TEL AVIV — The recent events in Israel, the dramatic July 2 killing by (at least) 3 Israeli extremists of a Palestinian teenager — thought to be retaliation for the kidnapping by Hamas and subsequent deaths of three young Israeli students, has led us to this latest escalation between Hamas and Israel again, the first since 2012.
As Benedetta Berti correctly points out, “a mutual desire to show strength has escalated the conflict, and although neither side wants another war, it may already be too late to pull back.” This recent conflict will probably further weaken Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his unity government.
One can hope this recent conflict will come to a quick end and both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, can come back to the negotiating table and finally resolve the two-state solution once and for all. While this recent escalation is going to prove as a tactical error in the long run for both Israel and Hamas, the real issue for Israel were the riots that occurred in Jerusalem and in the north of Israel. There are enough channels to resolve the conflict between Hamas and Israel; however, the same cannot be said about the riots within Israel.
Abu Khdeir’s murder was by far the most brutal example, but there have been dozens of attacks during the past week – including an assault on workers in West Jerusalem hours after the bodies of the three Israelis were found, as hundreds of right-wing Jews held demonstrations in the city, chanting “death to the Arabs.” The streets of Shuafat, Beit Hanina, and other East Jerusalem neighborhoods were eerily quiet on Monday night, with few residents coming out to shop and socialize after Iftar, the meal that breaks the Ramadan fast.
The riots are only in East Jerusalem and the north of Israel for the time being. Should they spread to other areas, Israel will have a real dilemma on its hands – as a civil war risks being the result. This is not a fear that is long-term; it is a fear that risks boiling over quickly. The other day, it was reported that groups of local Arab men – mostly unarmed, but a few carrying knives and sticks – have formed impromptu neighborhood-watch groups in East Jerusalem. They were on the lookout for “settlers” also known as ultranationalist Jews accused of Abu Khdeir’s murder.
East Jerusalem, where many Israeli Arabs reside, is very tense but so too is northern Israel.
It seems the streets are quiet now, most probably because of the even-more tense situation in Gaza and the incoming rockets to the south of Israel. It is after this recent flare up between Hamas and Israel, where it might become difficult for Israel and its government. The riots risk spreading to other cities aside from Nazareth in northern Israel where a majority of the Israeli Arabs live (i.e.: Afula, Acre, etc).
A civil war is certainly not in Israel’s interest. If Israeli Arabs’ begin believing they have ‘nothing to lose’ and the violence and unrest spreads beyond East Jerusalem to other parts of Israel, the Israeil government will have a new, more difficult problem on its hands. To simply arrest the protesters is not the solution. Certainly, it is an immediate answer that will quell the violence temporarily, but that is not the answer. The Israeli leadership must listen to what the protesters are saying.
For instance, in East Jerusalem, a citizen was recently quoted as saying, “For 20 years we’ve heard about the peace process, and we got nothing…. We’re treated like fifth-class citizens in this country…. So maybe the only way to take action is to come down in the streets.” This is why it is still in Israel’s key interest to diplomatically resolve the conflict not only with Hamas but also with a unified Palestinian Authority sooner rather than later – at the negotiating table.
If Israel wants a Jewish state along the 1967 borders alongside a Palestinian state (West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza), it would be wise to get back to the negotiating table but, more importantly, observe and act on the voices of the protesters in East Jerusalem and the north of Israel, as none of the alternatives result in a pleasant outcome for the Jewish democratic state.