Wadi Salib, Haifa
Photo: Ariel Bukobza
Smashed windows
Photo: Ariel Bukobza

The man who set Wadi Salib on fire

Time traveling in footsteps of Akiva Alkadif, man who caused residents of Wadi Salib to rise up on barricades

In the history of the ethnic demons of Israel there lies a special place of honor for the events of Wadi Salib, part protest, part public riots that caused the streets of Haifa and all of Israel to burn in 1959.


Newspaper archives reveal that a lot has been written, analyzed and commented on the events of those days: The closed establishment, supposed political agitators, the discrimination which created the anger and the anger which led to burning cars and smashing windows.


Admittedly there is not a lot to add to the case. But among the dozens of articles and thousands of words, the fate of one man has been forgotten; the man who caused the residents of the Wadi to rise up and burn the center of the city of Haifa. This man was Akiva Yaakov Alkadif.


Five bullets

On July 9, 1959, Akiva Alkadif, a resident of Wadi Salib, finished another tiring day of work as a porter in the market. On that day, as in many previous days, he went to the local coffee house “Rosolio” to soften his rough existence with a bit of alcohol. As in many previous times he ended the evening intoxicated and began to cause a drunken disturbance.


These types of incidents happened often and the locals, who were familiar with his inebriated attacks, looked the other way due to his hard life. But this night was not like other nights. After many attempts to restrain him, the pub owner called the police to maintain order.


What happened next is subject to many strange and varied versions, but there is one fact that nobody can deny - a short while later Alkadif collapsed on the ground bleeding, paralyzed and riddled with police bullets.


What caused the police to pull the trigger? What threat did they see in the local drunk? Witnesses gave conflicting testimony. One witness claimed that Alkadif broke the bottle and was threatening the restraining officer with the shards.


Another version claims that the incident was a result of the official and stereotypical view of Moroccan immigrants as violent hot- blooded people, whose blood was not worth much. A third view claims that the police officer only fired with the intention of calming the situation and accidentally shot the man in front of him.


Either way, the bloodied body of the local drunk enflamed passions in the Wadi.


Throughout the night, the story gathered intensity, (fictional) rumors of Alkadif’s death were spread and blood was boiling. The next morning the State of Israel awoke to a new and surprising world. A world, which pitted Ashkenazi vs. Mizrachi, rich vs. poor and discriminator vs., discriminated.


In order to illustrate this new order, the residents of the Wadi ascended to the center of Haifa and took out their wrath on the bourgeoisie Ashkenazi symbols: stores, banks, cars and the Mapai's party clubhouses.


A few weeks later the ethnic storm subsided. The police officer was found innocent. Some of the community leaders were tried and sentenced to a few months in jail. Some political activists were given a boost forward. But for the majority of the residents of the Wadi, life went back to normal. And Akiva Alkadif, the live-dead man, whatever happened to him?


A monologue on loneliness

A year after the incidents at Wadi Salib, a journalist for Yedioth Ahronoth tried to uncover the missing fate of the hero of the story. On the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut 1960, he finds Alkadif lying paralyzed and alone in the terminal patient’s wing at Assaf Harofeh hospital, where he was brought in September 1959.


In conversations with the hospital staff, the journalist discovers that Alkadif’s imaginary death meant more to the world than his life. Since his arrival at the hospital, he receives no visitors. Neither his neighbors nor the leaders of the riots who were protesting his “death”, nor did any establishment or police official, whose bullets caused this tragedy, come to visit him.


The victim’s mood borders on utter despair. He lights cigarette after cigarette and has attempted suicide at least once. In response to the journalist’s questions, he delivers a tragic monologue on life in the shadow of paralysis and loneliness:


“Why didn’t the officer kill me? Why did he leave me in this situation where I am not dead or alive? A dead person can at least sleep. I have not slept since I was injured. I can not sleep at nights”.


Alkadif has no relatives and his friends and acquaintances have forsaken him in his hard times. Only some pictures by his bed testify to the fact that he was once a man from the neighborhood. His tired voice describes his loneliness:


“When you get into trouble, all your friends who were with you in the good times leave you and escape with their lives.”


Alkadif’s doctor reveals to the journalist that his stay at the hospital was not due to health reasons. “Medically, there is nothing else we can do for Alkadif.” The doctor states, “He will remain paralyzed for the rest of his life. Whatever we were able to teach him, we taught him. We just have nowhere to send him. We can’t send him onto the street.”


No answers, only questions

A few months before this conversation, the hospital turned to Haifa mayor and workingman’s friend, Abba Chushi. He promised to send a social worker to find a solution to this unfortunate situation. Months passed and the social worker never appeared. “Maybe it is better to invest money in ‘flower day’ where at least you can get some good pictures”, one of the doctors noted with sarcasm.


Seeking justice, the journalist turned to the police department (which in the past donated a wheelchair to the victim). The police spokesperson responded: “We fulfilled our duties during the riots. While we are sorry for the man’s suffering, there is no claim to sue us for reparations.”


The journey to discover the fate of the hero of the Wadi Salib story comes to an end, and a feeling of despair grips the investigative journalist. Moments before he lets Alkadif fade into oblivion, he concludes with a thought:


“Another question is whether the Israel Police have a moral obligation towards the man whose life they destroyed? And is there not a moral obligation on those who protested and threw rocks with Alkadif’s name on their lips?”


That was the last time the newspaper dealt with the fate of Alkadif.


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פרסום ראשון: 10.22.06, 15:17
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