Revenge attacks spread to Israel's secular heartland

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The Independent Online

A Jewish mob wrecked one of Israel's most famous restaurants and tried to kills its Arab waiters by blockading them inside and torching the place. The significance of the attack is that it was in the country's heartland, the secular, multi-ethnic and usually tolerant Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv.

A Jewish mob wrecked one of Israel's most famous restaurants and tried to kills its Arab waiters by blockading them inside and torching the place. The significance of the attack is that it was in the country's heartland, the secular, multi-ethnic and usually tolerant Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv.

Yehuda Avazi restaurant, which is Jewish-owned and served kosher food, was attacked on Monday by 2,000 Jews who raced on to the streets hours after the Yom Kippur holiday, the Day of Atonement. Tension had been building, stoked by bloodshed on the West Bank and sectarian revenge killings.

Chanting "Death to the Arabs", the mob smashed windows, set fires, chased out diners and torched a nearby Arab apartment. There was a battle with Israeli police as the attackers tried to get to the Arab waiters locked inside before setting fire to the building. One of the restaurant's owners, who asked not to be named, said: "It's horrible ... there's going to be a civil war."

Suddenly the photographs on the walls of famous clients,the fine wines, the exotic menu and the lovingly framed newspaper reviews belonged to a distant, impossibly civilised era of peace. "This is racism, fear, religious hatred - everything," the owner said, looking stunned and tearful. "If there is going to be a religious war, I don't know what we will do."

Outside, a young man gazed happily at the mess. "We want to cut all the Arabs' throats; we want to kill them all," he said. He showed us a burnt-out tiny apartment behind the restaurant which had housed staff. "Wonderful," he said, kicking the remains of a clothes chest. "They have got three of our soldiers in Lebanon. This is what they deserve."

The restaurant is in Hatikva, a scruffy blue-collar neighbourhood in southern Tel Aviv favoured by cosmopolitans from the luxury apartment blocks and sparkling skyscrapers along the coastline who come in search of good ethnic food.

The residents of Hatikva are predominantly low-income Sephardim - Jews of Middle Eastern or North African extraction - who seem to have singled out the restaurant because it employed Arabs, no matter that they too are Israeli citizens.

But the true reason was inter-ethnic anger that had built up in Israel over years of resentment and suspicion, ignited now by the present conflict. There have been hundreds of racially motivated attacks, from the Sea of Galilee to the Negev Desert.

Jews have been infuriated by television pictures of Palestinian youths tearing down Joseph's Tomb, a shrine in Nablus; Palestinians have been incensed by pictures of Jews wrecking a mosque in Tiberius. Jews have been infuriated by the killing by Palestinians of Israeli civilians and settlers; Arabs have been incensed by the killing of scores of Palestinians - including children - by the Israeli army's snipers and rockets, and, more recently, killings by Jewish vigilantes and fanatical settlers. And so it goes on.

For Ehud Barak, the Israeli Prime Minister, the ethnic strife is "more dangerous to Israel than any enemy or any external war". Fears abound that the country is fracturing from within. Israel's one million Arabs form a fifth of the population. They are waiters and factory workers, a cheap labour pool that served a growing consumer society, slogging on, despite civil-rights violations and prejudice. Now, after riots in which 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed, they are seen by the Jewish majority as part of the enemy front.

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