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For Israel's Arab Citizens, Isolation and Exclusion

Ahmad and Fatina Zubeidat, Arab citizens of Israel, were not allowed to move into a Jewish community on state land. (By Scott Wilson -- The Washington Post)

"It only adds hatred," said Rifat Iliatim, 39, an Arab resident of Lod who sells horses for a living. "All our lives we lived together and there was respect on both sides. Do they want this part of Israel to be like Jerusalem or Gaza where Jews and Arabs are separate?"


Acre is a city of 52,000 Arab and Jewish citizens, many living in mixed neighborhoods along a sweep of Mediterranean coast.

Arabs dominate the seaside Old City, a U.N. World Heritage Site of crenellated stone walls possessed over the centuries by Greeks, Egyptians and Crusader kings. A single crowded high school just outside the ancient walls serves the entire Arab population, 27 percent of Acre's total. The city's five mosques, including el-Jazzar, the second largest in Israel and the territories after al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, are also concentrated in the area.

Jews live in the newer, outlying neighborhoods that ring the Old City. For more than two decades, Jews rising into the middle class left the older neighborhoods and Arabs filled in behind them.

"This is a mixed city and that's a fact," said Ohad Segev, Acre's Jewish director general, who believes the two groups should mix as little as possible. "Just as I wouldn't allow a yeshiva to open in the Old City, I wouldn't allow a mosque to open in the new one."

In the past year, conflict between Arabs and Jews -- over business hours, the right to open mosques, and an increasing Jewish presence in Arab-majority areas -- has flashed through neighborhoods running between the two largely ethnically distinct parts of the city.

Yeshiva Hesder-Acco is dwarfed by decrepit apartment buildings with laundry hanging from balconies. Once populated by new Jewish immigrants, the apartments are filled now by Arabs. Young girls walk the streets in head scarves. Arab boys play soccer on the asphalt court next to the yeshiva.

"It's just background noise, part of the scenery," said Mordechai Behar, a 22-year-old yeshiva student, referring to his Arab neighbors. "We try not to interact with them."

Yossi Stern, a 35-year-old rabbi, runs the yeshiva with a bustling energy. He arrived in 2001 from the West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh, one of the earliest and most radical in the territories, where he was a teacher.

His move reflected a shift in his focus from settling the West Bank to promoting a larger and more politically aware Jewish majority within Israel's original boundaries. He has grown the yeshiva from 20 to 120 students since then.

"Inside the Green Line, people have not awakened to their role of the last 100 years," Stern said, referring to the 1949 armistice line that marked Israel's boundary until it seized the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war. "If we fall asleep here, we will wake up to an Arab majority."

His students volunteer in public schools and direct tours of the Old City, where a state-run development company is buying Arab property and selling it to Jewish businessmen.

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