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Acre Jews protest sale of home to Arabs, raising ethnic tensions

Local Arab activist: ‘They’re not building for Arabs and won’t let them live with Jews, so where are we supposed to go?’

By Jack Khoury    8 March 2013        Haaretz 

A street view in Acre. Jewish-Arabs tensions are flaring over real estate. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky

The sale of a house to an Arab family in a new development in northern Acre is causing a stir among neighborhood residents, and reopening the public debate on Jewish and Arab residential areas.

The Jewish residents of the Hakerem Bet neighborhood, where the house in question was sold, gathered Tuesday night, waving Israeli flags and calling on the seller to cancel the deal.

A report of the sale was published on the Facebook page of “Our Acre,” which advocates “strengthening the city and maintaining its Jewish Zionist character without violence.” Adir Cohen, the director of the group, explained that his movement in general supports democracy and co-existence, but claims that one has to take into account outliers and exceptional situations.

“There are groups that want to maintain the religious character, and this is their right, and so this coercion doesn’t add to co-existence,” Cohen said. ”If a Jew now goes to Kfar Yasif or to any other village in the area, they won’t let him live there out of fear of doing damage to their unique style and way of life.”

Cohen said the person who bought the house is an activist for the Hadash party, and that political motivations were behind the deal. “I am issuing a warning about two things: the politicians who want to make a profit at the public's expense, and allowing elements that damage the fabric of relations between veteran Jewish and Arab residents of the city to enter."

Firas Ali, who bought the house from a neighborhood resident, slammed the allegations. “There is no coercion here. A man put a house up for sale, and I paid most of my money to buy it,” he said. “It’s a new neighborhood, and it suits me to live here, where there are several Arab families. While they are not in the same complex, they are in the same neighborhood. The people pressuring me and the seller are the ones who should be condemned for threatening co-existence here in Acre."

Ali insists he has no intention of backing down, despite the many appeals to do so, even from the seller himself, who is apparently starting to buckle under the pressure. He says his plan is to move into the house in November.

According to information obtained by Haaretz, members of the Our Acre group plan to keep protesting, which is liable to raise tensions in the city, where several incidents and much tension between Jews and Arabs has been seen in recent years.

Three months ago, Haaretz reported on a suit filed against a real estate company which opposed selling apartments to Arabs in an Acre residential project, as well as another against tenders for building neighborhoods strictly for Orthodox Jews on land belonging to the state.

Sami Hawary, general director at the Arab advocacy organization Al-Yater, filed the petition against the tenders. He told Haaretz that the housing issue has become a central issue in Jewish-Arab relations in Acre. The matter, he says, needs to be addressed by everyone involved.

Sami Hawari outside Acre City Hall   Photo by Yaron Kaminsky

“No one is looking for a confrontation or to coerce anyone,” he said. “Young couples and families in Acre are like everyone else. They want a home. No one is building a neighborhood for Arabs, and they don’t allow Arabs to live with Jews, so where are we supposed to go, to the sea?”



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