After Cease-Fire With Hamas, Israel Finds Peace at Home More Elusive
Tensions between Arabs and Jews in mixed Israeli towns continue to escalate, but some argue that the cause is more criminal than nationalist
While a tenuous cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has held since the early hours of May 20, the Jewish state is finding peace more elusive internally between Jewish and Arab Israelis.
In so-called mixed towns, such as Ramla and Haifa, violence between Arabs and Jews peaked over the past two weeks as 1,548 people were arrested. Most of those taken into custody, 85%, have been Arab Israelis.
Y., a self-described right-wing Jewish activist who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity, participated in the unrest in Israel’s center after his car was damaged as a result of the violence.
“I’m not going to sit back and let them hurt us and destroy everything,” he told The Media Line. “Arabs do not want peace with Jews. They don’t want Israel to exist at all.”
While the sectarian violence was prompted by the Gaza-Israel flare-up starting May 10, some say that the violence is less nationalistic and more a result of unchecked inter-Arab violence.
“The violence is triggered by religious and ultranationalist sentiment from groups on the Arab side fueled by Hamas, which is spreading anti-Jewish hatred. They’ve been putting out the call for Arabs to go and attack random Jews,” Arab Israeli activist Muhammad Zoabi told The Media Line. “What’s fueling it even more is extremist Jewish groups that are escalating the situation into a confrontation between two different populations, making it into a nationalist thing when it’s mostly a criminal thing.”
He contends that the vast majority of the rioters in custody are people with troubled backgrounds and are not religious or nationalistic idealogues.
Zoabi says that the violence is part of a long-festering problem of illegal guns and violence within the Arab-Israeli sector that has until now been ignored by the police. They are taking an interest now, he says, because it impacts the Jewish population.
“The government didn’t give a s— as long as this was inside Arab communities, as long this wasn’t targeting Jewish people and not turning into a national situation,” he said. “The indifference that the police have expressed toward this phenomenon in the Arab community is now turning against everybody: Arab-on-Arab violence has turned into Arab-on-Jew violence.”
Zoabi says that parts of Arabs towns have become “no-go zones” for the police, rendering them effectively lawless.
“What we saw on the streets of Lod, of Ramla, of Jaffa, is just a reflection of what different people see in different Arab communities around the country where the police are literally scared to go inside those different spaces,” he said. “If the government doesn’t collect the tens of thousands of illegal weapons in the Arab community and they don’t enforce the law, it’s going to get worse.”
In response, Superintendent Waseem Bader, a police spokesman for the Arab sector and media, told The Media Line in a written statement:
“Unfortunately, incidents of violence and shootings occur too often in Arab society in Israel, most of them against the background of internal conflicts that escalate into violence. … In the past year, under complicated circumstances, until COVID-19 spread, the Israel Police stepped up its activities against illegal weapons offenses in Arab communities and arrested more than 5,000 suspects in the commission of shooting offenses and those related to illegal weapons.”
In the meantime, mixed cities and towns are trying to restore the peace. In Haifa, Israel’s most integrated large city, the local government has started a solidarity campaign called “I don’t have another Haifa,” which features photos of Jewish and Arab professionals, such as teachers and chefs, working together.
“Our mayor, Einat Kalisch-Rotem … made the decision immediately, together with the police, to call for restraint, and met with leaders of the three religions here in Haifa and they spoke to their own communities,” Gil Meller, deputy spokesperson for the Haifa municipality, told the Media Line.
“On every occasion, the mayor emphasized the message that Haifa is a symbol of coexistence and it will always be and forever remain a lighthouse of sanity. It represents a direction for a better future,” he added. “In these times, we, Jews and Arabs, have to be strong and act with responsibility and care.”
A joint Jewish-Arab soccer game was held in Lod on May 25 to promote coexistence.
Mayor Yair Revivo, a Hebrew-language press release says, “has asked all residents of the city to avoid violence, choose dialogue, friendship and fraternity and promote good coexistence and neighborliness.” The city’s Arab residents are “an integral part of society in Lod” and “full partners … in creating the public space in which they live.”
Devorah L., a Jewish resident of Lod, hopes that calm will quickly be restored.
“This is not who we are,” she told The Media Line. “I love that this isn’t ‘just’ a Jewish city; that’s part of what makes Lod unique.”
“I think that the majority of Arabs and Jews want peace,” she added. “It’s the extremists on both sides who are the true obstacle.”