The headlines read as though culled from another time, a distant era.
“Jews, Arabs on a knife edge in Lod,” read a headline on the front page of The Jerusalem Post.
“Losing control: Jews rescued from their homes in Lod, confrontations in the mixed towns,” read a Page 1 Maariv headline.
And this was the subhead from Yediot Aharonot’s front page: “From Lod to Acre, Ramle to Jaffa, from the roads in the South to the North: Arab citizens violently attack Jews, set fire to synagogues, burn cars, shatter restaurants and drag drivers from their cars.”
No, these were not headlines describing actions that took place during the British Mandate, during the Arab riots of 1929 and 1936, but, rather, actions taking place today, in May 2021, in the sovereign State of Israel.
The stories behind the headlines are ghastly: a young mother in Lod pleading frantically with the police to send a patrol car to her neighborhood as rioters are entering her garden; a mob setting fire to a police station in Acre; a religious Jew driving through Wadi Ara taking his kippah off in the hope that would protect him as he passed rock-throwing rioters.
The rockets Hamas is firing on Israel are horrendous, but Israel will eventually gain the upper hand there, as it has in the past.
But the damage caused to the sensitive balance of Jewish-Arab coexistence by the paroxysm of Arab violence that accompanied Hamas’s rockets may be what the country remembers most of the violent events of May 2021. The delicate and vastly imperfect coexistence that has existed between Jewish and Arab Israelis for the last 73 years now risks fraying beyond recognition.
What makes this dangerous tipping point even more tragic is that it comes just as it seemed the country’s Jewish and Arab citizens were on the cusp of a historic breakthrough.
That breakthrough was the product to some extent of the coronavirus, where Jewish and Arab medical personnel worked side by side and radiated a sense of one fate affecting all. It was also the product of the emergence of Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas as a legitimate political partner in the minds of many Israelis, a man whose speeches of reconciliation were not spiced – as they historically have been by other Arab party MKs – with jabs at “apartheid” Israel and “oppressive” Israelis.
Abbas came across as someone who just wants a fair piece of the pie for his constituents, a claim most Israelis deem completely legitimate, given the degree to which the Arab sector has been neglected over the years.
But then, as was the case in 2000 during the last major wave of Israeli-Arab rioting, the Palestinian terrorists turned al-Aqsa Mosque into a rallying cry, and some Israeli-Arabs – a small minority of them – answered the call and rushed headlong into the rioting and violence.
President Reuven Rivlin, not one prone to panic or exaggeration, summed up the situation well. “The sight of the pogrom in Lod and the disturbances across the country by an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob, injuring people, damaging property and even attacking sacred Jewish spaces, is unforgivable,” he said.
“Tearing down the Israeli flag by Arab rioters and replacing it with the Palestinian flag is a brutal assault on shared existence in the State of Israel. The silence of the Arab leadership about these disturbances is shameful, giving support to terrorism and rioting and encouraging the rupture of the society in which we live, and in which we will continue to live once all this has passed.”
And all this will pass. At a certain point the rockets will cease and the air will clear. And when it does, Israeli Jews and Arabs will remain destined to share Lod and Ramle, Haifa and Jaffa, Acre and the Galilee.
Israel, for its part, must ensure that its Arab citizens have all the infrastructure, opportunities and protection that every citizen of this country deserves.
But Israel also has the right to expect that Arab leaders – be they national politicians, municipal heads or religious leaders – step up to prevent a small minority of their own people from smashing the foundation of coexistence in this land by making common cause with those trying to destroy the country.