Wadi Salib Riots Begin
Wadi Salid in the 1950s. Photo: Amnon Bar-Tur

July 9, 1959

Riots break out in the impoverished Haifa neighborhood of Wadi Salib after police officers shoot resident Yaakov Elkarif during an attempt to arrest him for being drunk and disorderly. Witnesses dispute whether Elkarif provokes the police, but people surround the police vehicle and drag out an officer before shots are fired into the air to disperse the crowd.

The rioting is the first mass civil disturbance in modern Israel.

Wadi Salib was an Arab area until the War of Independence, when most of its residents fled. After the war, the government moved new immigrants, mostly Mizrahim from North Africa, into the vacant housing. Facing discrimination from the Ashkenazi establishment, the residents of Wadi Salib experience high rates of unemployment, poverty and crime. The resulting anger and frustration are unleashed by Elkarif’s shooting and false rumors the next day that he has died. Demonstrations July 10 inside and outside Wadi Salib escalate into window smashing and car burning. When police use force to break up the protests, 13 officers and two demonstrators are hurt, and 34 people are arrested.

On July 11 the rioting spreads to other Israeli cities, especially those with large Mizrahi populations, such as Tiberias and Be’er Sheva. The Union of North African Immigrants is accused of helping organize the protests, and one of its founders, David Ben-Haroush, is jailed.