Israeli Arab Riots Are No Intifada - They're Civil War

The fuel driving the 'Abu Khdeir intifada' is not the occupation, but the fact that the Palestinians in Israel are discriminated against and excluded from all walks of Jewish society.

Noam Tirosh
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Riots in the Israeli Arab town of Tamra, July 6, 2014.
Riots in the Israeli Arab town of Tamra, July 6, 2014.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Noam Tirosh

On the face of it, the most suitable name for the nationwide riots that erupted in recent days is the “Abu Khdeir intifada,” as a sort of Pavlovian reaction to the murder of the Palestinian youth Mohammed Abu Khdeir. It’s very easy to see these events as the beginning of yet another popular uprising, stemming from Israel’s continued occupation of the territories it conquered in the Six Day War.

The problem is that this interpretation is not compatible with reality. The calmest, most stable political entity between Jordan and the sea during the recent events was the Palestinian Authority, whose leader, Mahmoud Abbas, denounced bravely and clearly the Jewish youngsters’ abduction. The “Abu Khdeir intifada” is not taking place in the occupied territories at all. The riots raged in Jerusalem’s eastern neighborhoods, Israel’s “Triangle” communities, the Palestinian villages in the north and the Bedouin communities in the south. Tension was also felt in several mixed cities. But Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron and Jenin remained calm.

It is no accident that the relative quiet is kept in the Palestinian Authority while in Israel the fire of hatred and violence burns, as Jews and Arabs march with open eyes toward a violent collision. The fuel driving the “Abu Khdeir intifada” is not the occupation, but the fact that the Palestinians in Israel are second-class citizens, discriminated against and excluded from all walks of Jewish society. In recent days it seems that their blood is cheap as well, not only their dignity.

This is how the frightful murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, nationwide hate processions, widespread racist statements on the social networks – and politicians who take this opportunity to incite hatred and fear – has become the symbol of the new reality in Israel. A war reality. A civil war.

It is no longer possible to continue to explain the goings-on in Israel solely in terms of a romantic national struggle, in which the native people wants to drive away the occupiers from its land and the latter in turn strive to reinforce their ruling and controlling mechanisms and legitimize them. There’s no doubt that the occupation feeds the violence within Israel. Also, perhaps the memory of the IDF’s harsh reaction to the Al Aqsa intifada is deterring the Palestinians in the territories from joining the insurrection. But these explanations are not sufficient for understanding the latest events in Israel.

The accurate description of these events is that of a state torn between two ethnic groups that share the same territory and political framework and are embroiled in a battle that is deteriorating into terror and two-way violence. Both groups want to determine the character of the political regime that will govern them. This description has one clear name – civil war.

Civil wars tend to be even more devastating and terrible than “conventional” wars, which is why every effort should be made not to leave the public arena in the hands of those advocating violence. Now precisely is the time to offer the Jewish and Arab public in Israel another political horizon, of a society that is no longer prepared to accept the continued regime of segregation, discrimination and violence.

Whether a two-state solution for two peoples will be achieved, or the Jews continue to be sovereign over the whole territory, or whether a new alternative to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is no longer based on the separation-Moloch emerges – one thing is clear: The regime under which most of the Jewish population will live beside a very large Palestinian population will have to be democratic.

The civil war now catching fire in Israel will not necessarily end with the end of the occupation and will not abate when a political solution is found, if at all. The intergroup violence will stop only when Israel becomes a state for all its civilians, a state in which every civilian group will have absolutely equal rights regardless of ethnic affiliation. This state will also formally recognize the national singularity of all the groups that share it and the collective rights of each member of the collective – whether Jewish or Arab. If Israel is not a state that belongs to the people who live in it – it won’t be a viable state at all, as recent events prove.

The writer is a PH.D. candidate at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, where he teaches the course “Communication and Society in Israel.”

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