Last Wednesday MK Effi Eitam informed the Knesset's Arab members, colleagues who share his position and status: "One day we will expel you to Gaza from this house and from the national home of the Jewish people." A little more than 24 hours later, terrorist Ala Abu Dhaim, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, arrived at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, murdered eight students as they pored over their books, and injured nine others.
The next day Eitam spoke again. While making a condolence visit to the families of two of the victims, he tied the Arab MKs to the attack on the yeshiva, claiming that they had incited murder and announcing that he would file a complaint against them with the attorney general. MK Jamal Zahalka, whose reaction to Eitam's words at the Knesset had been the most vociferous and blunt, was also the one who responded, the day before yesterday, to Eitam's latest declarations. Zahalka claimed that it was Eitam's words, rather, that were inciting murder, and that these words represented the opinion of the mainstream in Israeli politics.
Even when the populist element is deducted from Eitam and Zahalka's exchange, the chain of events to which their statements alluded reflects the often-ignored roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In theory, the two clashed in the Knesset over the most recent cycle of violence, which took place last week in Gaza and in the nearby Israeli settlements; a cycle that spilled over into a demonstration in Umm al-Fahm, moved on to the Knesset, turned to the Mercaz Harav yeshiva and came to a stop (momentarily) at the homes of the bereaved families.
But this description is actually misleading because it illuminates only the external layer of the developments, and even that in an arbitrary way. This account does not indicate causality: who generated the latest deadly cycle and when; who responded to it and how. The presentation of events is based on a conscious decision, because it is clear that last week's cycle of violence is the product of previous shockwaves, which are themselves the result of an unresolved basic situation. And still, last week's sequence of events demonstrates the conflict's psychological roots. As long as these are not addressed, the conflict itself can never be resolved.
Effi Eitam raged at the Arab MKs because of their participation a day earlier in a mass demonstration against the Israeli military operation in Gaza, an operation described at the rally as a "holocaust," a "massacre," "war crimes." Posters held up at the rally bore the epithet "Zionazis." The Arab MKs were central speakers at the protest, a fact Eitam considered to be an act of treason against the State of Israel.
On the other hand, even when the political gains MKs Zahalka, Mohammad Barakeh and Ahmad Tibi are trying to reap among the Arab population are taken into account, there is no doubting the authenticity of the way they perceive the IDF raids in the Gaza Strip. They see these actions as expressions of racism, aggression and arrogance, and of the profound hatred Israel's Jewish citizens and their leaders feel for the Palestinian people.
It remains to be seen who, if at all, dispatched Dhaim from the Jabel Mukaber neighborhood in Jerusalem to open fire on students at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva. Clearly, however, he was driven by an enormous hostility for all Israelis. In the more than 100 years of their conflict, Israelis and Palestinians have not found a way to limit their mutual suspicion and prejudices. On the contrary: As the years pass the hatred grows, the frustration intensifies, the desire for vengeance increases, and each side becomes less and less able to develop an understanding for the distress and anxieties of the other.
The core issues of the conflict are not Jerusalem, the right of return or the question of borders; the reactor that generates the energy which feeds and intensifies the conflict is located in the mutual perception of Israelis and Palestinians. As long as Israelis are described in Palestinian textbooks and discourse as demonic conquerors, as an alien breed that must be driven out, as defilers of the holies of Islam - as long as that is the case, there can be no basis for reconciliation. As long as Israelis are unable to shake off the image of the Palestinians as being solely a menacing force that should (and can) be eradicated by any means, because it refuses to accept the very existence of the Zionist state - until then, the conditions for arriving at an understanding will not be formed. Terrorist attacks and acts of retaliation and prevention, like those of the past week, do not assuage fear and prejudice; they only increase them.