Ali Abunimah & Tamara Nassar
The Electronic Intifada / May 19, 2021
Israeli Jewish extremists used instant messaging services to organize armed militias to attack Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Voice messages, texts and other communications indicate they coordinated attacks in cities where Palestinians live in close proximity to Jews – including Haifa, Bat Yam and Tiberias in the north, and Ramla and Lydd – Lod in Hebrew – in the center, to Beersheba in southern Israel.
Settlers from Jewish-only colonies in the occupied West Bank also joined the coordinated attacks, with the apparent knowledge and collusion of Israeli officials.
They communicated via WhatsApp and Telegram, as well as Facebook groups.
In many cases, extremist organizers said they relied on either the active or passive support of Israeli authorities.
Israeli research organizations Fake Reporter and HaBloc intercepted messages from some of those groups and reported what they found to Israeli police as a “ticking time-bomb”.
“It’s painful to know that despite our attempts, very little was actually done,” Fake Reporter said.
“No one in the authorities could claim that they did not know,” HaBloc said.
“We are Nazis”
In screenshots from the groups posted by Fake Reporter, members talked about types of weapons and made plans for where to meet up in order to attack Palestinians and burn mosques. They engaged in virulent racism and incitement against Palestinians.
The messages were released in the context of recent attacks by extremist Jewish Israelis on Palestinians, their homes and businesses as Israel escalated its attacks on the occupied West Bank and Gaza over the last week.
“We are no longer Jews today,” one user wrote in a Telegram group titled “People from Holon, Bat Yam and Rishon Lezion go out to bring war”.
“Today we are Nazis”.
These towns are suburbs south of Tel Aviv.
Videos posted by HaBloc and apparently filmed on 12 and 13 May show people in or heading to Bat Yam, some chanting “Death to the Arabs”.
On 12 May, a large mob of Jewish Israelis dragged a Palestinian out of his car and viciously beat him as the attack was broadcast live on television.
The victim, Said Musa, was severely injured before he was evacuated for medical treatment.
“They asked if I was an Arab, I thought they needed help and I said, ‘Yes, how can I help?’” Musa told an Israeli journalist.
In a WhatsApp group titled “Death to the Arabs in Haifa – War Group,” participants were instructed to bring Israeli flags and to meet at the entrance of the Old City of Acre, masked.
In another WhatsApp group titled “Fucking the Arabs, Afula Branch, Death to the Arabs” with 165 members, one posted a picture of a spear gun.
He also wrote, “molotov cocktails, this is the weapon for today”.
In a video posted in the same group, two masked men, one holding two massive knives, says, “Stabbings in the head, terror today.”
In another message in a group for La Familia members, a person calls for burning a mosque in Lydd.
La Familia is the notorious fan club of Beitar Jerusalem, the football team partially bought last year by a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family.
Police “will back us up”
Adalah, a group that advocates for the rights of Palestinians in Israel, obtained voice messages and internal communications between Jewish extremists coordinating attacks against Palestinians.
All voice notes posted by Adalah date to 13 May, a night many observers called a pogrom.
“The police won’t do anything to us, they will back us up and turn a blind eye,” says one Israeli in a voice message to other far-right Jewish activists.
“The rules are all off. Everything is on fire,” says one person.
“Head out with guns, head out with God knows what,” says another.
“Those guys from Yitzhar, they already arrived, six buses arrived,” someone says in another voice note.
It is home to some of the most violent settlers, who frequently attack Palestinians as well as their livestock, orchards and property.
“Six buses is 380 people, 380 people, everyone with weapons, bro. Everyone with masks,” he adds.
“Every one of them, bro, dying to kill Arabs, bro. They want to kill Arabs.”
The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, said that “law enforcement authorities are well-aware of these groups” and “appear to be shielding the Israeli Jewish vigilante and settler groups”.
The High-Follow Up Committee, made up of elected representatives, party leaders and community leaders, is the de facto representative body of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Approval by authorities
There is additional evidence that Israeli authorities were well aware of and even supported the premeditated mob violence.
A video circulated by Israeli journalists on 12 May shows deputy mayor of Lydd Yossi Harush telling several prominent lawmakers that hundreds of settlers were on their way from the West Bank to “protect” Jewish homes.
“I would recommend to every Arab resident not to leave their home,” Harush says.
He said settlers were “volunteering” to “assist with security.”
A video obtained by Adalah shows a dozen parked cars with people around them while a man speaks in Hebrew.
“These are people from Judea and Samaria,” he says, referring to the name Israel gives to the occupied West Bank.
“Short-barreled M-16 rifles, whoever wants to come protect the state is welcome,” he says.
“Today we’re breaking all their bones.”
Adalah said it was taking legal action in response to the failure of Israeli authorities to stop these ultranationalist mobs from attacking Palestinians.
Israelis and social media users also posted screenshots of Telegram and WhatsApp messages showing similar incitement and tactics.
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said settler groups, including far-right organization Regavim and another called My Israel, were forming armed militias to go to mixed cities inside Israel on 13 May.
My Israel called on “armed military veterans,” “owners of armored vehicles” and “graduates of combat officers courses” to join forces.
Ultranationalist mobs made good on their threats as they raided cities, destroying Palestinian-owned businesses, marking Palestinian homes and attacking Palestinian citizens in the streets over the last week.
Deaths and injuries
Palestinian citizens of Israel have been protesting in the streets in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
There have been reports of Palestinians torching a synagogue in Lydd and attacking Israelis, including police and soldiers.
On Monday, 56-year-old Yigal Yehoshua, a Jewish man, died of a head injury he reportedly received when a brick was thrown at his car during unrest by Palestinians in Lydd the previous Tuesday.
The city’s imam, Sheikh Yusef al-Bazz, reportedly said Yehoshua was attacked by Jewish Israelis who mistook him for an Arab.
It remains unclear who caused Yehoshua’s fatal injury.
The night before Yehoshua was injured, Moussa Hassouna, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was shot dead by Jewish residents in Lydd, who claimed “self-defense,” according to The Times of Israel.
The newspaper said an initial investigation indicated “Hassouna was standing dozens of meters away from the Jewish suspects when he was shot”.
Israeli authorities arrested and then released four Jewish suspects.
And in Jaffa, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy suffered serious burns when his family’s home was firebombed. His 10-year old sister also suffered less serious injuries in the attack.
Security cameras reportedly showed two hooded men in a nearby alleyway before the attack.
Police have arrested an Arab suspect. But according to Haaretz, the children’s father has “a hard time believing that the person who attacked his family was Arab, and that he was misidentified by police”.
This is because the family’s home was decorated with crescents for Ramadan – though the lights on the decorations were not working.
In a 15 May speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel to refrain from violence. But his language reflected the systematic racism of the Israeli state.
“We will not allow our Jewish citizens to be lynched or to live in fear of murderous Arab gangs,” Netanyahu declared, while merely admonishing Jewish citizens not to “take the law into their own hands and attack innocent Arabs, or lynch an innocent Arab”.
Minimizing the scale of Israeli Jewish violence, Netanyahu claimed that “there was one such case.”
Adalah said Netanyahu “continues to emphasize that Israeli police, employing brutal violence against Palestinian citizens, will receive full political backing for their actions”.
Palestinian citizens of Israel are the survivors and their descendants of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist militias before and after Israel was created in 1948.
Unlike millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, they have some civic rights, like the right to vote. But they face entrenched discrimination enshrined in dozens of laws.
“The rule of law has no value as far as Palestinians are concerned” throughout historic Palestine, Adalah added.
B’Tselem stated earlier this year that “Jewish supremacy” is Israel’s “single organizing principle.”
“Palestinian citizens, collectively, are afraid for their lives,” the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel stated Sunday in a call for the international community to intervene to help protect them from “both state and private actors.”
Tamara Nassar is associate editor and Ali Abunimah is executive director of The Electronic Intifada