Minority groups have several means of struggle available to them: Parliamentary, extra-parliamentary, illegal, ghettoization , the establishment of alternative state institutions, and carrying out an irredentist struggle. When a minority group adopts undemocratic and violent methods of struggle, this is a hallmark of a deeply divided society that is seriously conflicted. Although Israel is a country with an exceptionally deep rift between its Jewish and Arab communities, there has been very little violence between the two communities.
I would like to suggest two reasons for this surprisingly modest amount of violence between the two ethnic groups. Firstly, Israel’s democratic structure offers parliamentary and extra-parliamentary non-violent conflict management. Secondly, there is an asymmetry between the powerful majority and the weak minority.
Thirdly, the violence employed by law enforcement agencies, namely Police and Border Police, against minority groups, deters individuals from carrying out revenge attacks. Fourthly, minority populations fear the possibility that a collective economic boycott could be carried out against them.
Fifthly, there is mutual deterrence.
An absolute majority of Israeli Arab citizens support a legal struggle that can be carried out properly within a democratic administration. Opinion polls (coexistence index) show that a majority (54.2 percent) of Arabs believe that, “despite its shortcomings, the Israeli democracy is good for Arabs too. 65.6% of Arabs believe that they can improve their lives through persuasion, political pressure and voting.
The Arab public is committed to using democratic methods to improve its status, as demonstrated by its tremendous support of extra-parliamentary means, such as general strikes (81%), and protests outside of Israel (70.9%), both of which are lawful actions.
The high participation rate in lawful demonstrations and marches (50.8%) and commemorative events (50.1% in Land Day and 47.9% in Nakba commemorations) do indicate a sense of alienation and distress, but also of active citizenship. It shows that Arabs take their citizenship seriously and do not view it as forced. In addition, 72.8% of Arabs support Arab parties joining government coalitions, since they understand that this is the most practical way to gain political influence in Israel. They are in favor of Arab participation in Knesset activity despite the dysfunction of Arab Knesset members and the failure of Arab parties to stand up to right-wing parties and to bring about real changes. These parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activities reinforce Arab citizens’ commitment to democracy.
Arab citizens who are active in social political protests are mimicking Jewish citizens’ behavior and expect equal treatment from the police and other authorities. However, when the Arab minority compares police behavior toward Arab protests and similar protests among Jews (including haredim or ultra-Orthodox), it finds a large amount of discrimination and this makes Arabs furious and leads to a loss of confidence in their country and a feeling that they are less personally connected to Israel. They feel that this policy discriminates against them and they respond accordingly with the backing of the national political leadership.
Public opinion surveys show that 8.5% of Arabs reported harassment by the authorities following participation in protests. 12.1% of Arabs who participated in Land Day events reported being harassed by Israeli authorities.
13.6% of Arabs who participated in protests and legal marches, 14.7% of Arabs who participated in Nakba commemorations, and 22.4% of Arabs who participated in illegal protests reported that they have been harassed by police. These statistics indicate that the authorities treat various communities differently and that the Arab minority is aware of this phenomenon.
On rare occasions, a very small minority of Arab extremists deviate from normal occurrences and engage in violent means of struggle.
Police response to this violent activity is even more violent, and thus a vicious cycle develops. Unfortunately, though, more and more Arabs have been complaining of late of harassment by the authorities even when their struggle is carried out in a legitimate, legal fashion.
Price Tag attacks and the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir
In the last round of violence, the situation was different than in the past. Ostensibly, the direct cause for the riots was the abominable murder of 16-yearold Muhammad Abu Khdeir, but actually this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Muhammad was not the first victim; he was just the latest one in a campaign to legitimize racism against Arabs.
The kidnapping and brutal murder of the three Jewish boys brought about a wave of posts online calling for revenge and dozens of social media groups were created on which people expressed their desire for revenge. The most prominent site was the Facebook group called “The people of Israel want revenge,” which succeeded in attracting more than 36,000 members before it was shut down. It later reopened in a number of parallel channels. Many of their members are teenagers and soldiers. These sites called for people to take revenge on Arabs and included racist remarks such as, “We should just wipe them out.” The pinnacle of racism was reached when the following statement was posted online: “Hating Arabs doesn’t mean you’re racist, it means you have values.”
Over the past few years, and especially since the current government came into office, the Arab community in Israel has begun to feel that Jewish Israelis are repulsed by them. Public policies that have been changed due to hostile parliamentary legislation have crossed many red lines, the socio-economic status of the Arab community has deteriorated greatly and Arab citizens feel unwelcome in their homeland, as if their blood was less red than their neighbors’.
Price tag attacks don’t just result in physical harm to property, but hurt the religious and nationalistic sensitivities of the Arab minority. Many government ministers failed to condemn these heinous actions, and would not agree to have them officially considered terrorist activity. In the eyes of the Arab sector, it seems as if price tag attacks are accepted as legitimate.
Only by considering the context of the reality described above can we begin to understand the terrible wave of violent protests currently taking place in many Arab communities.
A different kind of violence
In contrast with previous rounds of violence, recent events have brought about a very interesting phenomenon.
Mayors, young people and business leaders decided on their own to initiate a private forum to replace the national leadership that seems to have disappeared. The purpose of the forum was to reign in the violent teens. These new local leaders decided that it was important to curb these teens’ confrontation with police forces, which many times ended tragically. The goal of these new leaders was to calm the situation down. Many of the new local leaders issued communiqués that were critical of the violent acts and were even willing to confront residents in an effort to restore order and prevent confrontation with police.
This violent wave that is sweeping through a number of Arab communities is being led by a handful of young people – most of whom are just teens – who are rising up in rebellion against the country’s national leadership. In my opinion, so long as there are no Arab casualties, these events won’t herald the start of a third intifada. Instead, I believe that this wave is a kind of release of wrath by these teens who have no hope for the future and have nothing to do. They are desperate, unemployed and easily incited. They are hostile to their society and their surroundings.
Of course, it is well within the rights of the Arab community to protest against the murder of innocent people, against the demonization of its members in the media and the public sphere. It has the right to protest against the incompetence of the police in protecting its members from price tag attacks and against the policy of exclusion, neglect and discrimination and disgusting racism.
Protests should be conducted properly and non-violently. Property should not be destroyed and no violence should be employed against others.
The struggle should be conducted through the appropriate channels as is acceptable in enlightened societies.
I believe that this conflict must be concluded in a fair way that will put a stop to the bloodshed and respect the Palestinians people’s right to self-determination.
There is no way for all of us to reach a safe haven without each side understanding the other side’s pain and being willing to treat each other’s dreams with respect.
The author teaches in the department of Sociology and Anthropology and Multi Disciplinary Studies at Western Galilee College and University of Haifa.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.