Far-right Israeli groups plan further violence against Palestinians after night of lynchings

Lubna Masarwa & Frank Andrews

Middle East Eye  /  May 13, 2021

Screenshots from far-right Israeli WhatsApp and Signal groups reveal plans to harm Palestinians, as Amnesty denounces government inaction.

Far-right Israeli groups are planning to mount further attacks against Palestinians in Israel on Thursday night, according to group chat messages seen by MEE, after a night of mob attacks, crackdowns by Israeli security forces and deaths across Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza on Wednesday.

“Bring everything, knives, gasoline,” read one message in a group chat named “The Underground Unit” – seemingly on Signal – with several hundred members. “Don’t be scared, we are the chosen ones.”

“Good job at Bat Yam yesterday,” another message read, referring to a spate of violence in the Tel Aviv suburb which saw a Palestinian man violently attacked live on Israeli television. “Today we’ll go back to make some mess at 6pm. Let’s meet at the seafront.”

Far-right groups such as Lehava and La Familia have also been planning attacks in Jerusalem, according to Haaretz.

On Thursday afternoon, Israeli police called on parents to “take responsibility” for their children and keep them from participating in the country-wide violence, the paper reported.

In another message, which appeared to be posted to WhatsApp, on a group called Israel People Alive Haifa, a forwarded message gave the location of a Palestinian march in Tel Aviv. “Any Arab you see – you stab,” it read. “Please come equipped with flags, bats, knives, guns, brass knuckles, wooden boards, pepper spray, anything that would hurt them. We will restore the honour of the Jewish people.”

Videos posted on Thursday evening appeared to confirm far-right Israelis were marching in the Tel Aviv areas mentioned in the group.

Haaretz reported on Thursday that the Shin Bet intelligence service had intelligence on far-right plans to attack Arabs in Israel’s mixed cities.

In another group chat, also on WhatsApp, one user wrote: “We need Molotov cocktails. To the mosque. To make them shake. We’ll burn their houses, their cars, everything.”

Someone in the group suggested meeting in Halisa, an area in the northern city of Haifa.

“Empty glass bottles, T-shirts, a few litres of gasoline,” one person wrote, the ingredients to make a Molotov cocktail.

After a host of screenshots of similar messages were shared online, Amnesty International Israel sent a letter to Israeli authorities on Thursday urging them to “take action against platforms that allow incitement to hate crimes, such as groups on social networks and messaging applications”.

“The commission of violent and even deadly hate crimes justified seeing them as platforms of incitement to be monitored and closed,” Amnesty wrote in its letter, saying this could reduce “the horrific lynchings of Arabs against Jews and Jews against Arabs”.

“We turned to the police several times already on Tuesday,” the letter continued, “and we reported on the plentiful and concrete evidence of organisation of retaliatory actions against Arabs across the country.”

Amnesty’s letter also urged authorities to class the far-right Lehava group – whose followers have instigated recent violence – as a terrorist organisation.

The head of Lehava, Benzi Gopstein, called on his supporters to come to East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood to “help” Jewish residents defend themselves against Palestinian attackers, Haaretz reported on Thursday. Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians in the area on Wednesday night – 51 people were hospitalised.

Fake Reporter, an Israeli disinformation watchdog, also published screenshots on Thursday of far-right groups coordinating attacks on Palestinians.

In a thread on Twitter, the group wrote: “The information here was given to Israeli police before the violent outbursts on the 12/5. No one was arrested in advance. Last night’s violence could have been stopped.

“We saw a ticking time bomb – groups specifically targeting Arab civilians of Israel, including incitement, weapon-hoarding, information on specific Arab-owned businesses and more.

“Groups began organising to go to Ramla, Lod [Lydda], Bat Yam, Afula, Haifa, Tiberias, Jerusalem, Beersheba, and others – in the stated goal of attacking Arabs,” they wrote.

Screenshots of various far-right groups chats included someone writing: “Today we are Nazis,” and another writing, “today we are shahids“, using the Arabic term for “martyr”.

Another night of violence

The worst scenes on Wednesday night were in Arab-minority towns in Israel, where the senders of text messages seen by MEE appear to be based. Numerous videos made the rounds online showing attacks described as “lynchings”, and police brutality amid Palestinian protests.

In scenes repeated across several cities, gangs of youths threw stones and stormed shops belonging to Palestinians.

Israeli police have arrested 374 people so far.

In one example, video footage shared widely on social media appeared to show a group of Israelis attempting to break into a Palestinian home in Haifa.

While the family manages to repel the initial attack, police then burst into the home and arrest and beat a number of the residents.

While MEE cannot independently verify the footage, there have been numerous reports of violence between Palestinians and Israeli Jews in Haifa over the past few days

Elsewhere, a video seen by Middle East Eye showed a large group of Israelis – some carrying national flags – throwing rocks at a Palestinian car. Another shows a group of Israelis attacking an Israeli ambulance, reportedly carrying a Palestinian.

Footage from Acre, meanwhile, showed a group of Israelis chanting “death to Arabs” in Hebrew.

Another video, reportedly also from Acre, shows Israeli security forces walking away from a Palestinian man lying motionless, eyes staring at the ceiling, on the floor of an apartment building.

Israeli paper Haaretz reported that five Palestinians in the city seriously wounded a 30-year-old Jewish man, after police told Palestinian shop owners to shutter stores because of expected attacks by far-right Israelis.

In Bat Yam, a suburb of Tel Aviv, a Palestinian was pulled from his car and lynched during a live broadcast on an Israeli television channel. The 33-year-old man was treated overnight and his condition has improved, according to Haaretz.

Photos of him, which are too explicit to publish without his consent, show a deep puncture wound and major swelling on one side of his face.

Fake Reporter wrote in its tweet thread on Wednesday that the Bat Yam attacks were organised on one of the Facebook groups it was monitoring. “One of its members wrote: ‘get brass knuckles, clubs, knives, come prepared’; ‘kill them one by one’,” according to the watchdog.

Far-right Israelis had previously roamed the city, attacking Arab-owned businesses and chanting racist slogans, according to Haaretz.

In Lod, called Lydd by Palestinians, where yesterday a night curfew was announced, a video showed a group of Israelis waving flags walking towards the town centre – accompanied by security forces.

Jewish-Israelis provoked Palestinians by approaching the mourning tent for Moussa Hassuna, a Palestinian protester who was shot dead on Monday evening. The three Israeli suspects arrested after his murder were released on Thursday after prominent Israeli politicians decried their arrests.

Also in Lod, a Jewish man was shot and two others suffered stab wounds, Haaretz reported, while 20 people were taken to the Shamir Medical Centre. More than 20 people were reportedly arrested.

Police said they had responded to violent incidents in multiple towns, including Lod, Acre and Haifa, according to AFP.

MEE correspondent Lubna Masarwa reported that groups of Israelis tried to attack Palestinians in villages in the “northern triangle” area, where around a third of Israel’s population of Palestinian citizens live.

Unrest was also reported in southern Israel. Nineteen Jews were detained for disorderly conduct, according to Haaretz, along with three Arabs, after hundreds of Israeli Jews marched through the city of Beersheba, also chanting “death to Arabs”.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a “massive reinforcement” of border police across the territory on Thursday, saying, “we’re in an emergency”, according to Haaretz.

Lubna Masarwa is a journalist and Middle East Eye’s Palestine and Israel bureau chief, based in Jerusalem

Frank Andrews is a news editor at Middle East Eye