During war many Haifa Arabs flee to West Bank cities, encounter humiliation, prefer to return to Katyushas. Hotels and restaurants hike up prices and residents harass women and girls. Palestinian Authority opens official investigation of issue. 'We will never again make donation or participate in demonstration for West Bank from now on,' said one Haifa Arab
From Bad to Worse
Several Arab families decided to act on Hizbullah Chief Hassan Nasrallah's "recommendation" and leave rocket-stricken Haifa during the war in south Lebanon. They traveled to Palestinian towns like Bethlehem and Ramallah, and even to east Jerusalem, but soon after decided they had rather return home and face the rocket menace. The reason: The bad treatment awarded to them in hotels, restaurants and stores, as well as ongoing harassments of their wives and daughters on the part of the local residents.
Ghani Abassi, married and a father of three daughters, decided to go with his family to Bethlehem and flee the Katyusha attacks. Abbasi traveled to the Palestinian town with some 10 other families from Haifa, who all chose to stay at local hotels. Unfortunately, this was when their true nightmare began.
"I waited for three days until I got a room. Then it turned out that the air conditioning wasn't working, and I was told that the reason was the high price of electricity. I decided that this wasn't that bad, because we felt we were among our brothers at the West Bank and were willing to endure the terrible heat, knowing we're safe and that our visit was also of financial help," Abbasi described to the website of the Israeli-Arab newspaper al-Sinara.
"However, the treatment we received was disgraceful and dreadful," he said. "We walked around town for a while, but the attitude we encountered on the part of the locals was horrible. The youngsters on the street started harassing our wives and daughters and used shocking expressions that I cannot even bring myself to pronounce," he said.
Another Haifa resident, who went with his family to Jerusalem to escape from the rocket threat, said that the local merchants blatantly took advantage of the situation and inflated the prices in stores. A bottle of mineral water that usually sells for about NIS 4, for instance, was being sold to the Haifa tourists for NIS 10.
'Even foreigners are respected there'
"They told us, 'you are worse than the Jews.' We heard expressions of joy over the fact we have fled our homes, and some even tried to attack us. We were disgusted and decided to return to Haifa," he said, stressing that he used to be a regular donor to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza.
According to him, after that day and the humiliation he experienced in Bethlehem, he does not plan on donating even one shekel. "We thought we are one nation and that what really hurts them, hurts us too. We went to demonstrations for them and we donated a lot of money to them because we thought they are our brothers and that is our obligation. But, what we found was exploitation and undeserving treatment toward someone supposedly from the same nation," he told.
The same resident added that he expected the families from Haifa and Nazareth to be warmly received in the West Bank towns, but what took place was the exact opposite. Today he speaks with regret about the two days he spent in Bethlehem.
"While touring in Ramallah, a few youngsters said to us, 'you are the same as, even worse than, the Jews.' We tried to understand why they were acting that way toward us, but they attacked us and a fight broke out. We are very sorry for what happened and we couldn't have expected such an unfit welcome from members of our nation whom we had respected and appreciated very much. But they didn't respect us at all, and saw as worse than the Jews. We are very sorry for what happened and that we drove all the way there to see the painful truth that they don't respect us there," said Ghani Abassi.
Abassi added that the restaurants jacked up prices for customers because they thought they were foreign 'tourists.' "Even foreigners are respected there, but we, their own brothers, felt like they don't respect us, and my friends and I asked why? Are we unworthy of the respect due to members of the same nation?"
Following such treatment, Abassi and his friends hurried back to the lap of the Katyushas and air raid sirens of Haifa. "'We will never again make a donation or participate in a demonstration for the West Bank from now on," said one of them.