Analysis

Temple Mount Attack Raises Tensions Between Israel's Muslim, Druze Communities

Killing of two Druze police officers by three Muslim gunmen at Al-Aqsa complex could set the two Arab groups on a collision course

Members of the Druze community in Israel pray next to the coffin of Border Policeman Kamil Shnaan in the Druze village of Hurfeish, northern Israel, July 14, 2017.
JALAA MAREY/AFP

The horrible bloodshed at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Friday morning joins a series of attacks the city of Jerusalem has seen over the past two years. What’s different about Friday’s attack was that it was perpetrated by three young Israeli Arabs – residents of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel and members of one of the city’s largest and best-known clans. Friday’s attack became even more complex when it emerged that the two Border Policemen killed were members of Israel’s Druze community, residents of the villages of Maghar and Hurfeish in the Galilee.

The fact that the attackers were three young Israeli Muslims who killed two young Israeli Druze has raised concerns about the impact on the ties between the two communities, particularly in areas with mixed Muslim-Druze populations.

Anyone who has monitored the situation over the years can see that the conflict between the two communities has exacted a heavy price on both sides. The main variable that has entered the picture in recent years has been social media: Those who follow what has been written on these sites have to be concerned over a possible clash between the two groups.

Since Friday’s attack, some in the Druze community have condemned the attackers and their backgrounds. Simultaneously, some in the Arab community have expressed understanding toward the attack due to the fact the two policemen were serving “the occupation forces.” Mutual accusations were not long in coming.

Since the attack, two stun grenades have been thrown at two mosques and shots were fired at a third mosque in the northern village of Maghar, which is where one of the victims of Friday's attack lived. 

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee issued a statement opposing the use of weapons and violence, noting that the position of the Arab public is that only nonviolent efforts are legitimate. But it also warned of the consequences of the attack and its exploitation by the Israeli government.

At the same time, the Joint List (a mostly Arab alliance of several political parties) failed to arrive at a single, uniform statement following the attack. The parties instead issued separate statements that highlighted two principles: First, they stressed the need of Arab citizens of Israel to adhere to the policy and strategy that has had the support of a decisive majority among them since Israel’s establishment – one in support of a popular political struggle within the bounds of the law. Secondly, they warned of the Israeli government’s messianic, extremist, right-wing policies that support the occupation and which, with their emphasis on Jerusalem, are turning the conflict into a religious one.

Some in the Druze community criticized this response, seeing it as lukewarm and failing to really condemn the killing of the two Druze policemen.

Putting aside the reactions and attempts by Israeli politicians and media figures to create a schism in Israeli Arab society or to put the Israeli citizenship of the country’s Arabs to a loyalty test again, the country’s Arabs – including members of the Druze community – have to understand that the Al-Aqsa attack was the result of a decades-long violent conflict. It was not a spur-of-the-moment incident, or a personal dispute between the attackers and the Druze officers.

It’s also important to note that the influence the country’s Muslim and Druze communities exert over Israel's strategy toward ending the conflict is minor, perhaps even negligible, and despite all of the pain, blood will continue to be shed as long as the country pursues policies that feed the strife, perpetuating it and exacerbating religious friction.

Arab and Druze leaders must not fall into the trap that is being laid for them, which leads to a dangerous communal fight within Arab society. Instead, they must focus their efforts on pressing the Israeli public and leadership, as well as the international community, to secure an agreement that would ensure the status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and preserve the freedom of worship and the status quo. Otherwise, expressions of hate, challenges to the heritage and faith of each side, and increased sectarianism will only feed the conflict and create further bloodshed.