(photo credit: Associated Press)
Haneen Zoabi, the firebrand Arab MK, recently warned of a third Palestinian
intifada, declaring that this time the uprising will come from within
Zoabi is about 10 years late. Jewish-Arab relations hit a
dangerous nadir in October 2000, when Arab citizens across the country took to
the streets, some violently, in solidarity with the Palestinian uprising in the
West Bank and Gaza. The second intifada was launched by Yasser Arafat just weeks
after he rebuffed a generous offer from prime minister Ehud Barak to resolve the
conflict when they met at Camp David with US president Bill Clinton.
sudden outpouring of rage caught the government and police off
Arab citizens threw stones and Molotov cocktails, blocked roads
and threatened Jews – all tactics used by Palestinians across the Green Line.
Yet, it was the killing of 12 Arab citizens by police that sent shock waves
throughout the country.
Recognizing the severity of the situation, and
its impact on the always delicate Jewish-Arab relationship, the Barak government
created the Or Commission to examine the causes of the uprising and how the
government and police responded. The Or Commission report is an historical
accounting of the discriminatory treatment of the Arab minority. It stressed the
government should make investing in improving the conditions of Arab communities
The commission also looked at interactions between police and
Arab citizens. While it suggested that the government and police improve how
they handle protests, it also underscored the responsibility of Israeli Arab
leaders to act and speak in ways that do not instigate violence.
sure, Israel still has to address more fully social and economic conditions for
the Arab minority. But, importantly, there has not been a replay of the 2000
tragedy, though incidents have occurred that under other conditions could have
In September 2008, on Yom Kippur, Arabs rioted in the
mixed city of Acre. Community leaders and police came together to coordinate on
resolving the situation. There were concerns that the rage in Acre would spread
to other communities, and foreign minister Tzipi Livni was dispatched from
Jerusalem to meet with Arab leaders in the city.
Later, in January 2009,
some Israeli Arabs protested the IDF incursion into Gaza as Israel sought to
stop Hamas’s constant rocket fire.
Although Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh
voiced an expectation that Israeli Arabs would rise up, the protests did not
Most recently, Israeli Arabs protested the clash between the
navy and the flotilla that attempted on May 31 to break the blockade of
Hamas-controlled Gaza. The presence of several Israeli Arabs, notably MK Zoabi,
on the Turkish vessel boarded by commandos further spurred outcry in several
STILL, THIS record of relative calm did not dissuade
Zoabi from warning of an Israeli Arab intifada in her interview with The
Guardian and in speeches to Palestinian groups during a recent visit to
Interestingly, that trip came soon after the Knesset stripped her
of certain parliamentary privileges, punishment for her participation in the
Zoabi’s confrontational rhetoric may appeal to the PLO
or Hamas, or even Hizbullah, but most Israeli Arabs would concur that these
groups do not represent their interests. Indeed, Arabs in the Galilee learned in
2006 that they are equal to Jews in the view of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah who
commanded Hizbullah to fire thousands of rockets at the North, killing Arabs and
Building healthy Jewish-Arab relations is essential to
strengthening Israel’s democratic society.
Jews should not impulsively
view all Arabs as potential enemies and, likewise, Arab citizens should not
instinctively regard all police with suspicion.
In this effort
nongovernmental organizations have been instrumental. With strong and trusting
relationships in both the Arab and Jewish communities, the Abraham Fund, for
example, has helped to design a program that every cadet attends at the police
The right to protest is just as integral to Israel as to other
democratic societies. But those who come out to demonstrate also have a duty to
not resort to violence.
Threatening the state or encouraging
insurrection, as Zoabi and her Balad party do, can only lead Israeli Arabs up
exactly the blind alley that the Or Commission warned against.The writer
is director of communications for the American Jewish Committee.