Swastika and Yom Kippur in Akko

Denial takes place in stages. It won’t happen to me; it can’t happen in today’s world; it will never happen; and it didn’t happen. Reality is different. Today it did happen. There were Swastika’s painted on the electricity boxes on Akko promenade on the corner next to the police station. Worse yet, this year Yom Kippur which falls on the Sabbath is the same day as the Muslem festival of Eid Al-Adha (the Festival of the Sacrifice). Denial says it cannot happen but experience shows that Akko is bound to face friction and hopefully not violence.

On my usual early morning stroll down the Akko sea-front promenade to collect the morning’s newspapers I noticed an extra large presence of City inspectors and police. Usually at this hour they are on patrol or waiting inside the Akko police station, which is the old British Mandate police station. The focus of attention were the Swastika’s painted on the electricity closets. Catching the culprit is easier said that done despite the large number of CCTV cameras in the area. The Akko promenade is well known as a meeting point for the many non-Jewish villages in the Galilee. The police spend most nights trying, not always successfully, to prevent the car and motor-bike races that take place on the adjourning roads. Local non-Jewish residents who are 21% of the population often argue and fist-fight the visitors in turf-frays and sometimes over women and drugs. All in all the Western Galilee town of Akko feels like the wild-West. The Jewish residents who are 79% of the population have moved out of the sea-front area and now live in the Northern and Eastern suburbs, or have moved elsewhere such as to Nahariya.

Non-Jewish visitors to the Akko promenade and the Mosques of the predominately Muslim Old City increases dramatically on Muslim holidays. Their cars are parked along the quiet streets of the residential areas as far as 1 or even 2 km’s from the Old City, given the cramped spaces therein. Herein lies the dilemma for this years Yom Kippur. The City inspectors  close off the same streets to traffic to enable the Jewish residents to walk to and from synagogue in a quiet and dignified manner suited to the day. The law calls for all shops in Israel to close and there is no public entertainment. All Radio and TV stations cease their broadcasts 30 minutes before the fast commences until it ends.

This year friction and hopefully not violence looms for Yom Kippur. The Muslem festival of Eid Al-Adha (the Festival of the Sacrifice) falls on the same day. It is the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca also commemorating the event described in the Koran where Ibrahim took his son Ishmael to offer him as a sacrifice. The festival is celebrated with BBQ’s, dancing and music; and visits to family and the Mosque.

Only time will tell how the Akko City inspectors and the police will handle the situation. How can they accommodate a festivity of eating and music with a day of fasting and silent contemplation ? How can they close streets to traffic while still granting access to Mosques within the closed area ? How can they prevent 10’s of thousands of visitors from the region in entering Akko and disturbing Yom Kippur ? Can they enforce the closure of all shops and restaurants ? Jerusalem no doubt faces the same problem. Careful planning and discussion between all involved is essential.

There is no denying that a Swastika causes hurt when it is next to your own home. There is the feeling that the non-Jewish neighbors should appreciate the Social Welfare services that they receive. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that provides free Health Care, free Housing, free Education and monthly living stipends to all needy residents. There is no non-Jewish resident of Israel who would willing trade these to live in a state that has a non-Jewish government, just for the sake of living in a non-Jewish state. Akko is 22 km from Lebanon and only slightly further from Syria. The non-Jewish residents should look at life in these countries, appreciate what they have and then refrain from painting Swastika’s.

If they wish to have access to the Mosques of Akko on Yom Kippur then so be it. I am all for the freedom of religious belief and practice. However I don’t believe that this should be at the expense of anyone else’s religious belief and practice. To date the non-Jewish religious leaders in Akko and nearby villages have refused to discuss with the City inspectors and the police any form of planning including traffic routing and parking, and the level of music. They are provoking the alternative – the complete closure of Akko to all traffic from outside Akko and strict fines for BBQ’s and music inside Akko. Only they can prevent this, but instead there are Swastika’s.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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