© Reuters. Smoke rises from a building after it was destroyed by Israeli air strikes during a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence in Gaza on May 11, 2021. REUTERS / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
From Rami Ayyub
JAFFA, Israel (Reuters) – Violence in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel flared up early Wednesday amid growing anger among the country's Arab minority over Israeli air strikes on Gaza and police raids on Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in Lod, Tel Aviv, after reports surfaced Tuesday that Arabs set a synagogue on fire and Jews stoned a car driven by an Arab resident.
"We have lost control of the city and the streets," Lod Mayor Yair Revivo lamented Israel's Channel 12 News. Garbage cans were seen nearby, knocked over and set on fire.
Security officials said they had moved 16 border police companies from the occupied West Bank to Lod to deal with the violence.
Israel's Arab minority – Palestinian by heritage, Israeli by citizenship – is largely descended from Palestinians who lived under Ottoman and then British colonial rule before staying in Israel after the country was founded in 1948.
Most are bilingual in Arabic and Hebrew and feel related to their Palestinian fellow citizens in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
And they often complain of systemic discrimination and unfair access to housing, health care and educational services.
Police arrested dozens of people overnight in Lod and in predominantly Arab cities in central and northern Israel, including Umm al-Fahm on the West Bank border and Jisr al-Zarqa on the Mediterranean coast.
"We condemn the solidarity and cohesion of our people with our brothers in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip being sabotaged on public and private property, as is now happening at the entrance to Umm al-Fahm," said the city's mayor, Samir Mahamid.
Israeli media reported that Uri Buri, a popular Jewish-owned seafood restaurant in the mixed seaside town of Acre, was set on fire. Footage broadcast by Channel 12 showed that the exterior of the restaurant was black and burned, and the windows were broken.
In Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, Arab demonstrators clashed with police officers who fired stun grenades to disperse them.
The clashes in Al-Aqsa on Monday morning were the immediate backdrop to tensions in Arab cities and mounting fighting between Israel and Hamas, killing dozens in Gaza and at least three in Israel.
Israel launched dozens of air strikes in Gaza Tuesday and overnight, and Palestinian militants fired hundreds of rockets from Gaza into Israel.
Neighborhoods with Arab residents, including Lod and Jaffa, were among those where sirens were triggered by rockets fired from Gaza. Two Lod residents were killed Wednesday after a vehicle was hit by a rocket in the area, Israeli police said.
In Haifa and Jaffa, as well as in the Arab city of Nazareth, Arab demonstrators have hoisted Palestinian flags and sang slogans to support Palestinians displaced from a neighborhood in East Jerusalem due to a longstanding legal battle.
The Arab citizens of Israel were among the thousands of Palestinians who clashed with Israeli police in the past few days in Jerusalem's Old City, the most sensitive place in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A spokesman for the Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, Abu Ubaida, encouraged Arab citizens to "rise up" against Israel.
"The Qassam Brigades are close by as they are drawing the map of the homeland with their missiles and resistance to our and your enemy," he said in a speech on Wednesday.