Americans can be forgiven for believing that the recently concluded Israeli-Palestinian conflict was just more of the same. After all, we’d seen this before, with rockets fired from one side while bombs were being dropped from the other. We even knew how the drama would end: while American policymakers mouthed their support for Israel’s right to defend itself, the same off-stage actors (primarily Qatar and Egypt), intervened to mediate a ceasefire—as they had done in the past. And so the conflict ended, the dead are now being mourned and Israelis and Palestinians have returned to their normal lives. Until the next time.
And yet, there is a growing belief among policymakers in Washington that this conflict was different. That while the recent bloody exchange between Israel and Hamas reached its predictable conclusion, the chasm between Israel and the Palestinians can no longer be wished away—and that, unless something is done to address the crisis, the seventy-year multi-generational conflict will go on and on and on. Equally significant was that while the world was riveted by the events in Gaza, a much more crucial, if less bloody, conflict was being played out inside of Israel itself. Its implications are profound.
Soon after a series of clashes broke out between Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem in early May, Jewish mobs chanting “death to Arabs” roamed the streets of Israel looking for Arabs to assault. The attacks in Lod, near Tel Aviv, were particularly intense, with the Jewish mayor likening the situation to “a civil war.” The incidents, which included gruesome attacks on Arabs and the torching of synagogues, shook the Israeli political establishment. So while it’s true that Israel was subjected to rocket fire from Gaza, the threat posed to Israel by Hamas was actually far less grave than what Israel faced, and continues to face, in the cities, towns, and neighborhoods of its own country.
In fact, the mob violence that spread through Israel—with anti-Arab riots breaking out in Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, Tamra, Bat Yam, and many other locations—was so intense that Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered Israeli Border Police units to reinforce local law enforcement personnel. The extra forces were necessary, Gantz announced, “to stop the incitement and agitation that is tearing Israeli society apart from within.” What Gantz failed to mention was that the Border Police units he called on were redeployed from the West Bank, where they are notorious for their harsh treatment of Palestinians. Even Jewish Israelis recoiled: would Israelis trained to police Arabs under occupation really be interested in quelling violence that targets Arab citizens of Israel as its victims? For Americans, the Gantz decision was reminiscent of that taken by the Trump administration during the Black Lives Matter protests last year, when heavily armed and baton-wielding prison guards from Texas were deployed to the streets of Washington, DC.
Read the full article in The National Interest.