As ethnic violence rocks Israel, Arabs cite deep grievances

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Jacob Simona stands by his burning car during clashes with Israeli Arabs and police in the Israeli mixed city of Lod, Israel Tuesday, May 11,2021. (AP Photo/Heidi Levine)

JERUSALEM – As rockets from Gaza streaked overhead, Arabs and Jews fought each other on the streets below and rioters torched vehicles, a restaurant and a synagogue in one of the worst spasms of communal violence Israel has seen in years.

The mayor of the mixed town of Lod, which saw the worst of the violence Tuesday, compared it to a civil war or a Palestinian uprising. Arab experts and activists say the violence was fueled by unrest in Jerusalem that has brought Israel to the brink of another Gaza war, but is rooted in deeper grievances that go back to the founding of the state.

Violence flared again Wednesday night with a wave of apparent revenge attacks. In Bat Yam, a Tel Aviv suburb, a large crowd of ultranationalist Israelis pulled a man from a car who they thought was Arab and beat him until he lay on the ground motionless and bloodied. A hospital said he's in serious condition without identifying him.

Earlier, a group of black-clad Israelis smashed the windows of an Arab-owned ice cream shop in Bat Yam and ultranationalists could be seen chanting, “Death to Arabs!” on live television during a standoff with Border Police. In the northern city of Tiberias, video uploaded to social media appeared to show flag-waving Israelis attacking a car.

Israel’s Channel 13 quoted a senior police officer as saying Arabs are suspected of attacking and seriously wounding a Jewish man in the coastal city of Acre amid new clashes there.

In a late night television interview, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose figurehead office is meant to serve as the nation's moral compass, said the country was gripped by civil war and urged citizens to “stop this madness."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on both Jews and Arabs to cease attacks on each other: “It doesn’t matter to me that your blood is boiling. You can’t take the law in your hands," he said.

Police said they arrested nearly 400 people allegedly “involved in riots and disturbances” across the country Wednesday.