For nearly an entire week in early August, it felt as if Jaffa was teetering on the edge. Enraged over the shooting death of 22-year-old Mahdi Sa’adi at the hands of an Israeli police officer, hundreds of Arab youth hit the streets for several days of spontaneous demonstrations on one of the ancient port city’s main thoroughfares.
Mainstream media ran a story most Israelis have become desensitized to, portraying the youth as Arab rioters burning trashcans, smashing car and storefront windows, blocking roads, and throwing stones at security forces.
The killing catalyzed the city’s youth — most of them from its poorest neighborhoods — to protest years of firsthand police brutality and a growing sense of disillusionment over any potential for change. The headlines missed the real story: the Arab residents of Jaffa saw Mahdi’s death not as a random killing resulting in a confrontation gone wrong — they saw it as murder.
Mahdi Sa’adi was killed in the early hours of July 30 when police were called to respond to a shooting an incident on Yefet Street, in the heart of Jaffa’s mostly-Palestinian Ajami neighborhood. Sa’adi and a friend, Suleiman, were reportedly driving on a motorcycle in the area. Suspecting that the two were somehow involved in the shooting, police attempted to apprehend them. A chase ensued. Mahdi was reportedly shot between four and six times in his upper body on one of Jaffa’s backstreets, not far from Army Radio station. A single bullet hit Suleiman, severely wounding him.
At around noon the following day, a few dozen Arab youth gathered around Haj Kahil Square and began burning tires and throwing stones at police, sounding the opening salvo of a week-long standoff between a small group of protesters and large numbers of riot police stationed along Yefet Street, which was immediately sealed off.
“What happened that day was extraordinary,” recalls Abed Abu Shehada, a local activist and a member of Jaffa’s Islamic Council. “We haven’t seen young people take to the streets spontaneously since the first days of the Second Intifada in 2000. To do so requires a certain political culture that I didn’t even know existed.”
Minor clashes continued throughout the day and into the night. News outlets sent out spurts of push notifications, effectually tying the confrontations to clashes at the Temple Mount that had broken out a week prior. For the average Israeli, the headlines only reaffirmed...Read More