Civil Fights: How the state encourages violence

Both settlers and Israeli Arabs have legitimate grievances with no apparent peaceful means of redress.

Jewish settler hurling rock 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Jewish settler hurling rock 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
In my last column, I noted that while settlers and Israeli Arabs resemble haredim in their reluctance to denounce their violent minorities, in both cases, government malfeasance has contributed to this reluctance and must be corrected before collective punishment can be justified. Specifically, both communities have legitimate grievances that, based on past experience, cannot be resolved nonviolently. And while this neither legitimizes violence nor justifies lax law enforcement against it, the reality of human nature is that most people, even those who sincerely abhor violence, have trouble wholeheartedly condemning it when no other means of redress exists. For Israeli Arabs, the legitimate grievance is discrimination, both budgetary and nonbudgetary. To some extent, this is resolvable peacefully, through the courts. And to some extent, it is their own fault: Rights cannot be disconnected from obligations, and as long as Israeli Arabs shun national service and vote en masse for MKs who openly support the country's enemies, some types of discrimination are justified. BUT TO the degree that equal treatment depends on government action rather than the courts, any Arab with eyes knows that even becoming model citizens would not help. How? By observing Israel's treatment of the Druse. Unlike other Israeli Arabs, Druse serve in the army. Moreover, they do not form separatist political parties that side with Israel's enemies against their own country, and are hence eternally in opposition: Druse belong to most major Zionist parties, and Druse MKs have been part of most governing coalitions and several cabinets. Yet despite this, they suffer discrimination identical to other Israeli Arabs. Their schools are similarly underfunded compared to Jewish schools; their communities are similarly starved of new housing due to lack of approved zoning plans for legal construction; they face similar discrimination in the job market. In short, good citizenship and democratic engagement have done nothing for the Druse. Violence, in contrast, does work: After every Arab riot, however illegitimate its pretext, the knee-jerk response of many politicians, journalists and jurists is to throw more money at the community. Sometimes, the furor abates and no money actually arrives, but sometimes, it does. A classic example is October 2000, when thousands of Arab rioters paralyzed the North for days: They shut down major traffic arteries by attacking Jewish cars, killing one Jew; they assaulted policemen, vandalized property and threatened nearby Jewish communities. Moreover, the riots erupted hours after Palestinians launched a violent war against Israel, meaning the rioters were abetting an enemy attack on their own country. Nothing could be more illegitimate. Yet what did the ensuing commission of inquiry conclude? That Israel must assuage Arab disaffection with more state funding. IN AN ideal world, Israeli Arabs would reject violence anyway. In reality, Israel cannot spend 60 years proving that exemplary loyalty achieves nothing, but violence produces results, and still expect Arab citizens to wholeheartedly denounce violence. Human nature does not work that way. Among settlers, the legitimate grievance is Israel's democratic deficit. While a democracy is entitled to cede territory in pursuit of peace, citizens must have a fair chance of fighting this decision through democratic means. Yet experience shows that settlers have no such chance. In 1995, settlers successfully lobbied Knesset members to secure a majority against the Oslo II agreement, only to see Yitzhak Rabin nullify this achievement by buying two MKs from a far-right party and then amending the law to retroactively legalize the bribes. In the 2003 election, which revolved around Amram Mitzna's plan to leave Gaza unilaterally, they successfully campaigned to elect his opponent, Ariel Sharon, only to see Sharon u-turn 11 months later and announce the disengagement. In 2004, Sharon called a referendum on disengagement within his own party, and settlers successfully canvassed Likud members door to door to defeat the plan. But Sharon promptly ditched his promise to honor the results. And in each case, journalists, politicians and jurists applauded the premier for flouting the democratic process. Hence settlers know the next premier will have no qualms about doing the same, rendering any attempt to fight concessions by democratic means pointless. In contrast, violence does sometime deter demolitions and evictions, in both Arab communities and settlement outposts. Again, ideally, settlers would denounce violence anyway. But in reality, you cannot put people's homes at stake, nullify all democratic means of contesting the decision and still expect them to wholeheartedly oppose violence. Human nature does not work that way. WOULD SOLVING these problems actually help? Regarding Israeli Arabs, I admit to skepticism: Opposition to the state's very existence runs deep in the Arab community, as does the pernicious belief that they deserve full rights with no obligations. Yet since Israel must rectify its treatment of the Druse anyway if it does not want them irretrievably disaffected, nothing is lost by trying. In contrast, most settlers support the state, and would accept territorial concessions if convinced that they reflect the majority's will. Hence eliminating the democratic deficit almost certainly would end their disaffection. Moreover, this is easily accomplished: All it needs is binding legislation conditioning the cession of Israeli-held territory on either a referendum, new elections or an 80-MK majority (i.e., enough to be unachievable by bribery and to prove widespread support), with the added proviso that a party that campaigns against the proposal cannot then adopt it without being subject to the same referendum/elections requirement. Given the potentially grave consequences of ceding territory, governments should not be allowed to do so without the consent of a majority in any case. Moreover, this law would create a positive disincentive to violence: If settlers knew they would someday need the majority's votes, they would hardly want to alienate that majority via gratuitous violence. Yet successive governments, whether Labor, Likud or Kadima, have consistently opposed similar bills, precisely because they fear that having to convince a majority would thwart their ability to cede territory - which, of course, merely proves the settlers' point. Democracies have an obligation to provide their citizens with nonviolent options for redressing grievances. And until Israel does so, the disturbing tolerance for violence among both settlers and Israeli Arabs will continue.