JERUSALEM (AFP) – Cars and stores were damaged as Jews and Arabs clashed in the Israeli city of Acre after an Arab man was assaulted for driving during Yom Kippur, the Haaretz newpaper reported on Thursday.
The unrest erupted around midnight (2200 GMT Wednesday), several hours after Jews began marking Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest observance in the Jewish calender, when Israel comes to a virtual standstill.
A group of Jewish youths assaulted an Arab man who was driving his car, in an incident that touched off large-scale rioting between Jews and Arabs, resulting in extensive damage to dozens of cars and shops, Haaretz said in its internet edition.
Police used force to disperse the crowd of several hundred peoples, the newspaper said, citing police officials.
About one third of Acre’s population of almost 50,000 residents are Arab.
Arab MPs have for years asked security forces to take tougher action to prevent Jews from stoning cars driven by Arabs on Yom Kippur.
One of them, Abbas Zkoor, said such attacks occurred frequently.
“Despite numerous complaints filed in police stations, officers were not sent to disperse the racist gatherings,” Zkoor said.
He called on religious authorities to condemn such behaviour, which he said “surely contravenes the basic principles of the Jewish religion.”
Israel came to a virtual standstill as the country marked Yom Kippur, which started at sunset on Wednesday and was to end on Thursday evening.
Public transport and air traffic stopped, as did television and radio programming, while schools and offices — including the Tel Aviv stock exchange — were closed. Pedestrians, skaters and cyclists took over the car-free roads.
Police stepped up security measures and the military shut down the Israeli occupied West Bank.
In ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, men clad in long coats and huge black fur hats packed synagogues and religious schools.
On Yom Kippur, observant Jews fast, pray and ask God to pardon their sins committed during the previous year. It is also on Yom Kippur that God judges Jews and determines their destiny, deciding who will live and who will die.
At the end of Yom Kippur, prayers are offered at Judaism’s most sacred place, the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Thursday’s observance also marked the anniversary of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war which cost the lives of 2,700 Israelis and which continues to haunt the Jewish state.
While Israel eventually pushed back the Syrian and Egyptian forces, the 19-day war broke the myth of Israel’s military strength.
Declassified documents published on Wednesday highlighted just how much Israel had underestimated the strength of its Arab foes amid deep divisions among its military and political establishment.