by on March 24, 2012 100 comments


We’ve missed this and everyone is talking about it: a massive anti-Arab gathering that took place in Israel on Monday. Chanting “Death to Arabs,” hundreds of Beitar soccer fans crowded into a mall in Jerusalem after their team won a match and what spilled out …words escape me:

The Independent:

Hundreds of fans, mostly teenagers, descended on busy Malha Mall, jumping on tables, waving scarves, and chanting “Death to Arabs”.

When a group of fans started to heckle and spit on Palestinian women dining with their children in the food hall, the centre’s Arab cleaning staff rushed to their defence and chased the fans off. But moments later, the fans returned, and started to attack the Arab staff.

“They [the fans] caught some of them and beat the hell out of them,” Yair, the Jewish owner of a bakery in the shopping centre, told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. “They hurled people into shops, and smashed them against shop windows. … One cleaner was attacked by some 20 people, poor guy.” The brawl might have turned deadly, but food hall staff refused to respond to fans’ demands for knives and sticks. It was only when police arrived 40 minutes later the situation was brought under control.

“I’ve been here many years and I’ve never seen such a thing,” Haaretz quoted Gideon Avrahami, Malha’s director, as saying. “It was a disgraceful, shocking, racist incident; simply terrible.”

The police defended its failure to make any arrests, saying it had received no complaints from any of the public, a response that drew immediate derision. “No complaints and no arrests. Does this mean riots against Arabs in malls is acceptable behaviour in Israel?” tweeted Joseph Dana, an Israeli blogger.

Shmulik Ben Rubi, a Jerusalem police spokesman, later told The Independent the police would investigate the incident, which might lead to arrests.

After 40 minutes the police arrived.

One commenter at Haaretz noted “if it was skinheads beating Jews the whole world would know about this. ” Joseph Dana and others are questioning the implications of why there have been no arrests.

Lisa Goldman at +972 :

Meanwhile, amongst the Israeli media only Haaretz newspaper published a report about this incident – even though it occurred five days ago. One would think that a major race riot in Jerusalem’s largest shopping mall, patronized by Jews and Arabs alike, would garner some significant local media attention. But no.

More shocking and insidious is the fact that, even though the riot was recorded by the Malha shopping centre’s CCTV cameras, no-one has been arrested. Why not? Well, said the police, because no-one filed a complaint.

Okay, let’s try a little thought experiment here. Imagine that a few hundred Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel rioted at the upscale Ramat Aviv mall in northern Tel Aviv. Imagine that they were fans of the Arab soccer team Bnei Sakhnin, that they waved team jerseys and scarves as they chanted “death to Jews” in Arabic and cursed and spat at some nice middle class Jewish women sipping cappuccinos with their children and sharing pains au chocolat at the Arcaffe. Imagine that they ran around the mall, asking for knives to attack the cleaning staff that was trying to protect the women from being attacked. And that they slammed some of those cleaners into plate-glass shop windows.

Imagine that all of this was was recorded on the Ramat Aviv shopping centre’s CCTV cameras.

And then imagine the police announcing to the media that they had not made any arrests because no-one had filed a complaint.

Yes, I’ve imagined.

There were plenty of warning signs. Remember that this is the truth about Israeli society that Max Blumenthal has sought to convey and that so many denied–stuffing his video, Feeling the Hate. Last month in Newsweek, bureau chief Dan Ephron’s story ” No Arabs Allowed” reported “Jerusalem’s favorite football team has hiring policies reminiscent of Apartheid and Jim Crow”.

Israeli football teams started hiring Arabs only in the 1970s; these days they are among the highest scorers in the league. But Beitar, the team of Israel’s capital city, has been a holdout, shunning Arabs even as it hired other non-Jewish players from abroad. “It’s hard to explain the policy as anything but racism,” says Yoav Borowitz, an Israeli journalist who writes regularly about football.

Supporters of the team have a more nuanced explanation. They say the ban is bound up with Beitar’s history and with tensions in Jerusalem, a city where Arabs and Jews live mostly in their own segregated neighborhoods (Israeli Arabs make up 20 percent of Israel’s population). Until a few years ago, most Israeli football teams were affiliated with political parties. Beitar’s sponsor was the right-wing Likud, the party now headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Though Likud was never an overtly Arab-hating party, Beitar became a magnet for right-wing extremists, who would often shout chants like “Death to Arabs” at players of opposing teams.

How much worse can it get before it gets better? And some still say it’s not apartheid– on both sides of the green line.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Writer at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area.