signs of hostility on the part of Arabs in town were set aside as aberrations. When Arab youth threw sticks or stones at Jewish youth, it was dismissed as minor and unimportant. Increased tensions during the month of Ramadan were absorbed as a normal part of living in a city with a large Arab minority.

Of the approximately 80,000 residents of Lod today, about 30% are Arabs and 70% Jews. This was not always the case. During Biblical times, it was an important Israelite cultural and commercial center. Following the murder or enslavement of the Jews by the conquering Romans in the 2nd Century, it was alternately a Moslem-dominated or Christian-dominated city. Jews returned to Lod in the late Ottoman period but fled once more after the 1921 Arab riots against Jews under the British Mandate.

After the War of Independence in 1948, the small number of Arabs who remained were soon outnumbered by Jewish refugees, mainly from Arab countries. Subsequent waves of Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and other countries, and Arabs from other parts of Israel moving into Lod created a complex multiethnic society. Today, there are neighborhoods that are entirely Jewish, entirely Arab, and mixed.

Like many others, Rachel Pomeranz, 24, says that until last May she was not at all afraid to be anywhere in the city. She works in a community center that serves Arabs and Jews together. However, each community has its own activities. Jewish girls do not learn ballet with Arab girls, for example, and this is apparently because both Arab and Jewish parents want it that way. Pomeranz understands coexistence to mean that the two separate communities live in parallel, each alongside the other, with everyone provided with all the resources they need to build good lives.

Pomeranz describes her experience of the first night of hostilities. After an evening gathering for Jewish students at the community center, everyone was suddenly ordered to stay in the building. Some wanted to leave and thought those telling them it was not safe outside were exaggerating. “We kept on laughing and having a good time,” Pomeranz says. After several hours, the police came to escort them safely home.

Pomeranz remembers that the instant that she and her friends stepped outside the door, they were stunned by what they saw in the streets. “We were overwhelmed with fear and we broke into tears.”

Pomeranz continues, “Six police officers with their weapons drawn took a group of us living on the same street home. All the Arabs in the building where I live were watching me come in. I felt humiliated that this is how I have to come home, shaking in fear, to my own apartment in my own country.” She says that neighbors in the next building were shouting out “Allahu akbar” and from the window of her 4th-floor apartment, she saw children burning garbage in bins and breaking property. “You could see smoke over the entire city.”

For Pomeranz, then, the first night of the rioting was spent largely inside the community center with friends, unaware of what was going on outside. Prinz, on the other hand, was out on the street defending his home. He and his friends had heard that there was an Arab demonstration and they set out to join a counterdemonstration, carrying the Israeli flag and singing songs. His mother, not yet understanding the gravity of the situation casually told him to be home by 1:30 am.

They got to the traffic circle where to the left and right were Arab neighborhoods. “I was never afraid to be there before,” he said. “But suddenly, I saw burning garbage bins on the road and Arabs were coming toward us from all directions, throwing rocks and firebombs.”

The police did not answer their calls for help and the Jews started to retreat. “We saw that when we moved back closer to our neighborhood, they moved in and then the rocks started breaking windows. We knew that if they got closer, the firebombs would be thrown into homes, as they were in following days in some parts of the city.”

At a certain point, one of the adult Jewish men was hit by a rock in the leg and, with his pistol, he shot a few warning shots into the air. Prinz was in shock at the sound of gunfire. A friend’s mother who was there pulled him and his friends out of the crowd. The Arabs were undeterred and continued to pelt the Jews. As they were walking away, they heard the growing intensity of warning shots during which an Arab man, Mussa Hassuna, 32, was killed. It was only after this that the police finally arrived.

Prinz’s school friends, Maayan Ben Yaakov and Tamar Ben Meir, said that living through those 11 days was surreal. They likened it to feeling as if they were living in war-torn Gaza, a place they characterized as having a sense of fear and death in the air.

However, some Jews and Arabs also reached out to each even during the violence. Pomeranz remarks how an Arab colleague helped her get frightened Jewish residents out of apartment buildings in which they felt unsafe. Ben Meir’s Arab neighbor invited her family to share their bomb shelter when missiles were being launched from Gaza.

Traumatized by her experience, Pomeranz was unable to set foot in the community center for months. She finally decided to force herself to act as if everything is okay, to get back into her life. Things are confusing for her now, as a result of her experiences during the unrest. For example, during Independence Day this year she was very aware of how this is her country and her Arab colleagues do not feel the same. “We are living in a crazy reality,” she says, “in which there are those who want to murder us, murder the Jewish People.”

On the other hand, for Prinz, Ben Yaakov and Ben Meir, the most lasting impression left by the events of last May was the outpouring of assistance that came from Jews across the country. This was something that increased their love for the Jewish People and their sense of belonging.

Strangers from near and far brought cakes and other foods, opened their homes to those who needed to get away from the violence, and volunteered to join in defending Jewish homes, synagogues and schools. Prinz remembers being amazed when he saw men who had left their wives and families to come to protect him. Some of them went back home with injuries that will require long rehabilitation.

The three teenagers smiled when they recalled the cars decked out with blue and white balloons that drove along the streets playing Israeli music over loudspeakers on the mornings after violence-filled nights.

None of the Jews spoken to, in formal interviews or random conversations as they watched over their children in a busy playground, expressed any desire to move away from Lod. And none of them thought that the Arabs should either.

Most Jewish residents of Lod feel that their leaders abandoned them to the violence. Police did not come when reports were phoned in, leaving residents to organize a response team on their own, buoyed up by volunteers from outside the city. They talked about feeling undefended, unprotected.

However, they do notice that something has changed. It appears to them that Lod’s police force is implementing the lessons learned from last year’s poor handling of the situation. Interviewees gave examples of small infractions, the beginning rustlings of unrest, and vandalism that would have been ignored in the past, to which the police now respond quickly and strongly.

In the end, Prinz’s friends were rescued from behind the wall that sheltered them from the man with the M-16. It remains to be seen if coexistence between the Arabs and the Jews of Lod can also be rescued. If today’s Jerusalem Day Flag Parade goes without an explosion of violence, then trust may begin to be restored.


One Response to “Taking the lid off coexistence in Lod”
  1. Paul Winter says:

    The Israeli police and military need to abandon their goals of keeping the peace and start to enforce the law of the land. They and their political masters must start to act as masters of their nation, not as ghetto Jews trying to placate pogromists.

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

Got something to say about this?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.