It is no coincidence that Israeli- Arab riots began over the weekend in Muslim localities in the center of the country dominated by the northern branch of the Islamic Movement.
Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has said it is considering banning the Islamic Movement, a move that is unlikely to be carried out in any significant way, but this nonetheless was likely one of the triggers for the latest unrest.
The protests were largely seen as an immediate reaction to the murder of Shuafat teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir, but underlying tensions were also at play.
Interestingly, Arab Christian and Beduin sectors did not play a major role in the demonstrations.
Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, told The Jerusalem Post that the move to outlaw the Islamic Movement and ongoing “price-tag” attacks were also important motivating factors for the protests.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s constant efforts to push his plan to swap Israeli Arab areas of the Triangle in the center of the country, east of Kfar Saba, and turn them into citizens of the Palestinian Authority, also raised tensions.
“I am from Kalansuwa,” noted Abu Rass, adding that “land swaps and efforts to ban the Islamic Movement, which is very strong in the Triangle, are why the protests started there and not in the Galilee.”
They started in Tira, Kalansuwa and Taiba, where the movement is very strong, he added.
Prof. Amal Jamal, head of the International Graduate Program on Political Science and Political Communication at Tel Aviv University, told the Post that part of the causes for the pent-up anger come from a deep sense among Arab youth that they do not have a bright future, partly due to discrimination.
An important factor for the protests, he said, was that Israeli Arabs saw the intensive actions by the IDF in the West Bank following the kidnapping and murder of the three teens as excessive. People have families in the West Bank, visit there, and are connected to what is going on there, not only through the media.
Another important factor, noted Jamal, is that it is currently the holiday of Ramadan, which is a sensitive period when people are fasting, and any humiliation could cause an aggravated reaction.
Regarding Israeli politicians or those in the media who claim Arab leaders are inciting, Jamal argues that the protests were sparked spontaneously and were due not to any planning but to grass-roots anger.
Jamal also blames the national media for “incitement against Arab MKs and their leadership” and says it is hypocritical for the media and MKs to ask for them to take responsibility for the situation at the same time they charge them with incitement.
And the police reaction made things worse, since the members of the Arab public believe the police view them as “the enemy” and not as normal citizens of the state.
Ghada Zoabi, the founder and CEO of the Israeli-Arab news portal Bokra.net, told the Post that Arab youth are frustrated because Jews do not want to hire them for good positions. She also adds that the incitement against Arabs on social media makes them upset.
One of her reporters said that Arabs say that they feel Jewish society rejects them and wants “to boycott our workers and products.”
“It was not just about the murder”; other factors “pushed them over the edge.”
Anton Shulhut, an Israeli-Arab writer and publicist from Acre, told the Post that he believes the protests were spontaneous and triggered by the killing of the boy in Jerusalem.
“I don’t think the results of the investigation will cause more of an uproar or influence things,” said Shulhut.
Any similar incident that happens in the future could cause problems in the field, he concluded.
Edwar Makhoul, a Christian Arab from the Galilee who studies Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University, told the Post that, for the most part, Christians are not taking part in these protests.
“Christian Arabs are undergoing a crisis of identity,” he said, noting that their support is divided among Arab and Jewish political parties. We are in a dilemma, “a minority within a minority.”