The mixed Arab-Jewish city of Akko has burned in recent nights with rioting, property destruction and mob violence – both Jews against Arabs and Arabs against Jews – and shows no sign of letting up. Akko resident Omer Cohen gives his perspective on the ongoing situation.
Signs of a night of rage are still scattered on the streets of Akko, on the streets of my city. On the streets where I walk my children to kindergarten and school. Burned vehicles, fallen signs, cracked sidewalks, a shattered bus stop.
At six in the morning, the trash cans were still burning. By eight, there are already people working hard to get life back to normal. Israel Railways workers are repairing the traffic light, burned in the night’s riots, to allow travel north to Nahariya.
City workers dispose of the garbage and put the signs back in place, washing the streets of the burnt plastic that is stuck to the sidewalks. They strong smell that fills the streets can't be washed away. It will fade with time.
A camera crew stands next to a burned car, transmitting to the world in English what is happening on our streets. I think about the footage of the riots that broke out in the United States after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer. Here, we have a [Jewish] teacher who went out to check that his students were safe and uninvolved in the riots, and is now lying anesthetized and breathing through a respirator in the hospital [after being beaten by a mob of Arab men].
As I looked then, at them, from a distance, this is how they look at us now. Trying to decipher this mechanism of self-destruction that causes humans to behave this way.
On the street corners, people gather to talk about their experiences, about last night and how things came to this. "It must not be allowed to happen again," and "who knows what will happen next?"
In the grocery store, the cashier sits alone, peeking every few minutes through the doorway to see what is happening on the street. An older woman in her third floor window takes down her laundry, it has to be washed again.
I once read that the olfactory bulb, the area in the brain that processes the sense of smell, is linked to the amygdala and hippocampus, the areas that process emotions and memories.
This is why odors evoke more memories than any other sense. This is called the “Proust Phenomenon,” named after the author Marcel Proust, who described in his book, In Search of Lost Time, how the smell of a cookie dipped in tea evokes his childhood memories.
This morning stinks. The strong smell of burnt plastic flooded the house, even though all the windows were closed. The smell of violence, tear gas and sweat.
We did not send the children to school today. It is an attempt to protect them from the scars left on the street, so as to not scar their childhood memories. We want then to be able to go to the playground again without thinking every time about the burned car standing on the street corner. So they will not accidentally find a gas grenade on the ground near the playground. Maybe if we leave those nightly memories dimmed, we can recover from them.