Saturday morning, and in the afternoon as well, when I was walking through Akko, the town was empty of visitors just as it was during the missile strikes of the Second Lebanon War.
I walked through the houses for several hours and saw how volatile everything is. Everything that started on Yom Kippur eve, when Taufik, known as "the driver," traveled in his car at a time when even Arabs agree cars should not be traveling. Everyone agrees that everything started from there. He is the spark, and he made a mistake.
Even the Arab mayoral candidate, Ahmed Ouda, told me that had everything ended with Taufik's car and head being broke, that would have been fine. Yet everything kept on getting out of control, because Akko's volcano already contained piping-hot lava.
Iyad Barghouti, an Arab journalist and social activist who lives on Herzl Street, spoke to me about the Arab fear of Akko's Judiazation, about the settlers that are growing more numerous, about new Yom Kippur roadblocks aimed to marking boundaries in the city, about "Death to the Arabs" graffiti, and about the anti-Arab campaign over the past year that included the torching of doors. All the early signs.
Meanwhile, the Jews spoke to me about the city growing poorer, about the shift of Arabs into every neighborhood because apartments cost only $30,000, about shops declining on the main street, while Old City merchants grow rich.
Both sides, the Jews and the Arabs, feel like they are being screwed up, abandoned, and weak; there are many poor people and great distress in Akko – this is the war of poor against poor.
Yair from Ben-Shoshan Street took an active part in the mayhem, and he's already looking ahead. He told me that "we always had a war here between our neighborhood and the Arabs…they will no longer be here. We need to keep a sterile corner. They are like cancer; they come into the neighborhood, and bring everything down."
"But all in all, we got along with them," his wife says quietly. In every room, someone has kind words to say about coexistence. "But then came that guy with the car, and then came the two hundred masked men with the bats. We felt exposed and unprotected just like in the Second Lebanon War," Yair says.
Embracing like brothersYair and his son spoke to me about a mosque in the neighborhood and about a collaborator, Gitso, who lives nearby. They said he spent time in jail for espionage and owns a gun. They said he ran away after people came to push him out.
So I got out of there and walked over to Gitso Haleila. Ten men, including Gitso and his son Murad, sat near the empty mosque. I discovered how baseless are the rumors spread by each side. Just like the Arabs who ran over to the Jewish neighborhoods with sticks and stones because they heard the Arab driver was killed.
I discovered that Gitso was born in Akko and that he is a well-known barber. He owns a comb, not a gun. He was never a spy or a collaborator. Now, police officers are guarding his home as well as the homes of four more Arabs families there.
Gitso and his friends told me that a Jewish neighbor came to warn them that Jews were approaching the house with stones, and that the police officers are protecting him well.
"The Jewish neighbors came and told us: 'We won't let anyone touch you,'" he says. Gitso felt so secure that he walked out to face the Jews and calm them down. He realized something has changed only after he was hit by stones.
From his home, we walked over to the home of his neighbor, Meir Ovadia, who is like a brother to him, and the two were photographed embracing each other. Yet to the side we saw the police officers preparing for Saturday night, and the pile of stones left over from what already took place.
Walking around in Akko was like switching from frozen to boiling water and back – shifting from coexistence to hatred, and from hatred back to coexistence; and air that is tainted by rumors, fear, and distress.