By James L. Gelvin
The images and reports coming from Israel, Jerusalem and Gaza in recent days are shocking. They are also surprising to those who thought the 2020 Abraham Accords and subsequent agreements to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan would place the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians permanently on the backburner.
As someone who has been writing and teaching about the Middle East for more than 30 years, I had no such illusions. The reason for this is that at its heart, the so-called “Arab-Israeli conflict” has always been about Israelis and Palestinians. And no matter how many treaties Israel signs with Arab states, it will remain so.
In a phone call on May 12, President Joe Biden assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his “unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people.” Biden was referencing the rocket attacks on Israel launched by Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza. By targeting civilians, Hamas is committing a war crime. In all probability, so is Israel, by bombing and shelling Gaza.
Despite the carnage the Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli retaliation inflicts on Israelis and Gazans, the Biden administration is focusing on a sideshow, not the main event.
That main event is an unprecedented conflict taking place on the streets of Jerusalem, Haifa, Lod and elsewhere. It’s what scholars call an “intercommunal conflict,” pitting elements of Israel’s Jewish population against elements of Israel’s Palestinian population who have had enough and have taken to the streets.
Hamas could not maintain its credibility as a movement if it sat by while Palestinians in Israel battled Jewish Israelis there. The reality is that Israel is having its Black Lives Matter moment.
As in the United States, a brutalized minority group, facing systemic racism and discriminatory acts has taken to the streets. And, as in the United States, the only way out starts with serious soul searching on the part of the majority.
But after the spate of Palestinian suicide bombings in the early 2000s that horrified Israelis and hardened their attitudes toward Palestinians, this is unlikely to occur.
Many reasons, one source
Palestinian anger can be attributed to multiple issues. In April, Israel attempted to impede access to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for Palestinians living in the West Bank. Israeli police then raided the Muslim holy site, reportedly after Palestinians threw stones at them, injuring 330. At the beginning of May, Mahmoud Abbas, the current president of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, cancelled the first Palestinian legislative elections in 15 years. Finally, when the current conflict spilled over into the West Bank, the Israeli occupation and continued colonization of Palestinian territory were thrown into the mix.
These significant issues explain Palestinian anger. However, the intercommunal nature of the ongoing conflagration is due to two other issues.
First, Jewish settlers attempted to evict eight Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency had settled the families in the neighborhood during the 1950s.
Jewish settlers filed suit in 1972 claiming their right to the homes where those families lived. They argued that Jews had owned the Palestinians’ homes before the division of the city in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. By right, they argue, the homes belong to their community.
Jewish neighborhoods housing more than 215,000 encircle the predominantly Palestinian eastern part of Jerusalem, where Sheikh Jarrah is located. For Palestinians, the attempt to evict the families is representative of Israel’s overall policy of pushing them out of the city. It is not only a reminder that in a Jewish state Palestinians are second-class citizens, but a reenactment of the central tragedy in the Palestinian national memory: the Nakba of 1948, when 720,000 Palestinians fled their homes in what would become the state of Israel, becoming refugees.
Growing anti-Arab racism
The second reason for the intercommunal nature of the current conflict is the emboldening of Israel’s extreme right-wing politicians and their followers. Among them are latter-day Kahanists, the followers of the late Meir Kahane. Kahane was an American rabbi who moved to Israel. Kahane’s anti-Arab racism was so extreme that the United States listed the party he founded as a terrorist group. Kahane proposed paying Israel’s Palestinian population $40,000 each to leave Israel. If they refused, Israel should expel them, he argued.
Kahanism and like-minded movements are on the rise in Israel. A Kahanist was recently elected to the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, and Netanyahu courted his support when the prime minister was attempting to form a government in February, 2019. Kahanists and other ultranationalist thugs — the “Proud Boys” of Israel — march through Palestinian-Israeli neighborhoods chanting “Death to Arabs” and assault them.
The current crisis began on May 6, 2021. Pro-Palestinian protesters in Sheikh Jarrah had been breaking the Ramadan fast together each night of the holiday, a custom called iftar. On this particular night, Israeli settlers set up a table opposite them. In the settlers’ group was Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Kahanist deputy. Rocks and other objects began to fly. Then the violence spread.
In the coastal city of Bat Yam, a Jewish mob marched down the street busting up Palestinian businesses, while another mob attempted to lynch a Palestinian driver. The same scene was replayed in Acre, only this time it was a Palestinian mob that assaulted a Jewish man. Another Palestinian mob burned a police station to the ground in the same city. And in a Tel Aviv suburb, a man presumed to be a Palestinian was pulled from his car and beaten.
Lod is a city south of Tel Aviv with a mixed Palestinian and Jewish population. Not only was it the site of a Hamas missile strike that killed two Palestinians, it was where heavy fighting took place between Palestinian and Jewish mobs.
The fighting began after a funeral of a Palestinian man who was killed by an assailant presumed to be Jewish. It was so heavy at times that the Israeli government brought in border guards from the West Bank to quell the unrest. The mayor characterized what was happening in his town as a “civil war.”
The mayor also reminded the residents of Lod, “The day after, we still have to live here together.”
He did not explain how this was to happen.
James L. Gelvin is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History, University of California, Los AngelesThis article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
The Middle-East has been at war for well over 2000 and it will continue for another 2000+ years. The USA or any other country cannot stop what has been happening since the beginning of time. I say stay out of their business and let them duke it out. There will never be a resolution and there never will be a winner and a loser. It is what it is so let it be what it is.
It’s really sad that employers just can’t compete with welfare.
Dennis C Rathsam says
None of this would have happened if Trump was still president.
Kathryn Perez says
This literally has happened with every president, blue or red. That’s the whole problem.
You are right it would be worse. We would be fighting in the Streets amongst ourselves more so than now.
Bill C says
Israel is an apartheid right wing extremist racist nation.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Really Bill. Is that why Arabs patients are welcomed into Jewish owned Israeli hospitals?
Pierre Tristam says
Really Jane? Catholics too? And Shintos? Greeks? Italians? Blacks? Canadians? Canadian gays? All allowed in? Damn. Someone should send those Israelis $3.8 billion-worth of cookies. (Wait! we already do!)
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Now Now … Faith Alkhatib and I promised that together we will being peace ( not piece) to Israel…
Not all Israelis nor are all Palestinians at fault. I had Israeli friends who bought pork in the Arab markets … Faith is the first person every year to send me Chanukah and Passover greetings…
I did not think Bill’s comment was appropriate
Pierre Tristam says
We’ll try to keep it a loshon horo-free zone.
It’s Lashon Hara. And Lashon Hara differs from defamation in that Lashon Hara is truthful speech rather than lies. So, what is your “loshon-horo-free (sic) zone” comment supposed to mean?
Pierre Tristam says
You just can’t help yourself, can you. There are many ways to spell it–I should’ve gone with Philip Roth’s choice, loshon hora–but there’s only one way to spell pedantry.
Why – because it is the truth. President Jimmy Carter wrote a book in the 90’s called PALESTINE PEACE NOT APARTHEID you can learn a lot.
Bill C says
Really Jane. Why don’t you look up Operation Cast Lead, where the “kill ratio” was 150 Palestinians to 1 Israeli. The Israelis are engaging in “group punishment”. As of today, the current “kill ratio” is 212 to 12. Maybe that’s why there are so many “Arab” patients.
Would you consider the situation to be more “fair and just” if more Israelis die(d)? Big of you. We’ll remember that the next time Americans get involved in a military conflict–that just as many Americans have to die as end up dying on the other side–or there has to something rotten in Denmark.
Less Israeli die because the Israeli government expends its resources to protect its citizens–The Iron Dome being but one example of that. That’s their choice.
The Palestinian governments, alas, do the opposite. They exploit their populace as “human shields”, “Pallywood” props, their De Facto terrorist army and as “human sand bags” to protect the weaponry they employ to kill Jews. That’s been their choice and there have been tragic humanitarian consequences to that choice–for both sides in the conflict.
Bill C says
That’s just stupid. Of course it would be better if no one died.
Then, what is the rationale behind the “Less Israelis die, therefore, they must be the bad guys”? argument that “Anti-Zionists” spew endlessly?
The Palestinians need to agree to come to the table for a meaningful round of peace negotiations–Not this fruitless, “We’ll shoot rockets into Israel whenever we feel like it, with a few thousand daily Kite and Balloon bombs thrown over the borders for good measure, and we’ll keep paying our populace to commit terror attacks against Jews (and pay for it out of “humanitarian aid $$$) and use our resources and connections with Iran, Russia, China and Qatar to build terror tunnels.” And then, when Israel finally has enough of it and takes out all those measures meant to wipe out Israel and its population, whines about how they want a temporary ceasefire–so they can restock their rockets and rebuild their tunnels…rinse, repeat.
Given all of the above and the unfortunate fact that the Palestinian have turned down every two-state offer that has been laid at their feet since 1947, no one in their right mind (with any real historical knowledge or common sense) would put the onus of those needless deaths on Israel.
That must be why Arabs, Muslim, Catholics, people of all colors and creeds livem work and prosper side by side in Israel–and share the same citizen benefits as long as they ARE citizens. Lots of Arabs have been offered citizenship in Israel and have turned it down. Therefore, they don’t enjoy the same benefits that full citizens do It works that way in other countries as well.
Aras and Muslims are part of the Knesset and hold high government offices and civil service positions, They apply for legal remedy in the same courts–and serve as judges in those courts. They work in medicine, teach in Israeli Universities. People are free to dissent in Israel–whereas, dissenters in the Palestinian territories end up incarcerated or dead.
Jews are not free to vote or own property in the Palestinian territories. Any Palestinian who considers selling his own deeded land to a Jew is committing a crime that is punishable by incarceration with several years Hard Labor to Death sentence. THAT’S apartheid.
Christians were forbidden from any public displays of the Christmas holiday this year in the Palestinian territories, this year as in other years. Muslims living in the territories can (and have been) incarcerated for attending the weddings of their Jewish neighbors. THAT’S apartheid.
It would be helpful if people would stop throwing around inaccurate prejudicial slogans that have no basis in fact and actually LEARNED the facts before speaking (and typing.)
Arabs of all faiths and Jews of all creeds lived in Palestine quietly under Ottoman rule.
One example I lived was with the Samaritans in the Palestinian city of Nablus. They had their own neighbourhood on Mount Gerizim which neighbourhood carried their name.
When the Balfour declaration, which was an English creation and design, was announced, the Muslim citizens of Nablus became angry and rebellious and wanted to avenge their anger on the Samaritans. The Muslim mayor at he time opposed it strongly and would not allow any harm against the Samaritans.
In 1948 Nablus was flooded by people fleeing the west of Palestine who were Muslim and Christian of all denominations.