The current wave of violence sweeping the country is not dissimilar to incidents that occurred at the start of the second intifada in September 2000. Then, too, one match ignited a fire, and that fire was lit back on the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa.
One can neither understand nor forgive any act of violence or murder, especially when it is aimed at innocent civilians. All means should be used immediately to stop the transgressors. It is also critical to understand what led up to the violence and how the cycle can be broken.
The start of the Second Intifada and today are also similar in that they began in times when the Arab and Jewish public believe they have a reached a dead end. There is little hope for change and grave mistrust prevails on both sides; neither Arabs nor Jews believed then, and they don’t believe today, in the possibility of reaching a diplomatic resolution and this only serves to fuel the fire.
The difference between 2000 and now, however, is the profound lack of understanding between the two sides. The Jewish public has sealed itself off from the implications of its actions against Arab Israeli citizens and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. As building in the settlements continues, with the blessings of the prime minister and top government leaders, it confirms for the Arab population that the two-state solution does not exist in any practical way for the Israeli government.
Likewise, the continual humiliation of Palestinian leader Abu Mazen, the man most identified by the Palestinian public with opposition to violence and support of a two-state solution, the ongoing ineffectiveness of the Israeli security forces at stopping violence against Palestinians from the Jewish side, among other similar issues, feeds the feelings of hopelessness and despair of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Both past and recent reality have taught us how short the path is from despondency at not advancing a political solution to murderous violence.
Further, the Jewish public does not recognize or wish to internalize that Arab Israeli citizens of Israel are directly influenced by what happens to their family members in Gaza and the West Bank. Israelis fail to accept Arab Israeli citizens’ right to protest Israeli actions or to demonstrate in solidarity with their brethren.
In addition, Israel’s Arab minority finds itself in a state of ongoing discrimination and inequality on every level. Israelis relate to Arab citizens as if they are a constant potential threat, a sentiment that was driven home during the last election when the current prime minister riled his supporters to the polls for fear that “Arabs are going in droves to the polling stations.” That statement made clear the government’s true approach toward its Arab citizens.
All of these challenges make it much harder to create a joint civil vision and identity for Jewish and Arab citizens of the state of Israel, and rather serve to further and continuously disconnect the two peoples.
The Palestinians public – on both sides of the green line – has also lost the ability to understand the perspective of Jewish Israelis, to grasp Israeli fear of terrorist regimes such as ISIS entering the territories and then Israel, of Iranian nuclear proliferation and its arming of Hezbollah. Palestinians do not empathize with the mounting Israeli feeling that the state is under continuous threat. Israeli Arabs (other than a few exceptions) do not understand how important it is for Jewish Israelis to believe that they are not only interested in getting their rights, but also that they truly place state prosperity and development as an integral part of society.
The more Arabs and Israelis disconnect from one another by enclosing and sealing themselves in an opaque bubble, the more difficult it will become to move beyond the dangerous situation into which we have become encapsulated.
On the Arab side, both in the territories and among Israeli Arabs, there must be immediate action taken to halt the violence and stop the deterioration of the security situation, which threatens to throw us back many years and whose end is unpredictable.
Since Israel is in the power seat, it must undertake immediate introspection, be proactive instead of reactive, by being more aware of the way its policies are perceived by Arabs on both sides of the Green Line.
As an immediate first step, the prime minister should stop excluding Israeli Arab citizens and turn to representatives of these Israeli Arabs, led by MK Ayman Odeh, to make a joint call to stop the violence from all directions. At the same time, the government should act to neutralize the religious aspects of this current conflict and announce definitive steps to maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa. This includes strengthening the involvement of Jordan to emphasize the religious character of the compound and not allowing the holy site to be dragged into politics.
Most importantly, the government must announce its intention to launch two major initiatives: The first is a realistic initiative for equality and partnership between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. And second, a diplomatic initiative that would provide true hope for the Palestinians living in the West Bank.
Without creating hope for Arabs and Jews, we are sentencing ourselves to lives of repeated desperation, violence and ultimately unnecessary human sacrifices.
This article was first published on the Times of Israel website.