Opinion |

There Is Only One War: The Extremists vs. the Moderates

Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir
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A rally calling for Jewish-Arab partnership.
A rally calling for Jewish-Arab partnership.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir

Over the past 11 days, amid the rocket barrages and the riots that have shaken us all, it is the simple gestures that have stood out – teachers who went to violence-prone areas in Jerusalem in an attempt to calm things down, or Jewish and Arab physicians who issued calls against violence. Even a mother’s tweet that her daughter had baked cookies for their Arab neighbors, and that the neighbors had returned the favor in kind, leaving a new batch of cookies on their doorstep, was a spark of hope. Signs of humanity among the clouds of fear. Thousands came out in solidarity rallies, knowing that we have to live together, even if we didn’t choose to. And they represent millions of Israelis.

More than ever, this week it became clear that we must make an alliance of the sane, and quickly, because an alliance of extremists has long been springing up behind our backs. The extremists, Jews and Arabs, need each other. They are working together to prevent peace agreements and sabotage our chances at a normal life. They hate each other, but they desperately need each other, because without an enemy they will dissipate. People who choose violence are cut from the same cloth – and it doesn’t matter whether they support terrorists, Jews or Arabs, or fire rockets at us from the Gaza Strip.

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To fight them, we have to understand that they weren’t created out of thin air; rather, there is a deliberate strategy to prevent the realization of a two-state solution that is being created on two fronts. The first front is internal: the transfer of funds to settlers’ groups, which in addition to the development of settlements have also been used to build a force on the ground. The Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization, which is meant to develop settlements in Israel, has allocated tens of millions of shekels to Garin Torani groups, religious Zionist families that are sent to live in mixed Arab-Jewish cities in central Israel, such as Lod, Ramle and Jaffa. Activists in this movement, who receive salaries and housing subsidies that our taxes pay for conduct brainwashing activities in schools – recruiting activists for the right along the way. The settlers’ committees in Samaria, which secretly promoted “price tag” assaults on soldiers, and movements like the far-right Lehava, did not grow strong for no reason. The Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva, where the book “Barukh Hagever,” glorifying the actions of Baruch Goldstein – the extremist who shot to death 29 Arab worshippers and injured over 100 more at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994 – and Honeinu, an organization that provides legal and other aid to Jewish terrorists and their families, received funding and tax breaks.

Lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Religious Zionism electoral alliance didn’t become a media star on his own: His views are held by fewer than one in 1,000 Israeli Jews. Someone high up saw to it that he received coverage as if he were a candidate for prime minister. When we submitted a petition against him, the High Court of Justice banned most of his colleagues in the Otzma Yehudit party but allowed him to run for the Knesset, although his positions are no different than theirs. The price of his election to the Knesset is very high: His first act as a lawmaker was to establish a temporary “office” outside the home of Palestinian families slated for eviction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, with the intent of fomenting unrest. Against the backdrop of the frustration in Arab society and the development of religious extremism there as well, any match can light a fire. Jewish extremists were sent immediately on chartered buses to mixed cities to foment further unrest – all known ahead of time, orchestrated on WhatsApp. The fact that they were not arrested on their way there says it all.

The second front was openly encouraged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and it created a threat from the outside. In 2019, he admitted that “Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to send money to Gaza. That is part of our strategy – to differentiate the Palestinians in Gaza from Judea and Samaria.” The right-wing figure Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen explained that to prevent the two-state solution, Netanyahu “turned Hamas into his closest partner.” Thus, at the end of every round of fighting, after terrible losses of soldiers and civilians, the government transfers bribe money to a terror organization in exchange for quiet – until the next round.

We’ve heard many complaints from right-wing mouthpieces about how the media reports riots against Jews. They are lies. What the media doesn’t report is how Hamas’ growing strength is not a problem for Netanyahu, but a goal. Look at the West Bank, where relative quiet has prevailed thanks to security arrangements with the Palestinian Authority. This fact has disappeared from public discourse: You can’t serve the goal if you tell people that these agreements contribute to security.

Thus, two terrorist movements are threatening us simultaneously, one from within and one from without. We can deal with both of them: Block the groups that preach violence – and the hundreds of millions of shekels that will be saved can be invested in education for equality and partnership, in strengthening the Palestinian Authority, in signing agreements about borders and the economy and in promoting the future Palestinian state across the border. It has never been more important to establish a joint government of Jews and Arabs. Netanyahu’s incitement must not be allowed to determine our path. The extremists on both sides will continue sabotaging efforts toward peace and will persist in sowing terror and violence – but they will lose, because most people, as always, will choose life.

Anyone whose heart has filled with despair should breathe deeply and wake up. The strengthening of extremists is intentional – and to oppose it we need an alternative alliance that will work for a future of shared life here, out of the recognition that there is no other way.

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