The weekend began last Friday with appeals from the police that drivers avoid Nahal Iron (Wadi Ara), especially Highway 65 near the Israeli Arab city of Umm el-Fahm. This followed reports that a demonstration was brewing against Operation Brother’s Keeper to locate the three abducted school boys, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah.
But since the disturbances took place on Shabbat Eve, most Israelis failed to take in the full extent of what occurred. For a while, it appeared like a would-be rerun of the October 2000 riots. Screaming, stone-hurling demonstrators streamed onto the highway and blocked it off, carrying slogans praising the boys’ abduction and calling for more kidnappings.
Much as the police initially sought to keep a low profile, there was little choice but to intervene in view of the obstruction of a major traffic artery and the provocative violence against the officers. Police reinforcements, stun grenades, and tear gas were needed to quell the riot.
Besides the shouted advocacy for taking more Israelis hostage, there was the reference to convicted murderers in Israeli prisons as “martyrs” and the repeatedly chanted mantra, “With spirit and blood, we will redeem you martyrs.”
This left no room for quibbling about which side these Israeli citizens sympathize with.
Most disconcerting were the top-ranking Israeli-Arab politicians on hand, cheerleading the rampage. One of them was Hadash chairman Muhammad Barakei, who hardly ranks as inordinately extreme on the scale of Israel’s Arab sector.
“This demonstration,” Barakei hectored, “is a protest against the brutality of the IDF and against the illegal arrests and unlawful activities by the IDF in the territories.”
When MK Haneen Zoabi asserted that the abduction of three schoolboys isn’t terrorism, she infuriated the overwhelming majority of Israelis, but her ultra-radicalism is a foregone conclusion. When her fellow Balad MKs chimed in agreement, they, too, angered Israelis – but Balad agitation does not surprise anyone. However, when MKs from other Arab Knesset factions echo similar sentiments, the escalation is manifest and constitutes something our society can any longer afford to belittle.
Umm el-Fahm is a hotbed of Israeli-Arab radicalism. Its former mayor is Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement’s fanatic Northern Branch and a convicted terror-facilitator and rabble-rouser. His influence in his hometown is enduring, but most troubling is the fact that active politicians from elsewhere in the Arab sector attempt to compete with his zealotry rather than combat it. Barakei is testament to that.
Ironically, Umm el-Fahm’s populace bristled against Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s suggestion that their city be ceded to the Palestinian Authority in the framework of a territorial exchange. Umm el-Fahm and its surroundings were not part of original Israel, but were attached to it after the War of Independence in a round of land swaps. Palestinians might thereby get areas already populated by their loyal compatriots, while Arab inhabitants would not lose their homes and/or properties.
The vituperation with which this proposal was greeted was hardly the expected reaction from an ostensibly oppressed minority, as Israeli-Arabs depict themselves. If things are so bad for Arabs inside Israel, why are they so fond of Israel’s jurisdiction and citizenship? Perhaps things are nowhere as awful as portrayed for demagogic purposes. Perhaps Israeli Arabs do not really have it so bad. Indeed, perhaps they have it quite good and they know it. In fact, odds are that they are better off than any Arab population anywhere in the vast Arab world. Surely nowhere else in this region is it possible to subvert with impunity.
This makes the role played by the Knesset’s Arab members colossally cynical. It is hard to escape the conclusion that they deliberately inflame passions as a vote-getting ploy.
They vie for the title of most-anti-Israeli. They radicalize their public and must then ramp up their own radical reputation to appeal to the electorate they had super-radicalized.
If in-your-face sedition by parliamentarians bankrolled by Israeli taxpayers is not tackled by strict legislative demarcation and no-nonsense enforcement of the law, then whole swathes of this country will descend into entrenched anarchy.
A none-too-fine line separates legitimate dissent from incendiary incitement and alignment with the implacable enemy.