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Palestinian citizens of Israel brace for extremist attacks as incitement spreads

Palestinians are on high alert with several communities warning of reprisal attacks as some right-wing groups call for the creation of militias
Israeli police search Palestinians amid heightened security in the Old City of Jerusalem, following an unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israel, 7 October (AP)
Israeli police search Palestinians amid heightened security in the Old City of Jerusalem, following an unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israel, 7 October 2023 (AP)

Palestinian citizens of Israel say they are bracing for reprisal attacks from ultranationalist Israelis, as right-wing Israeli groups call on youths to mobilise in the wake of Saturday's shock assault by Hamas

The predominantly Palestinian city of Rahat, some 60km south of Jerusalem, said it had established an emergency committee to deal with potential attacks from extremist Israeli groups.

"We appeal to citizens not to leave the city except for necessity due to an incitement campaign," Atta Abu Madigham, the mayor of Rahat, said in a statement. 

The remarks came hours after Saturday's unprecedented assault on Israel, which saw Palestinian fighters from Gaza fire thousands of rockets and storm into Israel by land, air and sea.

At least 250 Israelis have been killed and at least 1,100 others wounded, according to Israeli officials, with Hamas saying it had captured dozens of soldiers and civilians and taken them to Gaza.

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On Sunday morning, Israeli forces were battling Palestinian fighters in seven locations within Israel and conducting air strikes on Gaza. Some 250 Palestinians have been killed in the bombing.

In a sign of the distrust between Jewish Israelis and the country's Palestinian citizens, Israeli ministers were asked by the Shin Bet intelligence service to avoid travelling on roads near Arab communities, according to the public broadcaster Kan.

Authorities in Rahat told Palestinian residents that the council would hold an emergency session to discuss the security situation and announced the suspension of all schools.

Khaled Ghurra, the head of Rahat's local council, urged the Palestinian community to exercise caution and said they could face provocations from far-right Israelis. 

"Whoever can avoid going out to Jewish towns, even for work, should avoid doing so to prevent harm that may befall them," Ghurra warned. 

'Whoever can avoid going out to Jewish towns, even for work, should avoid doing so to prevent harm that may befall them'

Khaled Ghurra, Rahat local council

Palestinian citizens of Israel comprise about 20 percent of the country's 9.7 million population. They are the descendants of the native population, which was violently displaced by Zionist militias during the creation of Israel in 1948.

For decades, they have suffered under discriminatory laws and practices imposed by the Israeli state.

In May 2021, tensions over repeated Israeli raids on Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, among other violations, sparked a war in Gaza and riots in mixed Palestinian-Jewish cities across Israel. Far-right Israeli youths, many from illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, mobilised online and roamed the streets, looking for Palestinians to attack.

In the hours after Saturday's assault, MEE saw messages urging right-wing Jewish communities in Israel to form militias.

"We are gathering volunteers for defence, guarding, and civil assistance in the mixed cities, the Negev and the Galilee, in each location as per the need, and in coordination with the security forces," one message said.

Potential recruits were also urged to use Google Forms to register their availability to create a militia.

Israeli groups have been collecting information on volunteers willing to form militias (Middle East Eye)

Meanwhile, members of the Hilltop Youth, an extremist settler group active in attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank, were urged via WhatsApp to keep their weapons with them at all times. 

A Palestinian citizen of Israel, who declined to be named, showed Middle East Eye a message she had been forwarded by concerned Jewish friends and neighbours, who urged her to remain safe.

The message, passed between ultranationalists, read: "Dear Jewish people, the time has arrived to take action against the other side. Kidnap Arabs, murder without fear. You see an Arab in the street? Chuck him in the car, abuse him and don’t forget to photograph him and post it.

"Children, women and adults are all relevant. Without mercy, every Arab regardless of sex and age you should immediately kidnap and kill. Burn businesses that employ Arabs, and post those businesses online to shame them and work against them."

In Jerusalem on Saturday night, Jewish Israelis concerned about the welfare of their Palestinian neighbours toured the city in groups, guarding against ultranationalist attacks.

'Zero faith in Israeli governance'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is the most right-wing in Israel's history. It contains powerful far-right ultranationalist figures including Ben Gvir, the national security minister, and Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister.

Bilal, a 25-year-old Palestinian living in Israel, said the fear amongst Palestinians in Jerusalem was palpable, with many dreading the coming hours and days.

"We are highly concerned about any reprisals, especially for Palestinians living under the occupation rule," he told MEE.

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"We also have zero faith that the occupational forces will provide us with any protection although we are considered their subjects and citizens in Jerusalem."

Describing Saturday's events as "crazy", Bilal warned that extremists within the Israeli government "might encourage wrongful acts against the Palestinian citizens" of Israel. 

Meanwhile, in the mixed Palestinian-Jewish city of Jaffa, there were reports of an "arrest campaign" against Palestinians. 

"Obviously these baseless charges are to pre-emptively empty the streets of Palestinians, in fear of an uprising," prominent Palestinian activist Mohammed El-Kurd wrote on Twitter.

During the tumultuous events of 2021, many Palestinian citizens of Israel came out in large numbers in Palestinian cities and towns in Israel to reject Israel's attacks on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip.

Following the protests, Jewish ultra-nationalists, some of whom were armed, roamed the streets of the mixed Palestinian-Jewish city of Lod, attacking places of worship and Palestinian-owned businesses. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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