Wadi Salib riots
The Wadi Salib riots were a series of street demonstrations and acts of vandalism in the Wadi Salib neighborhood of Haifa, Israel, in 1959, sparked by the shooting of a Moroccan Jewish immigrant by police officers. Demonstrators accused the police of ethnic discrimination against Mizrahi Jews.
Wadi Salib was a pre-1948 Palestinian Arab neighborhood in a predominantly Jewish city. In 1948, the Palestinians were displaced by advancing IDF troops. Mizrahi Jewish immigrants were later placed in the empty houses by the state. The neighborhood quickly became a neglected, over-populated slum. At the same time, Polish immigrants were also looking to settle within Israel. As the Mizrahim were living in poor and cramped conditions, the Israeli government began granting comfortable housing to Polish immigrants. This obvious act of discrimination against the Mizrahim to the benefit of Ashkenazi immigrants was one of the main catalysts to the riot. This event was the initial recognition of an existing ethnic discrimination among Israeli Jews.
In general, the Mizrahim's protest against discrimination and mistreatment collided with the Ashkenazim elite stance that the Mizrahim and Ashkenazim are two distinct communities. At the same time, the Mizrahim were viewed as passive recipients of the Ashkenazi who actively and directly contributed to the creation of the Zionist vision of a Jewish-national community in Israel.
More broadly, the riots of Wadi Salib were part of a larger movement organized by the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition, or Hakeshet Hademocratit Hamizrahit, whose aims were to bring the Mizrahim justice.
On July 9, 1959, police confronted a Wadi Salib resident, Yaakov Elkarif, who was drunk and disturbing the peace. When he began behaving wildly and hurling empty bottles at the policemen sent to arrest him, he was shot and seriously wounded. Residents surrounded the police vehicle and dragged an officer out of it. He was released only after shots were fired in the air.
Conflicting testimonies arose from the event. One witness claimed Elkarif provoked the officer through threats. Another witness offered that Elkarif -the stereotypical Moroccan immigrant, known for being violent and hot-tempered- was shot for his lack of standing in society. Lastly, another witness claimed that the officer fired with the intention of calming the situation which resulted in Elkarif's accidental death. Despite rumors, Elkarif did not die from the gunshot wounds.
The next morning, several hundred Wadi Salib residents marched to Hadar HaCarmel, smashing shop windows and setting cars on fire. Back in Wadi Salib, the anger targeted the clubhouses of Mapai and the Histadrut (the Israeli congress of trade unions). The police tried to disperse the demonstrators by force, leaving 13 policemen and 2 demonstrators wounded. 34 demonstrators were arrested.
On July 11, riots broke out in other places in Israel, particularly in large communities of North African immigrants, like Tiberias, Beersheba and Migdal HaEmek. It was claimed the riots were not completely spontaneous, and that a local movement, Likud Yotsei Tsfon-Africa (Union of North-African Immigrants) was involved in planning some of them. David Ben-Haroush, one of the movement's founders, was sent to prison. Ben-Haroush participated in the following elections while in jail, running on the Union's list, though it failed to cross the electoral threshold. The riots were reported internationally, prompting the King of Morocco to express concern for the plight of Israel's North African immigrants.
The Wadi Salib riots still resonate in Israeli society as a symptom of the social malaise in the early years of the state that led to clashes between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews.
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