Beware the Israeli-Arab violent riots of the future - opinion

It is high time to impose more obligations and responsibilities on this country’s Arab minority, while investing in their advancement too.

 A JEWISH home in Lod is badly damaged during Arab rioting, May 2021.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
A JEWISH home in Lod is badly damaged during Arab rioting, May 2021.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

“Significant functional and intelligence deficiencies” contributed to the Israeli police failure to prevent and stop a wave of Israeli Arab riots in May 2021, according to the damning report issued this week by Israel’s state watchdog.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman found that the police and GSS failed to see the unrest coming or adequately grasp the breadth of the violence, and were haplessly delayed in deploying forces to quell inter-ethnic fighting in mixed Jewish-Arab cities like Lod, Acre, and Jaffa.

In some of its most scathing criticism, the report highlights the lack of Arabic-speaking intelligence coordinators in these cities, and the fact that 4,000 calls to the police about Arab violence were not followed up with the dispatch of a police cruiser.

Well, duh, all that was painfully obvious to anybody who lived through or followed the riots last year! It is unsurprising to anybody who has followed the skyrocketing trajectory of Arab and Bedouin lawlessness, and the nationalistic radicalization of some Israeli Arabs, over the past two decades.

What we really need, much more than a comptroller’s report on police fecklessness, is a national plan to root out the sources that are fueling extremism and violence in parts of the Israeli Arab community.

A burnt out bus after a day of riots in Lod, Israel, May 11, 2021 (credit: Courtesy)A burnt out bus after a day of riots in Lod, Israel, May 11, 2021 (credit: Courtesy)

Just a reminder:

Over 500 violent riots rocked Israel during Operation Guardian of the Walls (the name for Israel’s 11-day war with Hamas in Gaza in May 2021), killing three, injuring hundreds and leading to more than 3,000 arrests (including about 200 Israeli Jews). The main streets in mixed Arab-Jewish cities became battlefields.

Tires and vehicles were torched, traffic signs and traffic lights were destroyed, stores and even shuls were vandalized and residents cowered in their homes – unable to travel to work or places of greater safety. About NIS 50 million in damage was caused to civilian property and about NIS 10 million more to police property.

It was so bad, and the expectation that more such riots are likely in future conflicts is so realistic, that the IDF has marked Jewish-Arab clashes as a strategic scenario of concern which impacts its battle plans.

In other words, aside from the expectation that thousands of rockets, missiles, and drones will be launched at Israeli cities from Lebanon, Gaza, and the Golan Heights in a next war with Hezbollah and/or Hamas, Israel now must worry that major traffic arteries could be impeded in places where Israeli Arabs extremists are out rioting.

The IDF must prepare for a situation in which Military Police will have to keep roads open so that combat forces can reach the front; so that Home Front Command and medical forces can reach places where missiles fall; and so that the Israel Police can reach affected cities to prevent the looting of homes of people who will be evacuating.

OSTENSIBLY, Israeli Arabs have gradually but inexorably moved to acceptance and even preference of life in the Jewish State of Israel. Recent polls suggest that 71% of Israeli Arabs feel that Israel is a good place to live; 68% prefer to live in Israel than in other countries; and 60% even says they feel Israel to be a home and a homeland.

When asked whether they wanted to be transferred to an Arab government in the West Bank (as Avigdor Liberman proposed in his transfer plan, more than a decade ago), Arabs of the “triangle” in northern Israel prefer by a 10-to-1 ratio to remain Israeli citizens. And unsurprisingly, 93% of eastern Jerusalem Arabs prefer to live under Israeli governance than that of the Palestinian Authority. 

Indeed, previous Israel governments (both Likud and Yamina-Yesh Atid) governments have invested hundreds of millions of shekels to integrate Arabs into Israel’s burgeoning hi-tech and other profitable sectors. Last year’s budget allocated NIS 29.5 billion ($9.2 billion) for infrastructure, education, and employment in Arab communities over five years, along with billions more in initiatives to fight crime and increase access to health care.

“The Israeli media, the academic and intellectual elite, and most of the political establishment (wrongly) attributed the volcanic eruption in May to the supposed discrimination and marginalization of the Arab minority.”

Prof. Efraim Karsh

But there are counter trends that conflict with Israel’s welcome efforts.

Israeli historian Prof. Efraim Karsh wrote last year that “The Israeli media, the academic and intellectual elite, and most of the political establishment (wrongly) attributed the volcanic eruption in May to the supposed discrimination and marginalization of the Arab minority.”

“Evoking the age-old Zionist hope that the vast economic gains attending the Jewish national revival would reconcile the Palestinian Arabs to the idea of Jewish statehood, this self-incriminatory diagnosis is not only totally misconceived but the inverse of the truth,” according to Karsh.

The “establishment” is reluctant to acknowledge the May 2021 riots for what they are and what they portend, Karsh says – a growing rejection among Israeli Arabs of Israel’s Jewish nature and a move to systematically subvert state sovereignty and governability.

He argues that last year’s broadscale violence was driven by Arab gang and Islamist elements and coordinated with Hamas. They purposefully inflamed the masses and rallied otherwise peaceful Israeli Arabs for pogrom-style rioting and lynching. After all, why did last year’s riots cease as soon as the Gaza hostilities ended?

“If poverty and marginalization were indeed the culprits, why did Arab dissidence increase dramatically with the vast improvement in Arab standard of living in the 1970s and 1980s? Why did it escalate into an open uprising in October 2000 – after a decade that saw government allocations to Arab municipalities grow by 550% and the number of Arab civil servants nearly treble? And why did it spiral into a far more violent insurrection in May 2021 – after yet another decade of massive government investment in the Arab sector?”

A somewhat less alarmist but equally disturbing study on Israeli Arabs was published last year Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He argues that alongside a desire to benefit from integration economically and sociologically, there is a deep-rooted ideological consciousness among Israeli Arabs that rejects Zionism and the Jewish right to a homeland in Israel. He writes that the hard-core Islamist rejectionists have been making headway in radicalizing Israeli Arabs.

In fact, there has been a resurgence of the “Nakba” (disaster) narrative and the demand for an Arab “right of return” in the fullest-imaginable magnitude among Israeli Arabs. These demands have moved from refugee camp residents and descendants on the margins of Palestinian society into the mainstream, he finds.

Indeed, a public opinion survey conducted earlier this year by Habithonistim, a conservative Israeli defense and security forum founded by ex-generals and intelligence officials, found that, as a matter of principle, 75% of Israeli Arabs do not recognize any Jewish “right” to a sovereign state in the Land of Israel.

Hostile outside actors like the UN and Amnesty International capitalize on Israeli Arab rioting and Bedouin complaints to “prove” how discriminatory Israel is, warns Kuperwasser. And the PA leverages Amnesty’s “apartheid” charge both to egg on Israeli Arab radicals and to advance Ramallah’s campaign to criminalize Israel in international legal institutions.

The bottom line: It is high time to impose more obligations and responsibilities on this country’s Arab minority, while investing in their advancement too; and to ramp-up intelligence gathering and enforcement capabilities to crush radicals and criminals. Not to punish Israeli Arabs, but to encourage their good citizenship and better integration, and to rule effectively. This will be a painful but long overdue process.

And with regard to the Israel Police, well, if the police were to pursue those who block roads with burning tires in the Galilee and Negev, rampage through mixed Muslim-Jewish cities, vandalize public infrastructure and steal weaponry from IDF bases – with anything resembling the toughness and prosecutorial zeal applied to, say, Nir Hefetz (a state witness in the cases against former prime minister Netanyahu), then the country would be a lot safer.

The writer is a senior fellow at The Kohelet Forum and in the research department of Habithonistim: Israel’s Defense and Security Forum. The views expressed here are his own. His diplomatic, defense, political, and Jewish world columns over the past 25 years are archived at davidmweinberg.com.