In the ancient port city of Jaffa, a group of self-proclaimed radicals is working on an interfaith uprising, climbing a narrow stone staircase in preparation. In the midst of escalating tensions and aggressive rhetoric following the Hamas attack on October 7, this small but growing group has formed an unofficial civil guard, attempting to prevent the kind of urban unrest that accompanied previous rounds of conflict between Israel and Gaza.

Their predominantly left-wing movement is marginal, a relative outlier in a country where ethnic and territorial disputes are reaching new heights. Yet on a recent humid night, their task was to bring together Israeli Arabs and Jews and spread adhesive messages of unity amid the ongoing violence.

"We are trying to send a signal—not just to the local community but to the entire world—that there are people who want to come together and reject the violence we are witnessing," said Amir Badran, an Arab and a local council member of the "We Are the City" party, and one of the leaders of the group. "I lay awake at night worrying that a ground incursion could lead to even more street unrest, as we have seen before."

Sitting on a dimly lit rooftop terrace above a hummus café, he joined two dozen core members of the group to paste posters of their cause throughout the neighborhood. The posters are in both Hebrew and Arabic and include a QR code inviting people to join the movement.

They know their voice represents a tiny minority. They've been surprised by the degree of emerging support, with WhatsApp groups attracting 3,000 participants, 100 of whom have undergone some form of training from fellow group members with different experiences.

They've taken on a range of tasks: escorting both Arabs and Jewish Israelis who fear traveling to other areas, delivering supplies to communities displaced by the recent conflict, and planning to send volunteers to document and even mediate in case of significant unrest.

The roots of this civil guard trace back to the events of May 2021 when violence in Jerusalem and rocket attacks from Gaza spilled over into Jaffa and other places, resulting in riots, looting, and arson.

Jaffa is one of Israel's "mixed cities," where Arabs make up 37% of the population. Everyone in the group asserts that the local residents mostly get along, and the violence two years ago was carried out by far-right and extremist elements from other areas.

This strife exposed that "relations between Arabs and Jews here were very fragile," said Omar Sixik, an Arab community leader who previously headed a local Arab-Jewish theater. While it saddens him, it also led to "real dialogue and real friendship between Arabs and Jews." It was the "first time when we felt a very warm closeness, because each side expressed their fears to each other," and "we became very good friends, accepting each other" into their homes.

These were the beginnings of a civil guard that was officially formed two weeks ago as part of a broader effort to combat the growing suspicions, prejudices, and hatred in the region.

Reflecting the demographic makeup of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the majority here are Jewish. However, unlike the broader Israeli population, where populism prevails and the government is the most right-wing in the country's history, the views among the group vary from center-left to openly communist.

Most of them see themselves as allies who need to protect their Arab neighbors in danger. However, few here delude themselves into thinking that their worldview is anywhere close to breaking into the Israeli mainstream, where public opinion appears to have only hardened after the October 7 attacks.

Meital Pinto, a 46-year-old law professor specializing in the protection of the Arabic language, said she finds the nighttime campaign so divisive among friends and family that she hasn't even told her husband she's here.

"People tell me, 'You have to be a realist, you're dreaming of peace, you're dreaming of cooperation between Arabs and Jews, but you're not a realist,'" she said, affixing a sticker to a lamppost. "People have simply lost faith."

The instigator of the evening is 23-year-old Yeheli Sialik, an Israeli of Jewish descent who grew up in a "traditional family" but now calls himself a communist and an "anti-Zionist." He says helping Arabs overcome the institutionalized prejudices they face in Israel is a priority for the civil guard.

The sense of anti-Arab discrimination has only intensified with the change of government away from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And after the attacks, human rights groups argue that Israeli authorities have undermined freedom of speech, viewing many expressions of Palestinian solidarity as incitement.