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A Confiscated MemoryWadi Salib and Haifa's Lost Heritage$

Yfaat Weiss

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780231152266

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231152266.001.0001

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“The Neighbors Who Get Rich on Our Account”

(p.1) Prologue
A Confiscated Memory

Yfaat Weiss

, Avner Greenberg
Columbia University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This prologue describes the 1959 Wadi Salib riots in the city of Haifa in Israel. After the creation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948, the Arabs who inhabited Haifa fled. Their homes were then occupied by Mizrahi Jews—Jews who were born in Muslim-majority countries, mostly from Morocco. Unfortunately, their background made them a target for discrimination by local Israeli Jews. On 9 July 1959, police confronted a Wadi Salib resident, Ya’akov Akiva (Elkarif), who was drunk and disturbing the peace. Akiva resisted arrest and was shot at by Israeli police. For the Mizrahi Jews, Akiva’s shooting was the last straw. The first episode of the Wadi Salib riots began the following day, as approximately 150–200 people gathered in front of the Rambam synagogue, waving black flags and placards and calling for justice.

Keywords:   1959 Wadi Salib riots, Haifa, Wadi Salib, Israel, Morocco, Mizrahi Jews, discrimination

on the summer evening of july 9, 1959, crime squad sergeant Yisra’el Walk was on a routine patrol in the Haifa area, accompanied by the driver of the police van, Said Abu-Sa’ada, from the village of Usfia.1 Their patrol began at Shemen Beach and on their way back, toward ten at night, they paid a routine call at Ya’akov and Shalom Shitrit’s coffee bar at 85 Shivat Zion Street, known as the Aviv Café. In the midst of an exchange of words with Shalom Shitrit regarding the running of the business and particularly on the matter of the brothers’ application for a license to sell liquor, passersby entered the coffee shop, calling upon First Sergeant Walk to go out into the street. In the middle of the street lay a man struggling with a group of people who were trying in vain to remove him. Walk cleared the crowd, taking hold of the prostrate man’s arms in an attempt to take him off the street, but was repulsed by him. “In a Moroccan dialect,” Walk testified to the Public Commission of Inquiry Into the Events of Wadi Salib, the man, Ya’akov Akiva (Elkarif), said to him: “I have money more than Ben-Gurion. Give me a break, I have no one here and I don’t want to live.” Walk failed to persuade Akiva to accompany him. When the assembled crowd promised to take the man home, he relented.

As Walk continued on his patrol toward Hadar ha-Carmel and Mount Carmel, Akiva entered the coffee bar and asked for a glass of beer. The owner, Shalom Shitrit, refused to sell him beer. Akiva responded by grabbing an empty bottle, breaking it, and hurling it at a shelf full of bottles. At (p.2) this point the damage sustained by the café owner amounted to eight bottles of liquor and a few glasses. Akiva’s friend Avner Maman managed to take hold of him and began to drag him out of the coffee bar. At the exit Akiva grabbed a frying pan containing hot oil, poured it over Avner Deri, one of the patrons, and in so doing managed to topple the griller—“the hearth with the glowing embers”—as it is referred to in the police report. Maman and Akiva went out into the street and continued toward Wadi Salib Street. On the way, Akiva attempted to enter two further coffee bars in search of a drink, but Maman, so he claimed, dragged him off forcibly, saying to him “why go to prison, better come home.”

According to the report of the Public Commission of Inquiry Into the Events of Wadi Salib, Haim First, proprietor of the coffee bar on 7 Wadi Salib Street, noticed “a Moroccan person” and a few moments later was told by a woman passerby “that the man was breaking bottles in the café because he was not allowed to drink.” “He had better close the coffee bar,” she advised, “so that the man will not enter.” Isaac Weissler, owner of the coffee bar at 10 Wadi Salib Street, acted more promptly and, upon hearing that “there is a drunkard and they are coming to blows,” hastened to close his establishment. Haim First likewise did not linger. He lowered a shutter and took in three of the four tables that stood outside. In any case Akiva had no intention of entering his café. He merely passed it by. “He didn’t talk to me,” First reported, “he was walking with another man. I didn’t notice whether this man was supporting him, and they continued walking toward Iraq Street.” At that moment a police patrol vehicle passed by, driven by Ya’akov Hayek and commanded by Asher Goldenberg. It was on its way to place patrolmen Yitshak Getenyu, Natan Edelstein, Nehemia Hochman, Shlomo Hinga, and Karol Segal in their positions. First signaled to the patrol vehicle to stop. “Must we close our businesses because of one man?” First, a new immigrant from Transylvania, complained in Yiddish to First Sergeant Goldenberg, who was sitting in the patrol car, “we pay our taxes.” Goldenberg placated him, saying, “they’ve come to take the man away,” and First indicated the direction in which Maman and Akiva had gone.

Maman and Akiva meanwhile entered the coffee bar belonging to Shlomo Rozolio at 24 Wadi Salib Street. As the patrol car approached the establishment, Karol Segal recognized Ya’akov Akiva, whom he knew from the time he had served as a policeman in the criminal section, some three to four years previously. Then, Segal recalled, Akiva had been a “pimp of (p.3) prostitutes.” Akiva was sitting with his back to the entrance and to the police patrol vehicle, which now parked at the front of the building. Sergeant Goldenberg pointed in the direction of Akiva. Maman, sitting opposite Akiva, leaped toward the policemen. Sergeant Goldenberg said to him, “Not you, the other one.” Maman approached Goldenberg and said to him, “I promise I will take Akiva home safely; I’ll calm him down.” Goldenberg was unmoved and insisted that Akiva accompany him, “after what had happened.” Akiva rose to his feet, came out, and leaned on the patrol car, asking Sergeant Goldenberg, “What do you want?” Maman, as Hayek, the driver of the patrol vehicle, recalled, tried to persuade Akiva in Moroccan, saying to him, “Go back to your place, they will not take you.” Akiva said, “I’m not afraid, twenty policemen won’t take me. I want to die, but not alone.” Meanwhile, Hayek testified, “other people, Moroccan citizens known to Akiva, came up to him and tried to persuade him and move him away from the patrol vehicle.”

From this point onward events unfolded rapidly: Akiva jumped onto the bar counter, took hold of a full bottle, and smashed it. The policemen leaped from the patrol car, Akiva began throwing bottles at them, one after another, and hit, among other targets, the windshield of the patrol car. The policemen took cover behind the patrol vehicle, and then several shots were fired from Sergeant Goldenberg’s pistol through a hole in the windshield into the coffee bar where, at that moment, Akiva was standing some meter and a half to two meters from the door next to the bar. Further shots were fired from a different pistol. Akiva managed to say, “You are shooting at me, go on, shoot,” continued to throw bottles, and then collapsed. The shooting stopped. Akiva lay recumbent on the bar, a bleeding wound open on his left hip. “We lifted him up,” testified Hayek, “put him in the car, and immediately sped off in the direction of the hospital. We arrived at Rothschild Hospital and the policemen took him inside. I saw that he was still breathing.” “Could you and Constable Getenyu have arrested Akiva as he was exiting the coffee bar?” Constable Karol Segal, who fired the second round of shots, was asked in his cross examination. “I think that we would not have succeeded in taking him in by force,” he replied, “because he is a very strong, powerful, and tall man, and I and Getenyu are short. Compared to him we are like flies.”

At ten thirty that evening a detective squad car with a civilian registration, driven by Constable Eliyahu Ashraf and alongside him First Sergeant (p.4) Haim Melekh, reached the corner of Shivat Zion and Wadi Salib Streets. They came across a gathering of some 100–150 people who surrounded the car yelling, “Our brother has been killed by the police.” Ashraf testified that someone came running at him from the crowd, took hold of his shirt, tore it, and shouted: “You have killed our brother.” He remembers that they pushed and pulled him and people began throwing rocks at the car where Sergeant Melekh was seated. Melekh remembers that “the driver Ashraf began talking to them in the Moroccan language; they at first indeed began to ‘touch’ him as well, but the language apparently had an effect on them, and they began throwing rocks at the side on which I was sitting.” Once they had smashed the car’s windshield they manhandled First Sergeant Melekh, forcibly pulled him from the car, and threw him to the ground. At the same time, some of them set out to overturn the police car. In the midst of this turmoil, shots were heard and in the ensuing uproar Melekh managed to escape. Meanwhile Ashraf got out of the car, taking cover from objects that were about to be hurled at him.

That same evening, Constable Kalman Haimowitz and his wife found themselves in the area of the disturbances. Haimowitz remembers initially noticing the prostitute Fariha entering Rozolio’s coffee bar, intending to search for the patrolman in order to notify him of this. As this was happening, he heard the shots fired at Akiva and quickly sent his wife home to their apartment on 10 Wadi Salib Street while remaining on the street. He observed the crowd that formed around Melekh’s and Ashraf’s car. “The driver,” he testified, “did not get out of the car. People began talking to the driver in the Moroccan language, which I do not understand; the driver got out of the car and they began pelting it with rocks.” At that moment, a shot fired from the fourth floor of the building above the Aviv Café was heard. Three more shots were fired in the minutes thereafter, all from the pistol of a civilian employed as a guard at the National Bank with the aim of dispersing the “wild crowd.” One of the witnesses remembers that when the shots were fired from the fourth floor one of the people in the crowd shouted “Nazi” at the person firing. “He was around one meter sixty five tall and looked about twenty-six years old.” Haimowitz hurried to his apartment to get a pistol, returned to the scene of the event, stood in the middle of the street some three to five meters from the crowd, and fired one shot in the air. The people identified Haimowitz, the firer of the shot, as “the one with a nylon shirt.” They turned away from the police car and from (p.5) Melekh, who had meanwhile slipped away, and some of them immediately attacked Haimowitz. One of Haimowitz’s teeth was broken from the blows he received, but he managed to escape and ran toward Kibbutz Galuyot (Ingathering of exiles) Street. There he found Sergeant Melekh, and the two continued their flight until they came across a doctor in the street who helped them to telephone the police station and summon reinforcements. Patrol vehicles soon arrived on the scene, advancing along Independence Rise. “The policemen cleared the crowd around the car, Ashraf removed the car down Shivat Zion [Return to Zion] Street in the direction of Faisal Square.” At 11 that night Yissaskhar Shefi, commander of the Haifa police force, appeared on the scene where he was greeted by an agitated crowd shouting, “You have killed a man! You have injured a man! They are selling arms to the Germans!” According to the report of the Public Commission of Inquiry, “a host of complaints of discrimination and wrongdoing, accompanied at times by the hysterical screams of women,” was brought before Commander Shefi.

The first episode of the Wadi Salib riots began the following day. The tumult had subsided by the previous midnight, people returned home, and peace was restored to the Wadi. Early next morning, instructions were passed out in the neighborhood both by word of mouth and by means of “notes” calling upon residents to close the stores and to refrain from going to work. At seven in the morning some 150–200 people gathered at the Rambam synagogue in response to an appeal by the “Association of North African Immigrants.” David Ben-Harush initially addressed the crowd, and from there they set out on a demonstration beyond the confines of the neighborhood on their way to police headquarters. The demonstrators waved black flags and placards with slogans such as “Where is justice?” “The police have killed an innocent man!” “There is no law in the land,” and carried the national flag, its edges stained with blood—the blood of chickens, as the commission’s report stated. Commander Shefi and Commander Bendel came out to meet the demonstrators in an attempt to calm them. The commanders explained to a delegation of the demonstrators that Akiva was not dead but injured and invited the delegation to accompany them to the hospital and verify this with their own eyes. They explained that the police were investigating the circumstances of the incident and deeply regretted it. From this time until the afternoon hours, some relatively limited incidents occurred. Around midday, some eighty to a hundred people gathered at the (p.6) edge of the neighborhood, at Faisal Square, throwing rocks at patrol vehicles cruising the neighborhood. The crowd, noted the commission’s report, comprised mainly children, youngsters, and women, among them pregnant women. When these had dispersed, the car of the manager of the local National Bank branch on Kibbutz Galuyot Street was set on fire and later the coffee bars belonging to Shitrit and First were damaged. The rioters then destroyed the club of the General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel (Histadrut), from where they proceeded to the Labor Party’s (Mapai) club where they inflicted extensive damage.

From this stage onward, the situation escalated. At three in the afternoon a crowd of some two hundred demonstrators came across a police force and began throwing rocks at the policemen. The police began to arrest demonstrators and to advance gradually, while the demonstrators continued to pelt the policemen with rocks from the rooftops as they spread out through the streets of the neighborhood, some of which were narrow stairways, and in the alleys in the area. At this point Commander Shefi decided to try to calm the crowd, appealing to the people’s conscience. By five o’clock that afternoon the situation appeared to be generally calm, the crowd dispersed, and the stores opened, but forty minutes later reports reached the police of a demonstration involving hundreds of people that was making its way toward Hadar ha-Carmel. While the police were sending reinforcements to the downtown area, two groups emerged from Wadi Salib in the direction of Hadar ha-Carmel, one running along Sokolov Street to Herzl Street and back along Yehiel Street, and the second along Yehiel Street to Syrkin Street, from there on to Shapira Street and back again. Each group numbered twenty-five to thirty people who smashed shop windows, damaged property, and quickly dispersed. At eight o’clock that evening some fifty people again tried to reach Herzl Street, but the police headed them off in time and they retreated to Wadi Salib while throwing stones. At eight thirty in the evening the incidents ceased. The tally of bodily harm came to thirteen injured policemen, two of them in serious condition, and damage to property estimated at twenty-five thousand liras. The police arrested thirtyfour suspects, among them ten with a criminal record. Most were released the next day on personal surety with the aim of calming the tension.2 A manifesto distributed that evening signed by David Ben-Harush expressed regret at the incidents and appealed for calm. A different manifesto distributed the same day stated: “Jews of North Africa, this past day has etched on (p.7) our memory what lies in store for us in future from these neighbors who get rich on our account and then move into luxurious dwellings in Hadar ha-Carmel and into comfortable projects.”3

As part of their efforts to placate the delegation of demonstrators, Commanders Shefi and Bendel expressed regret at the injury to Akiva and promised that a police investigation of the event would be conducted. And, indeed, an internal police inquiry was conducted over the following days. It exonerated Sergeant Goldenberg of blame. His shots, the committee concluded, had hit the inner rear wall of the coffee shop and the refrigerator at a height of ninety-centimeters, had thus been fired in different directions, and it followed from this that he had not attempted to harm Akiva and had not aimed his pistol at him. “Sergeant Goldenberg,” the report asserted, “was, under the circumstances, entitled to fire warning shots as a means of deterring Ya’akov Akiva from hurling further bottles, but in so doing it would have been preferable had he fired into the air, actually toward the sky, rather than into the coffee bar, as he could have hit Ya’akov or the proprietor of the café.” It was the policeman Karol Segal, the commission determined, who had fired two shots, one of which had hit Ya’akov Akiva. These shots were found to be unjustified, “both from the legal and the professional aspects.” Segal had acted without receiving instructions to open fire, the commission concluded, and there had been no justification whatever to try and hit Akiva in the leg, since he had had been “alone” and not “in possession of a firearm.” The commission therefore recommended arraigning Goldberg before a disciplinary forum and bringing Segal before a civil court.

The doctors were of the opinion that Akiva’s condition at the time was too severe to enable him to testify. He was kept in Rothschild Hospital, suffering from a wound in his left side, damage to the large intestine and spine, and with a foreign body lodged in the spinal canal. Regarding the further event, the police commission concluded that no legal action should be taken against Constable Haimowitz, since “he had shown initiative and alertness even though he had not been on duty” and had played a part in rescuing Sergeant Melekh. The shots fired by the civilian from the fourth floor were likewise found to have been justified. “He who begins shooting at Mohammed will end up shooting at Rahamim,” wrote Uri Avnery in his weekly Ha-olam ha-zeh. “He who incarcerates and exiles Suleiman without trial will end up incarcerating and exiling Nissim. He who today spits at Fatma will tomorrow spit at Mazal. What happened yesterday in Wadi Nisnas must of (p.8) necessity happen today in Wadi Salib,” wrote Avnery, expressing an opinion held by a minority of one at the time.4 “Shots fired at a drunkard,” Member of Knesset Aryeh Ben-Eliezer of the revisionist Herut Party teased the establishment, “we must admit that life in our society is not full of drunkards, nor full of rioters. If it is indeed necessary to shoot a drunkard on the rampage, I can imagine how many victims there would be every day and every night among nations in which drunkenness is an integral part of social life.”5


(1.) This chapter relies entirely upon the “Minutes of the Government Commission of Inquiry Into the Events at Wadi Salib” (in Hebrew), State Archive, doc. 7253/4.

(2.) Haaretz, August 17, 1959.

(3.) A completely different manifesto was published in the weekly Ha-olam hazeh, stating: “Our blood will not be shed with impunity. We shall ascend to our neighbors-exploiters in Hadar ha-Carmel. We see them at night, in the lighted windows, as we search for a place to sleep in stairways and in dark cellars, and during the day wander about in pain and hunger to find a day of public work—let us rise up against them!” See S. Cohen, “Black Thursday” (in Hebrew), Ha-olam ha-zeh 1137, July 15, 1959, pp. 4–5.

(4.) Uri Avnery, “The Revolt of the Moroccans” (in Hebrew), Ha-olam ha-zeh 1137, July 15, 1959, p. 3.

(5.) Knesset Session 669, July 13, 1959, Debate on the Government’s Statement on the Matter of Haifa, p. 31.