Israel has arrested two Jewish suspects after three Arabs were beaten by a mob on Haifa beach this week following questions about their ethnicity.
The three victims, a doctor from Tel Aviv, a 28-year-old nurse and a 20-year-old friend of theirs, were approached on the beach and questioned about their Arab backgrounds before a group of ten men began to assault them.
“We were sitting on the beach for about half an hour when a Jewish man walked up to us and asked if we were Arabs. We said ‘yes, what do you want?’ And he just left. We thought that he might be drunk. The man returned shortly, this time accompanied by many others," the victims said, according to local media reports.
One of the victims, named only as 'M', said the men shouted at them to not come to the beach before attacking them.
"They came over with chains, sticks and knives. There were about eight of them. They started hitting us without mercy," he told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
All three men are from Shfaram, an Arab city in the north of Israel. They were taken to hospital for treatment on head injuries after the attack.
“How can someone ask someone what they are and then beat them?” 'M' continued. “Are we not allowed to be here because we’re Arabs? This is a public place and all Israelis are allowed. I was born here in Haifa.”
A judge has ordered the first suspect be released and placed under house arrest. The second suspect was set to face a judge on Sunday.
Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab Joint List party, said the incident was connected to the recent passing of a controversial nation-state bill by the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The hidden clause in the nation-state law – attacks on Arabs based on racism. These are not fringe elements, but a reality under the auspices of government incitement policy,” he wrote.
Hardline sections of Israeli society are becoming emboldened by the policies of the government, viewed as the most right-wing in Israel's history. In the West Bank, experts and officials have warned that "price tag" attacks are on the rise against Palestinians and their property. "Price tag" attacks are carried out by Jewish extremists who try to damage, desecrate or destroy Palestinian property in a bid to strike fear into the people they seek to remove from the West Bank.
Extremist Jewish settlers, with the help of successive Israeli governments, have created a network of outposts in the West Bank that many believe will prevent any future contiguous Palestinian state. The population of settlers in the West Bank now numbers 400,000, according to official statistics.