Middle Israel: The other civil war

The expectation for civil war was rife and far from unfounded.

disengagement, prayer 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
disengagement, prayer 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
According to the worst-case scenarios that preceded the Gaza pullout, we would now be only days, not months, after its completion, and the damage we'd be staring down would not be about misallocated funds or homeless evacuees, but about dead Jews. The expectation for a civil war was rife, universal, and far from unfounded. Sensible Israelis knew what kind of convictions, frustrations and explosives were at play, how inflammable the situation had become, and how determined Ariel Sharon was to arrive at a goal, any goal, once he had zeroed in on it. Understandably, then, when it all ended as bloodlessly as it did, most Israelis, whether Orange or Blue, were relieved regardless of their level of satisfaction with Gaza-less Israel's political complexion. Civil wars, all agreed, had severely traumatized all nations that endured them, and as such would best be avoided at almost any cost. Of course, the very same experience also taught that once waged, a challenge from within to a state's sovereignty had to be met with the kind of resolve ultimately demonstrated by initially reluctant civil warrior Abraham Lincoln. That is why Middle Israelis agreed, with a deep sense of sorrow, when Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz said that if shot at, IDF soldiers would shoot back. Of course they would; otherwise they would not be soldiers and Israel would not be a state. Fortunately, there was no need in all this during the events of summer '05, which did not bring with them a civil war. Unfortunately, there was plenty of need of such use of force during our previous brush with civil war, the one that was actually waged, though not by the far Right, but by its inversion, the Israeli Arab minority, five years ago this month. IN FALL 2000 Israel faced one of the ultimate nightmare scenarios its security forces had historically feared most: an assault on its public domain waged simultaneously by Palestinian terrorists and Israeli Arab rioters. Only a military invasion or a non-conventional attack could be more threatening for Israel's survival. Incited by rabble-rousers who portrayed then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount as a desecration of an Islamic site, the rioters 13 of whom were killed by the police forces they combated stormed much of northern Israel, pelting with rocks pedestrians and drivers, blocking major arteries, torching banks, stores and bus shelters. Worse yet, it all happened at the very moment when Gaza and the West Bank were already ablaze as Palestinian terrorists launched the war ordered by Yasser Arafat, in response to the sweeping land-for-peace proposal he was offered at Camp David two months earlier. In other words, both in terms of the cause they were championing and in terms of the means to which they were resorting, the Israeli Arabs who violated the law and disturbed the public order in fall 2000 were part of an effort that any life-seeking democracy would perceive, and treat, not as an act of civil unrest, but as an act of war. War, by definition, is the deployment of organized violence by one society against another. This is exactly what the vast majority of Israel's citizens felt they were facing at the time, and no attempt to rewrite history as they experienced it in those days of awe will convince that majority that what it faced in fall 2000 was anything less than an enemy attack. Even the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, which touched off the American Civil War, was not as provocative, because that assault on sovereignty at least did not involve collusion with an external enemy. As such, the events of October 2000, though handled by police for administrative and logistical reasons, could not in the first place be scrutinized by the Police Investigation Department (PID), because that agency's task is to scrutinize cop behavior during normal times, lest officers abuse their powers while dealing with the suspected rapists, robbers, thieves, pickpockets and other criminals from whom they are normally expected to protect the public. Yet despite being about war and peace, the fall 2000 disturbances' investigation was still placed in the hands of a forum originally designed to deal with the entirely different matter of law and order. Why? Because of Jewish politicians who were too cowardly to look Israeli Arab politicians in the eye and call them to task: if not for originally inspiring that attack on Israeli sovereignty, then at least for having subsequently failed to condemn its unleashing, and ultimately joined the effort to glorify their constituents' attack on the very state they, their leaders, pretend to serve. THE EFFORT to manipulate the debate over fall 2000 into a civil disobedience context is all the more hypocritical, considering that those ostensibly espousing that kind of liberalism are nowhere to be found when it is challenged in situations that do not involve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Had Ahmed Tibi's aim been to fight police abuse and promote human rights, rather than to hammer from within at the Jewish state, he would have protested, for instance, the mass and indefinite arrests of minors who protested the impending disengagement. Unlike the civil warriors of fall 2000, they were abused even without hurting anyone. But never mind Tibi et al.; their agenda is well known and expecting it to change is not much less aloof than expecting Israel to win the World Cup. The question is why the PID could not declare the events of fall 2000 essentially military in character, and as such beyond its jurisdiction, and why the politicians who would have held the settler leadership accountable had violence erupted in the wake of the Gaza pullout, now fail to demand similar accountability from Israeli Arab leaders. Just because the civil war they waged was, fortunately, nipped in the bud? The PID decision to “re-examine” its own decision to close down its investigation of the fall 2000 events did not reflect legalistic introspection. Rather, it followed political hysteria, much like that which gave birth in the first place to the Or Commission of Inquiry. Now the fanatics who habitually incite Israeli Arabs will have good reason to believe their bullying tactics can prove them right where reason would prove them wrong. The rest of us, at the same time, will have reason to suspect that the PID is staffed with spineless bureaucrats who have now failed to face up to the terror that most other Israelis have learned since October 2000 to confront.