The “real” reasons for last weekend’s massive brawl in the mixed (Muslim, Druze and Christian) village of Abu Snan, in which 41 people were injured, are still being sought. Did it happen because a Druze man insulted a young Muslim woman? Did it stem from a double reaction – a Druze response to the killing last week of a Druze officer in Israel’s Border Police, Jidan Assad, in a terror attack in Jerusalem, and a Muslim response to the killing of Khayr al-Din Hamdan by a Druze border policeman in Kafr Kana? Or perhaps its roots should be sought in the 1956 expansion of the mandatory conscription law, which made army service mandatory for Druze citizens of –Israel and thereby created a deep rift in identity and identification between these two communities?
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At first glance, the brawl could be dismissed as just another symptom of divisions and rifts between two minorities living in the State of Israel. In the eyes of many Israelis, this is just another case of “Arabs attacking Arabs,” which has nothing to do with Jewish Israeli society – a conflict that must be resolved by community leaders, following common practice in tribal societies. But the state also bears responsibility for the tension: For years, it has been stirring the ethnic pot by making a distinction between “good Arabs” and “bad Arabs” – portraying Christian Arabs as loyal, Muslim Arabs as a fifth column and Druze as “flesh of our flesh.”
Branding minorities in accordance with their degree of loyalty to the state, especially when the yardstick for measuring this loyalty is service in the Israel Defense Forces, undermines the supremacy of the principle of equal citizenship for all. This branding to a large extent determines the scope of the rights the state is willing to grant to each community and contributes to internal tensions between “those with rights” and those without them.
The exploitation of ethnic or religious rivalries in order to distance some minorities and draw others closer was the standard method of rule in colonialist states that sought to prevent civil uprisings against foreign occupation. It seems that Israel has yet to free itself of this outlook, in which it sees Druze, Arabs, Christians and other communities as threatening natives rather than as citizens with legitimate rights, regardless of their military service or the degree to which they embrace government policy.
Israel’s minorities aren’t all an indistinguishable mass, so personal, local and communal conflicts aren’t unexpected. But the state must do everything in its power to reduce the tensions and mediate between the sides instead of inflaming tempers for political purposes in the classic “divide and conquer” style.