Amid the barrages of Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets – and as young Arab citizens of Israel engaged in riots across the country – Muslim and Jewish medical personnel at the Rambam Health Care Center in Haifa issued a message of unity.
In an uplifting multi-lingual tweet on Wednesday evening, the doctors and nurses of the hospital posted a photo collage in which they are seen standing side-by-side, holding up pieces of paper spelling out the Hebrew sentences: “We overcame the coronavirus. We will all come together again now.” Some members of the team, in scrubs and surgical masks, with stethoscopes around their necks, are bearing signs with drawings of hearts accompanied by the word “peace” in Arabic.
The uplifting social-media post was both welcome and jarring. On the one hand, it served as a reminder of the dedication of Israel’s doctors and nurses of all ethnic and religious backgrounds to saving lives for months on end during the pandemic.
On the other, it constituted a stark contrast to the scenes of anti-Jewish rampages taking place in Jerusalem, Lod, Acre, Jaffa and Haifa, and retaliation by vigilantes out for vengeance against Arabs in Bat Yam, Tiberias and elsewhere.
The brewing of what is coming to resemble an actual civil war, as with the missiles from Gaza, can be attributed to Hamas, the terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip, and to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The spike in these internecine “clashes” began during the weeks leading up to Islam’s holy month of Ramadan and Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of the unification of the city after the 1967 Six Day War. But the real reason that Abbas stepped up his incitement campaign against Israel and the Jews was the looming Palestinian legislative elections, from which he rightly feared that Hamas was going to emerge victorious.
Never mind that he never intended to go through with the elections, the first since 2006, which were slated for the end of May. The charade was simply a ploy to pull the wool over the eyes of the new administration in Washington, which he knew would be more receptive to his shenanigans than its predecessor.
Reverting to his usual blood libels, he riled up the Arab residents of east Jerusalem by claiming that Israel was trying to take over al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. It’s his go-to lie whenever he needs to spark an uprising in order to keep himself in power in Ramallah.
In this instance, his motives were clear: to save face with his disgruntled people by proving to them that he’s just as radical as Hamas, and to blame Israel for his “indefinitely postponing” the vote.
Hamas reacted to the riots in Jerusalem by launching missiles from Gaza, including into the Israeli capital that the Palestinians claim as their own. To Abbas’s dismay, the so-called “protesters” whom he’d incentivized to clash with the Israel Police waved Hamas flags while singing the group’s praises.
That Israel got caught in the literal and figurative Fatah-Hamas crossfire is neither new nor surprising. But the latest escalation has an added element that nobody seemed to have predicted: Hamas not only upstaged Abbas by hijacking the protests that he sparked; it also managed to garner the enthusiastic support of hundreds of Arab Israelis.
Though this isn’t the first time that the latter have turned on the country of their citizenship in favor of the Palestinians – similar Arab riots took place at the start of the Second Intifada in 2000 – it was totally unexpected for a number of reasons, among them the very Arab-Jewish cooperation highlighted on Twitter by the Rambam staff. Another was the split, ahead of the March 23 Knesset elections, of the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party from the Joint List.
Ra’am, headed by Deputy Knesset Speaker MK Mansour Abbas, broke away from the Arab bloc to run on a refreshing platform. Rather than spending all its political capital on attacking Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, Ra’am announced that it would focus on improving the lives of its constituents.
ONE WOULD think that this goal was self-evident. Like every sector of Israel’s diverse populace, Arab communities have problems and needs specific to them.
Sadly, however, Arab politicians have been far more concerned with bashing their country than serving their voters. The Joint List even opposed the Abraham Accords – the peace deals that Israel signed with the United Arab Emirate and Bahrain and later other Muslim-majority states – on the grounds that they didn’t include the Palestinians.
Abbas (Mansour, not Mahmoud) aimed to shift the entire paradigm. To have a shot at doing so, he acknowledged during his campaign that he would need to forge an alliance with, not battle, the ruling Zionist coalition.
His about-face caused a major stir among Arabs and Jews alike, particularly when he displayed public affection for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting last November of the Knesset Committee on Violence in the Arab Sector, which Abbas heads. After all, the Ra’am leader is deputy chairman of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement and author of its charter.
As his detractors on the Right point out, he is more ideologically aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood (and its offshoot Hamas) than with any establishment Israeli party. Still, early last month, as Netanyahu was attempting to cobble together a coalition, possibly with the backing of Ra’am’s four seats, Abbas gave a historic and conciliatory press conference in Hebrew.
Quoting a verse from the Koran that refers to the “opportunity for a shared life in the holy and blessed land for the followers of the three religions and both peoples,” he said, “Now is the time for change.”
Though his entire speech was mind-blowing, both for its outreach to the Israeli public and for not mentioning the Palestinians, critics noted the Islamic Movement’s green flags in the background. Others hailed the words and tone of the address, considering it sufficient justification for Netanyahu to negotiate with Ra’am as a potential partner in the process of forming the next government.
The latter’s optimism was marred when it transpired that Abbas had expressed a very different sentiment in Arabic a few days earlier.
“We humbly stand before our people and Arab-Palestinian society,” he said. “[We] bow our heads in honor and glory of this precious society, which has lived the ‘nakba’ [the “catastrophe” of Israel’s establishment in 1948], clung to this land and preserved its identity.”
Netanyahu in any case was unsuccessful at creating a coalition, as Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich nixed Ra’am as a partner. And without Smotrich’s support, Netanyahu would have had an even fewer number of mandates in his camp.
Which brings us to Operation Guardian of the Walls, Israel’s current campaign against Hamas in Gaza. One of Smotrich’s arguments against joining forces with Ra’am in any constellation was that the Islamist party would never approve IDF actions in Gaza.
The so-called “change camp,” made up of a motley array of parties whose only shared policy is ousting Netanyahu, didn’t have a problem turning to Ra’am and/or the Joint List for backing. Lo and behold, however, just as Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was supposedly “on the verge” last week of forming the next government, ahead of his June 2 deadline, all hell broke loose, courtesy of Fatah and Hamas.
Suddenly, Ra’am suspended all negotiations until further notice. Clearly, Abbas wanted to wait to see how Israel would handle the Arab violence at home and Hamas’s rocket-blitz from Gaza.
He might also be anticipating further escalation on May 15, designated by arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat in 1998 as Nakba Day, for Palestinians and those who identify with them to officially mourn the creation and existence of the State of Israel.
This is speculation, of course, as his silence up until Thursday morning has been as deafening as the sound of missiles landing or being intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system. Indeed, the so-called Israeli “kingmaker” hasn’t uttered a syllable about “shared life in the Holy Land” or condemned Hamas since the start of the deadly hostilities.
Instead, he told Army Radio in an interview that he’s “not giving up on future cooperation,” and that “these incidents” illustrate the “need for true partnership” – not exactly a clear denunciation of the riots and rockets.
He and the rest of the Arabs in the Knesset would do well not only to serve their public, but to emulate those of its members – like the numerous health professionals battling COVID for the past 14 months – who seek to heal Israeli society rather than destroy it.