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Street Violence Between Israeli Jews And Arabs Has Calmed, But The Scars Remain

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The conflict between Israel and Hamas last month helped stoke another conflict between Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens inside Israel itself. It's an issue facing the country's new government, and it came as a shock for Jews and Arabs who've lived alongside each other for decades with tension and inequalities but in relative peace. NPR's Daniel Estrin has been documenting one city that was the scene of intense violence and where traumatized residents are now wondering how to keep living together.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: People here are used to war breaking out every so often with Gaza. What shocked them was what happened in the Israeli city of Lod. Tania Isaev would film from her apartment window and send me videos.

(SOUNBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TANIA ISAEV: (Speaking Hebrew).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Shouting in Hebrew).

ESTRIN: It went on night after night - hundreds of Arabs chanting, Jews marching with flags and clubs. A gunfight erupted near a mosque. A synagogue was torched. Cars became carcasses.

YUVAL HOVEV: They just took the car to the middle of the road and burnt it, just burnt it.

ESTRIN: Jewish resident Yuval Hovev stands next to his charred sedan.

HOVEV: No coexistence here, no coexistence here - there is hate here. There is terror here.

ESTRIN: Violence erupted in many mixed cities of Arabs and Jews but nowhere more violent than here. A young Arab father was shot and killed. A Jewish electrician was killed when suspects threw a rock at his car, all this in a city next to Israel's international airport. The city is officially called Lod in Hebrew. In Arabic, it's al-Lydd. I was there to see the aftermath.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing in Arabic).

ESTRIN: This mosque in the center of town, its windows are covered up in corrugated metal because they were stoned several days ago in the violence that we saw here between Arab and Jewish citizens. And just right next to this old mosque are one, two, three, four paramilitary Israeli border police, sitting, having some lunch.

SLIMAN AZBARGA: (Speaking Hebrew).

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: Across the street, Sliman Azbarga, who's Arab, greets the Israeli officers in Hebrew outside his shawarma restaurant. Right outside is where he says Jewish mobs tore down saplings in the square and attacked the mosque. He tells me through an interpreter the police just stood by.

AZBARGA: (Through interpreter) The police and the army was (ph) watching. That was the most unfortunate, disappointing thing for me - the way these people were watching what was going on.

ESTRIN: Palestinian citizens of Israel are a fifth of the country's population. They're promised full rights but face discrimination, including from police. During the violence in Lod, video showed Jews throwing stones at Arabs while police stood next to them, not stopping them. Azbarga saw it too.

AZBARGA: (Through interpreter) The police should have protected both sides, not one side over the other side.

ESTRIN: Like around Israel, relations in Lod have been strained. But for decades, Jews and Palestinians have jointly owned businesses and lived across the hall from each other without seeing this kind of violence. But Palestinian Arabs in the city say things have been changing. They blame a right-wing Jewish mayor elected eight years ago. That mayor, Yair Revivo, told local radio during the fighting it was a civil war.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YAIR REVIVO: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: He said, "if this were the West Bank, you'd just shoot anyone who moves."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REVIVO: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: That's the kind of talk that makes Palestinians in Lod worried. They're afraid their lives are starting to take on aspects of life that Palestinians face in the West Bank, where they're not citizens and live under Israeli military occupation. Maha Alnakib, an Arab, is a former city councilwoman.

MAHA ALNAKIB: We are the Israeli citizens. We felt that there is a difference between us. There's maybe a democracy law kind of defense of us. But now it's obvious - nothing. We are - all of us, the Palestinians - there's no difference if you are an Israeli citizen or not. As a minority - it's not easy to be a minority.

ESTRIN: She describes a movement that's taken root in the city over the last decade and a half. With public funding, young religious Jews move into neighborhoods with Arab residents to boost the Jewish population.

ALNAKIB: All the time trying to bring all their behaviors in the West Bank and the settlers there to bring it to here. They try to say that al-Lydd is a Jewish city, not a mix, to make us invisible.

ESTRIN: In the recent violence, paramilitary police were brought in from the West Bank to this city. They fired sponged-tipped bullets at Arab demonstrators, and Jewish extremists from the West Bank flooded the city to join the fight. In the aftermath, Israeli volunteers, including some from West Bank settlements, have flocked here to show solidarity.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLASTER SPREADING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: Some of them plastered the wall of a synagogue that suffered damage. Paramilitary police are camped at the entrance. Moti Refaeli says his daughter is part of the Jewish movement here.

MOTI REFAELI: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: "The Arabs in this city and the Arabs who were firing at us from Gaza - they're the same thing," he said. "Coexistence, good neighbors - it's game over."

REFAELI: Game over.

ZAKIYA WATAD: (Shouting in Hebrew).

ESTRIN: An Arab woman across the street calls me over - Zakiya Watad.

WATAD: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: "We want shalom - peace," she says in Hebrew. "We were the ones who called the police when the synagogue caught fire." She says, "we live together. We don't want a war."

WATAD: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: Refaeli, the Jewish man, overhears her and says to me...

REFAELI: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: "Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. They always want peace. When you hit them hard and you trample on them, then they want peace."

We returned to Lod a month after the violence that shocked the city and the country. We came back to see - can this city return to the way it was? We stop at a Muslim-owned hummus shop called the Peace Restaurant. There are Arabs and Jews here sitting at different tables. It's a lot like the rest of the city. On the surface, things seem calm, but people are scarred. A couple Jewish clients tell us they've been boycotting Arab businesses until now. David Kilstein had to convince his colleague to join him here for lunch.

DAVID KILSTEIN: Because I'm eating here for 50 years. I know the parents of this owner. I want to show sympathy to them, although I think, deep in their heart, the Muslims don't accept us in Israel.

ESTRIN: Feeling unwanted might be the one thing both sides share now. Our waiter, a young Palestinian from the city, hides a black eye behind tinted glasses. He won't speak on tape with things so tense, but the owner says a group of Jewish guys attacked him for speaking Arabic. That wasn't during the recent violence. That happened just a few days ago.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Lod.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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