Protective Edge has exposed the complicated position of Israeli Arabs in the country. Mida investigates where we can go from here.
“The violence we’ve experienced lately has escalated both in scope but mostly the type of victim”, a senior Border Guard officer told Mida regarding security incidents involving Israeli Arabs · Lately, these have changed from security personnel to innocent civilians · Jerusalem residents, meanwhile, suffer from regular stone throwing attacks · Is this the harbinger of the collapse of the citizenship project of Israeli Arabs?
Ever since Protective Edge began, Israeli Arabs in general and Arab Knesset Members in particular have increasingly openly identified with Hamas. Hamas has of course endorsed this phenomenon, praising Arab Members of Knesset who refuse to identify with the State of Israel in any way, shape or form. The latter, meanwhile, are becoming even more strident, even boycotting the swearing in of incoming President Reuven Rivlin.
Hanin Zoabi’s actions were singled out for particular criticism; she was even barred from the Knesset for her statements. However, she is no more extreme than MK Ahmed Tibi who compared Protective Edge to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and MK Basel Ghattas who incites against Arabs enlisting in the IDF or national service.
During Protective Edge, Israeli Arabs held “popular” demonstrations against the fighting in Gaza, demonstrations which often turn into rallies in support of Islamist terrorism. Not only PLO flags but also the Islamist green flag are common at such rallies. At demonstrations at Akko and Nazareth “against Israeli aggression in Gaza”, flags of the mass-murdering ISIS were even flown.
A New Type of Violence
“The violence we’ve experienced lately has escalated both in scope but mostly the type of victim”, a senior Border Guard officer told ‘Mida’. “If in the past the disturbances would take place within Arab neighborhoods and only against security forces, today the targets are the Jewish civilians who are having difficulty living normally in the face of the attacks.”
Alongside the more newsworthy violence against civilians one can add widespread ecological and property damage. It’s not yet possible to determine if the wave of fires in the Jerusalem area in the beginning of July were the result of nationalistically motivated arson. However, the huge fire which engulfed the haylofts of Kibbutz Mizra shows clearer signs of deliberate arson. The damages are estimated at 1.5 million NIS.
“The stone throwing incidents have occurred from the north of the country to the south, but the center of violent disturbances is Jerusalem,” the officer said. Indeed, Jerusalemites suffer on a daily basis from stone throwing and fireworks aimed at houses and cars, as covered in the past by ‘Mida’. Many of the female students living in the dorms of Hebrew U’s Mount Scopus campus stated that they are afraid to go out at night because of the increasing physical and sexual violence committed by Arabs from neighboring Issawiya and move about the French Hill neighborhood.
Violent outburst in Jerusalem, July 25, 2014
The Temple Mount is in Their Hands
Things have gotten even worse since Protective Edge. Thus, a few weeks ago, a mob violently attacked the Israeli Police station on the Temple Mount, vandalizing the station and stealing equipment. Officers stationed on the Mount asked for approval to deal with the event from the higher-ups. They did not receive it.
The Border Guard officer described the sad situation: “when an officer arrests a rioter, he knows that the rioter will be let out of the station before he is, because the officer will have to stay at the station and fill out a report. East Jerusalem Arabs are more afraid of the traffic police than the Border Guard, because in contrast to tickets for moving violations, nationalist crimes won’t hit result in a fine.”
The Jerusalem Light Rail Line has also seen extensive and ongoing destruction of stations, cables and tracks. Rioters in Shouafat and Beit Hanina destroyed train stations and regularly pelted the train with rocks, seriously endangering passengers and causing further damage to the rail line. Earlier in the week, some residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv demonstrated in protest at what appeared to be the powerlessness of the Police in enforcing law and order.
A Pessimistic Right VS. A Conflict-Focused Left
In spite of recent events, many on the Israeli Left continue to believe that the State of Israel can revive the “Israeli identity” of its Arab minority by improving their living conditions and signing a peace treaty with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. But the well-worn non-Zionist slogan of a “State of All Its Citizens” no longer holds as much appeal.
In a talk with ‘Mida’, CEO of Peace Now Yariv Oppenheimer said that “only the end of the conflict and the end of the occupation will allow Israeli Arabs to form a new Israeli identity […] if Israeli society ceases to see the Palestinians as the enemy then it will be much easier for us to see Israeli Arabs as part of Israeli society.” Oppenheimer described the situation of Israeli Arabs as one of almost impossible duality: “On the one hand they want to be a significant part of Israeli society, but on the other hand they are also actively excluded from that society, as well as having national and family ties with Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza.”
According to Oppenheimer, alongside a solution to the conflict, Israel must act against “institutional and societal discrimination.” According to him: “I don’t know any Israeli Arab who hasn’t been humiliated or discriminated against at least once in his life and many have experienced it more than once […] this reality is certain to cause ferment.” In addition, in his opinion the present disturbances are fanned by a distorted representation of Israeli Arabs in the media and the government: “If an Arab Knesset Member writes an op-ed, will we pay it any attention? We need to ask ourselves if we are attentive to this public or even take it into consideration.”
Professor Arnon Soffer of Haifa University, one of the first to define the Israeli Arabs as a “demographic problem”, argues that Oppenheimer’s conception is “incredibly naïve.” In a talk with ‘Mida’, he argued that “The Arabs of Israel will struggle against us even if a Palestinian State is established, because there were always pressures to continue and expand eastwards.”
That said, Soffer agrees with Oppenheimer that “Israeli Arabs have empathy for the West Bank and Gaza.” According to him, “the Palestinians are one people. It makes no difference if he lives in Umm el-Fahm, Jenin, Hebron or Gaza. Whoever ignores this – that’s their problem […] for our part, we need to make sure it does not become a strategic threat.”
Contrary to Oppenheimer, Soffer doesn’t believe this hostility can be resolved, arguing that “money can moderate hostility but it doesn’t eliminate it. So Israeli Arabs need to feel good about living in Israel and on the other side of it we need a large security force to protect us. There are no magical solutions.”
Are Israeli Christians Offering A Third Way?
In contrast to the determinism of Professor Soffer, members of the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum, whose activity has been extensively covered in ‘Mida’, believe that the state of Israel can fully integrate the group categorized as Israeli Arabs – but they can only start to do so by not calling them ‘Arabs’.
Last week, the Forum held a demonstration in support of the IDF, protesting the ethnic cleansing of Christians from Syria and Iraq. According to Forum Spokesman Shadi Khalul, pro-Israel Christians are a silent majority waiting for the government to give them an opportunity. Per Khalul, “The Government of Israel needs to recognize the Aramean and Christian nation. Only this way can people have the option not identify as Arabs and then you’ll see who’s in the majority and who’s in the minority.”
Khalul accuses Israel of indifference: “You can’t continue to close your eyes and think everyone’s the same and everyone doesn’t like Jews. We love the Jews, we want a partnership with Jews, we love the state and we will defend it with our lives because we have no other country. The government needs to get it together and help their allies with the ‘carrot and stick’ approach: it needs to embrace friends while fighting enemies who declare war.”
While the Forum is advancing among Christians, it’s hard to speak of similar change in the Muslim community, although even there we are starting to see some voices for full integration into the state and enlistment in the IDF. Among others, we will mention Annette Hasakhia who founded the “True Voice” movement which aims to integrate Muslims into society and the army.
But also here, the government is not acting determinedly enough to protect those who wish to integrate from incitement and violence directed against them. Thus Mohammad Zoabi, who became famous for a number of YouTube clips supporting Israel and Zionism, had to flee abroad after concrete threats on his life.
Preferring Extremists Over Moderates
Forum members accuse the Israeli left of not supporting the path of integration, thus strengthening the pessimistic approach of Professor Soffer. This week MK Tamar Zandberg of Meretz, a consistent supporter of the rights of asylum seekers and of Arabs who demonstrate against the state, decided to directly attack the enlistment of Christians into the IDF. Her argument is typical: this is simply the Government of Israel applying a Divide and Rule policy to the Arab community. MK Zandberg refused to interview for ‘Mida’. It would seem there are parts of the Israeli spectrum which simply support the most extreme positions of Israeli Arab leaders: “Rights, Now – Obligations, maybe later”.
Both right and left agree that the Israeli Arab citizenship project has completely collapsed. At least, that’s the impression criminal and extreme elements in the Arab community are trying to convey. People often say “we need to think of a different way”, but it’s hard to say what that is, given that in recent years Israel has increasingly invested in the Arab communities and has encouraged integration and equality far more than in the past. The left continues to insist that the key lies in a peace agreement with the Palestinians, the right has largely adopted the pessimistic approach of Professor Soffer.
The road not yet fully travelled – of complete integration into the IDF and the country – may be the only real way to return the various Arab religious communities on the path of full Israeli citizenship. But for that to work, the Israeli Government must unconditionally and forcefully back the Christians and Muslims supporting this path against their extremist and separatist brethren.
English translation by Avi Woolf.