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Recent Riots Highlight Frustrations of Arab Israelis

Clashes in the Mediterranean port city of Acre this month highlighted tensions between Jews and Arabs who are citizens of Israel. If Israeli Palestinian negotiations succeed, there will be a Palestinian state ideally in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Arabs there will be governed by Arabs. For more than a million Arab citizens of Israel however, the future involves a battle against discrimination. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Acre.

The ancient city of Acre in northern Israel has weathered many conflicts through the millennia. It was conquered by Assyrians, Romans, Crusaders, and Turks. In 1948, at the end of the British Mandate, Israelis captured the city, forcing thousands of Arab residents to flee.

Recent decades have seen peace, with Jews, the majority, co-existing with an Arab minority.

But coexistence was shattered earlier this month when Jews and Arabs clashed.

It began at this intersection where Jewish residents chased an Arab man who drove his car with the stereo blaring through this Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur - the most solemn Jewish holiday.

Rumors that the man was killed brought hundreds of Arab youths in the middle of the night.

"At around 1:30 people wearing masks, faces covered, arrived and they started turning the cars over, breaking windows, and throwing stones," a Jewish resident said. "They damaged hundreds of cars. My mother and father-in-law, they were scared to death when hundreds of Arabs surrounded the house. They were yelling Allahu Akbar on Yom Kippur, our holiest day."

Now, damaged storefronts are repaired, and soldiers patrol the streets.

But fear remains. And tourists no longer come to Acre in their usual numbers.

This Arab souvenir vendor says he has not sold a thing for days. He says the clashes have added to tensions over plans to gentrify the waterfront.

"What has been happening in Acre is that the Israelis want the Arabs out," the vendor said. "They want every Arab out of Acre in order to bring Israelis and to bring Israeli investors."

Arabs here are Israeli citizens. They pay taxes and have access to public health. But community activists like Sami Hawari say Arab Israelis continue to suffer discrimination in city services, education, and housing,

"The fa├žade of coexistence in this city between Arabs and Jews," Hawari said. "It's false advertising and I believe that there's a lot of conflict between Arabs and Jews, that the municipality and other authorities are covering and trying to make it [seem like] a 'beautiful life' etcetera."

Virtually all Arabs interviewed said they would never move to a newly independent Palestinian state. In Israel, they enjoy democracy and economic opportunities. They are here to stay.

But days after the riots, anger still runs deep - especially after some Jewish factions called on Jews not to buy goods from Arabs.

Near the riot scene, a gathering of Jews and Muslims. They are calling for peace.

"There is sort of the reality that it will never change," a Jewish rally attendee said. "[Both] people live in the place and I can't see them going out of the place. So even if there will be two states, I believe that Arabs will live in Jewish places as well and we'll have to both learn how to make it happen."

Addressing that question will be a tough challenge for Israeli leaders, who learned a new lesson - in Acre - on just how fragile coexistence within Israel is.