JERUSALEM — The State of Israel and Israeli society are currently in the throes of a major crisis, one of the gravest ever. For several weeks, we have been witnessing events that one after the other have escalated the situation. Now we have reached a point where Israel is engaged in direct warfare with Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, along with a dangerous conflagration inside Israel that threatens to shred the already delicate social fabric of Jewish-Arab relations.
The current crisis began with violence between Arabs and Jews over various issues. It continued with friction in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem, which is populated mostly by Arab residents, and escalated to include riots in many additional locales. To this was added Hamas rocket fire raining down on Israeli civilians, which prompted the Israel Defense Forces to launch an operation targeting the organization’s terrorist infrastructure.
I imagine that the international community has more awareness and exposure to one part of this situation, i.e. the current hostilities between Israel and Hamas, more than the other part – the civil crisis inside Israel’s borders. Indeed, the battle with Hamas – a terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip and indiscriminately attacks Israeli civilians with a goal of maximum casualties, while simultaneously inflicting suffering on many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – is part of a long and fierce struggle that the State of Israel has been waging to protect its citizens on the home front.
As an Israeli citizen living in an area near Tel Aviv, my city has been under missile fire in recent days, and emotions are running high. My husband and I, together with our teenage children, experienced difficult nights of air-raid sirens, followed by running to a bomb shelter and then the awful noise of the rockets themselves – something that will leave an indelible impression on all of us. These are not the crude rockets that in the past rained down on Israel’s towns in the south near Gaza. These are much more sophisticated munitions targeting large and dense Israeli population centers.
Unfortunately, the numerous fatalities and injuries from the rockets in this current round add a great deal to our increasing anxiety and fear. These moments of anxiety underpin the creation of a feeling of a lack of security and protection. But to contend with those feelings, we are doing everything we can to increase the sense of resilience, and thanks to the unfortunate deep experience Israeli society has acquired in this area, the country has developed a great many best practices that we are now employing to help us cope. It also helps when countries around the world, such as the United States, stand firm with the State of Israel during these difficult times.
However, as serious as the crisis vis-à-vis Hamas is, and as scary as this situation is for all Israelis, more than anything else the crisis inside Israeli society between Jews and Arabs is what keeps me awake at night.
The current tension between Jews and Arabs is deeply rooted in the lived experience of Israeli society and the State of Israel. It hinges on nationalist, political and social aspects and has varied dynamics. As a rule, it can be said that recent years have seen various contrasting processes occurring, and I imagine that some underlie the development of the current crisis.
On the Arab side, there are opposing trends, whereby some are working toward increasing integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into Israeli society while others advocate for separatism in the form of identification with the Palestinian struggle. On the Jewish side, there is a similar dynamic, a kind of mirror image: some advocating for increased Jewish-Arab cooperation, while others engage in increasing radicalization toward Arabs by employing nationalist discourse.
At ADL’s Israel Office, countering hatred and radicalism is what we do on an almost daily basis.
But we also work to promote social cohesion across Israeli society. We identify the challenges, and work with Israeli and Arab leaders to find solutions in various areas. But despite our progress in mapping out a strategy, the severity and intensity of the current crisis took us by surprise.
Now, there is an overwhelming sense of chaos and loss of control. It is disheartening that to find that the human fabric is so vulnerable and delicate, and the path to shredding it is far shorter than the long journey we have taken to mend it. This crisis has thrown all parts of Israeli society into disarray.
But what will apparently be much harder and more complex to rebuild is the relationship between Jews and Arabs – to heal the increasingly widening rift.
There are no words to describe the intensity of the pain and disappointment at the sight of Arab rioters burning a synagogue in Lod; at the sight of a group of Jews attacking an Arab taxi driver; at the sight of Jews being beaten and stabbed by Arabs in Lod and Acco; and at the sight of the immense destruction caused by extremists.
But because we are a country and society founded on its diversity, I believe that we don’t have the luxury to be immobilized by disappointment and pain. We all have the civic and social responsibility and duty to stand up to extremists on both sides – and to send a message of moderation, partnership and alliance. I know that it is difficult, but it is definitely possible.
In the past few days, I’ve been calling friends and partners in Arab society and hearing that same message of moderation, partnership and alliance from them. It is a message that the inflamed and radicalized street might blur, but we have a duty to preserve and foster it.
On the day after, we and our children – those who are experiencing and being traumatized by this crisis – will have no choice but to proceed forward.
And if we do not address the situation by means of empathy, genuine dialogue, and the creation of as many partnerships as possible, our children themselves may give up. And in that case, not just one side will lose.
We all will.