Something like 30 Israelis have died in the present wave of violence. Some call it the Knifing or Stabbing Intifada, in reference to the large incidence of attacks with knives, by a male or female, most of whom have ranged in age from 15 to 35. Some have been as young as 11, and there is at least one grandmother who gave her life for the cause.Numbers are not precise, insofar as some do not count the Arabs who have been attacked on the assumption they were Jews, and a few cases where the police are pondering whether the attack was associated with some kind of conventional criminality (robbery or a personal animosity) as opposed to Palestinian nationalism or Islamic extremism.
Most of the victims have been buried with decent, but limited media attention. Family members and friends have had their space in the press and time on air to describe the fine traits of the diseased. A few have gotten significantly greater attention, and provoked at least some pondering by officials as to the nature of Israel's security policy.
One example was the killing of two Jews in a Tel Aviv bar and then a Bedouin taxi driver by an Israeli Arab. That produced extensive discussion about the spread of violence from West Bank Palestinians to Israeli Arabs.
Then after a lull in violence for several days, there occurred two attacks that questioned the security of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Both targets provoked more than the usual emotion. A photogenic religious woman in her 30s, a nurse in the Beer Sheva hospital and mother of six was killed in her home. Another woman was only moderately injured while in a West Bank shop, but her advanced pregnancy and the health of the baby received more than the normal attention.
These attacks have been prominent not only on account of the victims, but because it was thought that the attackers were Palestinians who worked in the settlements where the incidents occurred.
Activists demanded a closing of settlements to Palestinian workers, and the IDF announced a temporary closing while it pondered the need to reconfigure security.
Prominent among the problems having to be considered is the interdependence between Israelis and Palestinians, along with the current climate of increased tensions. Some 26,000 West Bank Palestinians have permits and work daily in Jewish settlements. Overall, 150,000 West Bank Palestinians work legally in Israel, Many of them could not have found work in the Palestinian economy, and their take-home pay from Israelis is at least a third higher that what they might have received from Palestinian employers. Many of these are skilled or semi-skilled craftsmen, without whom Israeli contractors could not erect buildings and Israeli homeowners could not do repairs. Guesses extend to how many other thousands come through the porous borders and find skilled work or menial labor at gas stations, car washers, restaurants, and family gardens.
The numbers may be fuzzy, and the qualitative material of anecdotes make the interdependence of Palestinians and Israelis impossible to summarize in any simple fashion.
Israeli Arabs are even more thoroughly integrated into the national economy, with individuals at all professional, technical, and lower levels in law, medicine, high-tech, education, government offices, police, the prison service and the IDF, as well as a political contingent in municipal governments and the Knesset. Israeli Arabs feel themselves, and are felt by Jews to be somehow involved with issues of Palestine.
It is becoming more common for Israeli Arab citizens to refer to themselves as Israeli Palestinians, or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. There are Israelis and overseas Jews who see this as the first step on a slippery slope toward the destruction of Israel. Others note that Israeli Jews label one another according to their ethnicity, e.g. American, Anglo-Saxon, French, German, Russian, Yemenite, Iraqi, Persian, Kurd, Moroccan, and not a few of us have more than one citizenship. This mosaic is being confused by increasing levels of intermarriage, and it suggests that Arabs as well should be allowed to label themselves as they wish. The hoary idea of the slippery slope is somewhere in this conversation, and it is useful to paraphrase a classic US Supreme Court decision from a century ago allowing a national income tax despite fears that it would eventually destroy personal liberty. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that "the power to tax is not the power to destroy while this court sits." In regard to Jews who refuse to use the label Palestinian, we can say that there are ample ways to guard Israel's integrity when the need arises, without demanding that Arabs accept a label we chose for them.
However, Israeli Arabs, under one label or another, are marginal, if not entirely so, to the security of Jewish settlements.
A popular image of the settlers is that they are intensely nationalistic and religious (Orthodox) Jews. The ultra-Orthodox have their settlements, i.e., Betar Ilit and Modiin Ilit, but they are right alongside the 1967 borders, and they do not figure in most discussions about settlements..
Some see the Orthodox settlers as intensely anti-Arab. This derives from the actions of several hundred young people, whose men mark themselves with large kipot and long peyot, women in long dresses, and live in tiny hilltop settlements of shacks or trailers. They get attention for petty or significant crimes against Arab property and persons.
The reality is that Orthodox settlers also include numerous individuals having a strong creed of accommodation with Arabs. Several of the settlements have refused to surround themselves with fences, and individuals nurture contact with their Arab neighbors.
There are positive and negative stories about settlers' encounter with Arabs. Most of the time, it goes well. Arabs and Jews work and shop together in commercial centers at key road junctions. There have been incidents; the IDF posts numerous personnel at the sites; soldiers are the typical target of individual attacks, and it is usually the attacker who is killed or seriously injured. Currently the soldiers are being equipped not only with protective vests, but newly devised collars designed to protect their necks against knives.
Settlers tell stories about decent personal relationships with Arab workers, but also about workers thought friendly who turned on people who knew them.
Palestinian polls find majorities of the population that support the use of violence for the sake of national aims. Many of the 200,000 or so who work for Israelis may be swallowing their feelings for the sake of jobs. We don't know how many of them have no strong feelings one way or the other.
Israeli government and security personnel do not only worry about the immediate safety of Jews. They also realize that providing access to Israeli jobs is a way to moderate the behavior of Palestinians. Those working in Israel or the settlements make a mockery of the campaign to boycott Israel. They are likely to be the first to suffer from any success of a boycott demanded by Palestinian activists, along with others who conceive of themselves as humanitarian.
Israel uses the carrot as well as the stick, occasionally closing itself off to remind the Palestinians of what may happen if they take their religion and nationalism too seriously.
No country can protect all of its people all of the time. Israelis die of traffic accidents and from other violence at about the rate of western Europeans, and less so than Americans.
It isn't easy deciding what to do alongside all these calculations. Given the dependence on Arab workers for construction and other services, it is understandable that the prohibition against Palestinians entering the settlements was relaxed after a day or two. There may be more guards, closer inspection of those who enter, and greater concern for security fences.
However, residents of a settlement that experienced one of the recent attacks have reiterated their refusal to surround themselves with a fence.
Individual settlers will continue to discuss the pluses and minuses of living where they are. They'll express yet again religious and nationalist sentiments, appreciation for the low cost of housing, as well as for the space, views, neighbors, and synagogue circle they and family members have come to appreciate. They are also aware of the dicey travel on West Bank roads, and wonder about the Arabs who live nearby, shop and work alongside them, and near their homes.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem