Just as Hajj Amin Husseini and Yasser Arafat immersed their hapless subjects in disastrous conflicts that culminated in their collective undoing and continued statelessness in total disregard of the massive material gains attending Arab-Jewish coexistence, so Israel’s Arab leaders used their constituents’ vast socioeconomic progress over the past decades as a vehicle of radicalization rather than moderation. Writes Efraim Karsh
The May 2021 riots by the Israeli Arabs, like their October 2000 precursor, were not an act of social protest but a nationalist/Islamist insurrection in support of an external attack. It was not socioeconomic grievances that drove the Israeli Arabs to wreak wanton violence on their Jewish compatriots for the second time in 20 years but the growing radicalization attending the decades-long betterment of their socioeconomic condition.
If in the 1950s and the early 1960s, when the Israeli Arabs’ socioeconomic condition was at its lowest, there were hardly any manifestations of political, nationalist, or religious dissidence among them, the more prosperous, affluent, better educated, and politically aware they became, the greater their leadership’s incitement against their state of citizenship—to the point where many ordinary Arabs have come to openly challenge their minority existence in the Jewish State. Hence the October 2000 uprising after a decade that saw government allocations to Arab municipalities grow by 550% and the number of Arab civil servants nearly treble, and hence the far more violent May 2021 insurrection—after yet another decade of massive government investment in the Arab sector, including a NIS15 billion ($3.84 billion) socioeconomic aid program.
Of course, many Israeli Arabs would still be content to get on with their lives and take advantage of the freedoms and opportunities afforded by Israel, no matter how much they might resent their minority status in a Jewish state. Yet from the onset of the Arab-Israeli conflict a century ago, Palestinian Arab society has always comprised militant segments sufficiently large to allow its perennially extremist leadership to sway the silent majority into repeated disasters. As a British commission of enquiry headed by Lord Peel observed as early as 1937: “We have found that, though the Arabs have benefited by the development of the country owing to Jewish immigration, this has had no conciliatory effect. On the contrary, improvement of the economic situation in Palestine has meant the deterioration of the political situation.”
Just as Hajj Amin Husseini and Yasser Arafat immersed their hapless subjects in disastrous conflicts that culminated in their collective undoing and continued statelessness in total disregard of the massive material gains attending Arab-Jewish coexistence, so Israel’s Arab leaders used their constituents’ vast socioeconomic progress over the past decades as a vehicle of radicalization rather than moderation.
In this respect, the participation of the Islamist Ra’am party in the motley ruling coalition established after the May 2021 riots signifies the continuation of this dangerous trend rather than the growing Israelization of the country’s Arab community. Unlike the participation of the now-defunct United Arab List (not to be confused with today’s Joint List) in the 1974-77 Labor-led governments, let alone the participation of Labor and Likud Arab ministers and deputy ministers in successive governments, which implied acquiescence to Israel’s Jewish nature, Ra’am’s participation is an opportunistic ploy to strengthen the position of the Arab sector, especially Ra’am’s predominantly Bedouin constituency, vis-à-vis the state without accepting its legitimacy. And while Ra’am will undoubtedly be able to extort far-reaching short-term gains that will further erode Israel’s sovereignty and governability over its Arab minority, this development is bound to backfire in grand style by intensifying Arab radicalization and Jewish frustration, which will put the two communities on a collision course before too long.
In May 2021, while Hamas was raining some 4,000 rockets and missiles down on Israel’s towns and villages, Israeli Jews were horrified as their Arab compatriots unleashed a tidal wave of violence in support of the terror organization’s assault on their joint state. For two full weeks, the cities of Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Ramla, and Lod, among others—long considered showcases of Arab-Jewish coexistence—were rocked by mass rioting and vandalism. Synagogues and religious seminaries were torched and Torah scrolls desecrated. Cars were stoned and burned, private establishments were ransacked, and transportation arteries were blocked, cutting off Jewish localities. Rampaging mobs wielding iron bars, Molotov cocktails, stones, and even firearms roamed the streets in search of Jewish victims. Jewish residents were attacked in their homes, at times with firearms, by Arab neighbors with whom they had coexisted peacefully for decades. When hundreds of Jewish families fled the cities in fear for their lives, their homes were swiftly plundered and ravaged.
Reluctant to acknowledge this volcanic eruption for what it is and what it portends—a nationalist/Islamist insurrection rejecting Arab minority status in the Jewish state—the Israeli media, the chattering classes, and many politicians attributed the uptick in violence to the supposed longstanding discrimination and marginalization of the Arab minority. “Since Israel’s establishment there existed an inbuilt inequality between the Jewish and the Arab sectors,” lamented newly appointed minister of internal security Omer Barlev. “And this inequality has increased over time due to the rapid development of the Jewish sector and the immobility of the Arab sector.”
This conventional wisdom couldn’t be further from the truth for the simple reason that the riots came after a decade of unprecedented government investment in the Arab sector, just as the October 2000 riots by the Israeli Arabs came on the heels of a decade-long integration of the Arab minority into Israel’s socioeconomic fabric.
In the modern world, socioeconomic progress has never been a recipe for political moderation and inter-communal coexistence but has rather been superseded by nationalist, religious, and xenophobic extremism. So it has been with the Palestinian Arabs and Israel’s Arab citizens, whose political extremism and propensity for violence, from the days of the British mandate (1920-48) to date, have intensified in tandem with improvement in their socioeconomic lot. As a British commission of enquiry headed by Lord Peel observed as early as 1937: “We have found that, though the Arabs have benefited by the development of the country owing to Jewish immigration, this has had no conciliatory effect. On the contrary, improvement of the economic situation in Palestine has meant the deterioration of the political situation.”
End of Part One
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