The portrait painted by the Or Commission Report regarding the missteps of top police officers and politicians during the violent clashes of October 2000 resembles the depiction of blunders made by the Israel Defense Forces General Staff on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In October 2000, as in October 1973, the writing was on the wall, but the brain refused to process what was written.
Precise evaluations of what might come of volatile tensions within Israel's Arab sector reached the desks of the police commissioner and public security minister before October 2000. The extent to which they refused to acknowledge what such estimates meant is simply staggering. The October 1973 syndrome returned, and delivered a devastating blow to the country's security forces (including the Shin Bet) 27 years later. This is a syndrome born of arrogance and condescension, which comes to a country that is too confident about its own power.
The comparison between the two Octobers is not stretched: the importance of the October 2000 events does not pale in comparison to the crucial influence exerted by the Yom Kippur War. In both instances, events put the country at a crossroads, forcing the public to re-identify its basic purposes. The earthquake that convulsed the country 30 years ago forced Israel's society to alter its thinking about Egypt and to choose, eventually, a peace agreement whose cost was withdrawal from the entire Sinai Peninsula.
So far, the convulsion three years ago has not led to a turnabout in the Jewish majority's relations with the Arab minority; if anything, the processes of mutual alienation have heightened.
The report's opening sections underscore the extent to which such real change in majority-minority relations is crucial. These sections elucidate the background causes of the explosion. These include: long-standing policies of discrimination enforced by Israeli governments toward the Arab population; processes of ultra-nationalism and religious extremism that grip the Arab sector; the role played by Arab Knesset members in blurring a crucial distinction between showing solidarity with the suffering of Palestinians in the territories and relinquishing ties of loyalty to the state of Israel; and the Jewish majority's refusal to treat members of the Arab minority as equals.
This analysis proves one critical point: the riots of October 2000 did not come solely as by-products of the uprising in the territories, and of the failure of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at Camp David. They were also a troubling milestone in a long-standing internal Israeli conflict, starting with the Land Day demonstrations in March 1976, and continuing through student rallies in Haifa and Jerusalem in April 2000.
The Or report defines policies toward the Arab sector as the most important domestic matter on the state's agenda. This evaluation might be exaggerated - but nobody is going to dispute the claim that ongoing, troubled relations between the majority and the minority threaten the state's unity and its potential for orderly, democratic development.
Despite the bleak analysis it provides, the Or report does not conclude that the troubled relations between the majority and minority have passed the point of no return. To avoid reaching such a point, both the majority and minority will have to make a supreme effort to bridge the state's structural contradiction, one which derives from Israel's identity as a nation-state for the Jews as well as a democratic state providing equal rights for all its citizens.
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