Israel – In the city of Acre, where Jews and Arabs coexist, the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is an occasion for families to take their children to fairs and boat trips along the coast.
But fear and distrust invaded the center of the almost deserted Israeli port on Thursday, when a resident warned against speaking Hebrew in the old part of the city and a second demanded to see the identity documents of a third.
Often cited as an example of coexistence between Arabs and Jews, Acre is an ancient city on the Mediterranean coast with two other names: Akko in Hebrew and Akka in Arabic.
The coexistence has been broken by the escalation of rocket fire from Gaza and Israel’s air and artillery attacks on Palestinian territory, which have ignited violence in the country between Israel’s Jewish majority and the 21% Arab minority.
“They say Gaza is out of control, but what is happening here scares me more,” said Majd Abado, an Arab resident of Acre.
There were reports of young Arabs and Jews clashing, which Reuters could not immediately confirm. More than half a dozen Acre residents said they were afraid to leave home for fear of being mistaken for an Arab or a Jew.
Protesters set fire to a city police station Tuesday and smashed its windows, and on Thursday, in an apparent show of force, several dozen policemen in riot gear passed a Crusader-era fort into the station to inspect for damage.
A popular theater that offers shows in Arabic and Hebrew said it had canceled all performances this week due to violence.
“Here we live together Jews and Arabs, with good relations,” said Moni Yosef, 63, of the Acco Theater Center. “In this theater, Jews, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Druze, work as a family. And when someone causes problems from outside, it affects us all.”
The pleas of the religious leaders have not served to stop the clashes in this and other cities, in an outbreak of fighting that Israel’s president has lamented as a “senseless civil war.”
Tension had risen in the Arab community in recent weeks over the threat of Palestinian evictions in East Jerusalem and the police raids on the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
But they have escalated dramatically since Hamas fired rockets at Israel, which struck back with aerial and artillery bombardments on Gaza, killing at least 83 Palestinians and seven Israelis this week.
Nighttime protests by Arabs, mostly peaceful, turned angry: some set fire to cars, police stations and a synagogue, and mobs of Jews attacked Arabs in their cars or on the street.
In a refrain echoed by many in the city of 55,000 people, about 30% of whom are Arabs, Abado, from Acre, blamed outsiders and small groups of young people for the violence.
“99% of the people here are against this,” he said.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.