Instead of Fanning the Flames, Put Out the Fire: Arab Mayor's Lesson in Responsible Leadership

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Mayor of Umm al-Fahm, Samir Mahameed, earlier this week.
Umm al-Fahm Mayor Samir Mahameed.Credit: Fadi Amun

The events at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque over the past week garnered international attention. Unusually, the foreign ministers of influential Arab states convened on short notice on behalf of a Palestinian issue, in the Jordanian capital, Amman, last week.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas received phone calls from the U.S. secretary of state. He also spoke with the presidents of Russia and Turkey, while Egyptian mediators worked hard to prevent a flare-up in the Gaza Strip.

On the face of it, all this is proof that international and Arab attention is obtained more easily when there are riots at Al-Aqsa. After all, in the past month 20 young Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, most of them in the Jenin area, but that didn’t light a fire under any foreign leader.

In Israeli Arab society, the trend this year has contrasted sharply from the events of last year – whether that’s due to the difficult events that occurred during Operation Guardian of the Walls, or because of the wave of condemnation that washed over the Arab public after it emerged that two of the recent terror attacks, in Be’er Sheva and in Hadera, involved Arab citizens of Israel (with ties to the Islamic State movement).

Local Arab leaders deliberately chose not to aggravate the situation. For two weeks, at a time when tensions in Jerusalem were at their peak and the West Bank contended with a wave of arrests, in Arab communities within Israel there were barely any calls for demonstrations. Although preventive arrests were made, including administrative detention, the mood on the ground was different. The Arab parties and the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee made do with condemnations, and local protests did not attract large crowds, out of a recognition that there’s no reason to exacerbate the situation. The local Arab leadership chose not to “exploit” the events in Jerusalem in order to score political points, and was not drawn into the cycle of escalation.

Umm al-Fahm Mayor Dr. Samir Sobhi Mahameed deserves special mention in this context. Less than a month after finding himself in the eye of the storm following a condolence message on behalf of the municipality over the deaths of the two terrorists in the Hadera attack, Mahameed chose this weekend to stand up to masked youths who rioted in the streets, claiming any violent protest that harms public property is illegitimate.

Mahameed, in his position as a local leader, has taken a clear position in order to send a message at the national level as well. A public demand for a similar approach should be made to the local leadership in Israeli Jewish society and to all elected officials, especially right-wing extremists such as MKs Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who never miss an opportunity to start a fire.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other elected officials must restrain the extremists in the Knesset and prevent them from igniting the area. There is only a hairbreadth of difference between controlled protest and chaos that can lead to bloodshed.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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