10 June 2021, Two hotels attacked in Acre, Israel, during May 2021 riots

Jun Thu, 2021 Hotel Attacks

On 10 May 2021, Israel-Palestine tensions boiled over. They resulted in several days of heavy violence, including street riots, civil commotion, rockets fired at Israel by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Israeli airstrikes against those rocket positions and other targets.

Aside from the regional casualties and damages – which is beyond the scope of this briefing – multiple Arab communities in Israel rioted in cities such as Lod, Jerusalem, Haifa, Bat Yam, Tiberias, and Acre (aka, Akko or Akka). Jewish on Arab violence followed these riots. Collectively, the chaos included beatings, stabbings, shootings, and widespread property destruction via arson and vandalism.

The purpose of the riots was revenge for Israeli military action against Palestinian targets and to cause religious divisions in mixed Arab-Israeli neighborhoods. This latter action aimed to cause domestic strife to distract and destabilize Israel internally as it launched military operations against Hamas and like groups.

The Jerusalem Post says domestic violence was so widespread that Israeli police had to call up 10 companies of Border Police as reinforcements. Police arrested well over 1,000 Jewish and Muslim protesters.

In Acre, a 3,000-year-old port town and world-class tourist attraction, Arab rioters targeted scores of Jewish businesses, including two hotels: the Efendi Hotel and the Arabesque Arts and Residency Center.

Reuters says some local Arabs complained that outsiders caused most of the violence in places like Acre, suggesting agitators might have infiltrated and rallied other Arabs against Jewish businesses. Some reporting says the rioters were bused into places like Acre as locals would not organize and spearhead such sectarian violence.

Muslims, Jews, and Christians have lived together in Acre without significant hostilities for years on end. Coexistence and cooperation are embedded in the culture there, so the targeting of Jewish businesses and hotels in Acre came as a shock to many.

However, the Jerusalem Post recalls a 2008 incident when an Arab man apparently disrespected a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur, and locals attacked him. Some Arabs then called for revenge via mosque loudspeakers, and they attacked Jewish businesses. Jewish reprisals followed. In all, there were five days of sectarian rioting in this 2008 case. So, Arab-Israeli friction in Acre might be rare, but not unheard of.

The Efendi Hotel attack

On 11 May, rioters threw a Molotov cocktail at the Efendi Hotel, setting it alight. The Efendi is a 12-room boutique hotel in an intricately restored building referred to some as “the pearl in the crown of Akko.” The hotel’s owner also owns the famed Uri Buri restaurant that was also attacked.

Alerted to the attack, reports Israel 21 C, the hotel owner went to his property and, working with staff and neighborhood Arabs, evacuated hotel guests, including his wife and daughter. They had barricaded themselves in a restroom during the chaos. He and his makeshift team put the fire out with water hoses as the fire department would not deploy for fear of being attacked.

Several guests were reported injured, and one, Avi Har-Even, former head of the Israeli Space Agency, died of his injuries on 6 June, says the Jerusalem Post.

Regarding damages, the Efendi owner said, “Now the lobby is burned and smashed. Most of the ceiling paintings and the fresco are okay, but two ceilings are a little smoke damaged and must be restored. There will be a lot of work.”

The owner added, “My Muslim workers feel the same way I do: They want to get back to work as fast as possible. It will be an answer to the villains who want to destroy coexistence.”

The Arabesque Arts and Residency Center attack

The Arabesque Arts and Residency Center is a 300-year-old Ottoman building turned into a boutique hotel. It caters to writers, artists, and cultural tourists.

On the night of 11 May, reports Israel 21 C, rioters tried several times to assault the hotel, but Arab next-door neighbors, like family to the hotel owner, chased them away and sat vigil until 4:00 am. The hotel was full of guests that night, and staff had all guests locked down in their rooms as chaos reigned outside.

Then, after 12:00 am on 13 May, 50 youngsters ignored the hotel’s next-door neighbor sentinel and attacked the property, which was empty of guests at the time. The owner said it took the rioters 15 minutes to batter down the front door and 45 minutes to ransack it.

Regarding damages, “Pretty much everything was destroyed,” the hotel owner said. Photos of the hotel’s interior show smashed furniture, shattered glass, and broken potted plants. The owner said other damages included destroyed artwork, televisions, sinks, and the hotel’s piano. For unknown reasons, the rioters did not damage the hotel’s books and ceramic art.

The owner told Israel 21 C the attackers were “young men with raging hormones, people who are not the best students or don’t have great jobs, with not much to lose. Some may have been from outside Akko but whoever was directing them knew exactly which places to hit.”

He moreover said of the broader Arab-Israeli friction, “I feel we [both Arabs and Israelis] are all guilty for letting this thing happen, and we all have a role to play in making things better.”

In the aftermath, Arab neighbors consoled the hotel owner as he sat shiva, a week-long mourning period, and pictures on Twitter show them helping clean up the hotel in preparation to rebuild and get back to business in harmony with the neighborhood, says the Times of Israel and Israel 21 C.

Early estimates for beginning repairs and restoration are estimated at $100,000.

Takeaways

There are four takeaways. First, tactically, the hotel attacks were successful. The rioters effectively damaged both hotels – one by vandalism and the other by arson – shutting both down for extensive and time-consuming repairs. The arson tactics injured several guests and killed one, adding the element of lethality to the Efendi Hotel attack.

Second, strategically, so far, the hotel attacks appear to have failed. Owners of both establishments continue to believe in the multi-religious, peaceful coexistence culture of Acre, and their Arab neighbors seem to as well as evidenced by their helping their Jewish friends with security, crisis response, and crisis recovery.

Third, to date, the details on the hotel attacks reveal two main security lapses, one strategic and one property-specific: A) Not enough Israeli security forces deployed to protect small and medium-sized businesses, and, B) an apparent lack of a fire sprinkler system at the Efendi Hotel.

A) The Israeli government did not deploy enough security forces to protect small and medium-sized businesses in riot-impacted areas such as Acre. If it had, there would have been less violence and certainly less property damage at venues such as the Arabesque Arts and Residency Center. Here, the hotel’s informal security network of friendly Arab neighbors staved off multiple attacks on one night. The second night, the hotel’s strong front door served as a 15-minute delay for a mob of 50 youths breaking into and entering the premises. These were reasonably effective layers of security the government should have been able to compliment with a wider deployment of personnel, especially on night two of the riots.

As an aside, more effective government protection of businesses from terrorism, political violence, and the like in an increasingly unstable world is a primary concern of the insurance giant, Lloyd’s of London.

B) The Efendi Hotel seemingly did not have a fire sprinkler system installed. One was not reported as having been activated, and the owners and neighbors used water hoses to douse the flames. If the hotel did not have such a system, it might have been because of the historical nature of the building. Still, a sprinkler system would have obvious benefits in cases like these.

Fourth, financially, since both hotels were historically restored and extensively ornate buildings, repair costs will likely be in the low hundreds of thousands (USD) – as evidenced by the Arabesque Arts and Residency Center’s estimated repair costs. Losses from lack of guest revenues could be in the low tens of thousands of USD. If these hotels have something akin to civil commotion coverage from an insurance company or the Israeli government, then their economic burdens might be eased.

What comes next? This is one of the world’s most problematic regions, so it is difficult to say. For certain, however, the Israeli government will be conducting a thorough after-action analysis of all its operations to identify successes and failures. It always does, and Israel is excellent at applying lessons learned to security problems such as Acre.

These government actions, combined with the coexistence attitudes demonstrated by Acre’s hoteliers and their neighbors, can provide the foundation for a secure and prosperous business and tourist environment.

Hoteliers, however, need to add hotel threat intelligence, like that contained in Muir Analytics’ SecureHotel Threat Portal, to their existing security regimens to help spur creative solutions for today’s increasingly complex risk environment.

Muir Analytics runs the world’s largest, most sophisticated hotel violence database – the SecureHotel Threat Portal. Armed with this powerful intelligence, Muir can aid the hospitality sector with full-spectrum risk reduction advising and help hotels protect staff, guests, hotel buildings, brands, and revenues. Contact us for a consultation: 1-833-DATA-444.

Sources and further reading

Avi Har-Even, Defense Min. Prize winner, dies of Acre riots injuries,” Jerusalem Post, 6 June 2021.

Twitter, ISRAEL21C @ISRAEL21C, 28 May 2021.

Sadness turns to resolve and optimism after Acre violence,” Israel 21 C, 27 May 2018.

Acre: A model of Israeli coexistence struggles after racial riots,” Jerusalem Post, 20 May 2021.

Israel-Gaza: Israel and Hamas ‘close to ceasefire deal’,” BBC, 20 May 2021.

Israeli hotelier restaurateur to rebuild after Acre arson,” Israel 21 C, 20 May 2021.

Ancient Acre hotel ripped apart in hateful riots, Jerusalem Post, 17 May 2021.

A violent mob destroyed the oasis we created in Acre,” Times of Israel, 16 May 2021.

Twitter, Onedayatatime @talirs_ux, 16 May 2021, 5:30am.

Jewish, Arab riots leave dozens injured across the country,” Jerusalem Post, 14 May 2021.

Fear stalks streets of Israeli city where Jews and Arabs mixed freely,” Reuters, 13 May 2021.

Israel in chaos: 10 Border Police units called up to quell Arab-Jewish violence,” Jerusalem Post, 13 May 2021.

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