It doesn’t have to be us against them

The provocative behavior of Arab Knesset members adds an entirely new layer to Israeli-Arab support of terrorism against the state.

Balad MK Haneen Zoabi at the Knesset. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Balad MK Haneen Zoabi at the Knesset.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The series of terrorist attacks that have taken place over the last several weeks has once again brought to the fore the longstanding debate about the relationship between Israeli Arabs and the state. There are two levels of involvement by Israeli Arabs in recent attacks. On the first level, individual Israeli Arabs have carried out attacks on Jewish Israelis. There was Nashat Milhem who carried out the murderous attack on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv in early January; the stabbing this week in Rahat; the car ramming in October by a man from Umm el-Fahm; and the attack carried out by the Israeli Beduin Muhand Halil al-Uqbi at the Beersheba Central Bus Station in October.
The second level of involvement is on a national and political level.
The provocative behavior of Arab Knesset members, namely three members of the Balad party who met with the families of suicide bombers and expressed support for their terrorist actions, adds an entirely new layer to Israeli-Arab support of terrorism against the state. Above all of this, looms the cloud of ISIS. In recent weeks, the Shin Bet has thwarted several terrorist attacks from being carried out by ISIS cells in the Galilee and Triangle area.
In addition, the government is extremely concerned by the growing popularity within our borders of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and even outlawed its Northern Branch on November 17, 2015.
The general feeling among Jewish Israelis is that nationalistic, Islamic extremism is growing among Israeli Arabs, a view that is encouraged by extreme right-wing organizations, and that Arab citizens are becoming even more entrenched in anti-Israel ideologies following statements made by Prime Minister Netanyahu, which instead of making Israeli Arabs feel more a part of the state, have succeeded in further alienating them.
I suggest leaving the intimidation and declarations to the politicians and the warmongers. If we really want to know the true situation, we must focus on the facts. Statistically, Israeli Arabs have been involved in fewer than 5 percent of terrorist attacks.
Already in the first intifada, a small number of Israeli Arabs took part in attacks. For example, Shaker Habashi from the village of Abu Sinan in the Galilee carried out a suicide attack at the Nahariya train station in September 2001. And many Israelis were caught aiding and abetting terrorists during the first intifada.
Over the years, dozens of terrorist organizations in which Israeli Arabs are involved have been uncovered, and yet the number of individuals involved in acts of terrorism has never been more than a few hundred, which is an infinitesimally small percentage of the population.
We must recognize, however, that these religious extremist cells actually do exist in the Israeli Arab sector. In the past, they have been staunch supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and many of them now pledge allegiance to Hezbollah.
The security forces have succeeded in dismantling many such cells. Currently, the Shin Bet believes that most Israeli-Arab extremists are looking to ISIS for inspiration and direction.
But the reality of the situation is that more than 80% of Israeli Arabs do not support and are in no way involved in terrorist activity.
The number of Israeli Arabs who support the Islamic Movement in Israel is about 150,000. Even if we were to add to this the number of Israeli Arabs who support ISIS and other Salafi-jihadist groups, the number still wouldn’t pass the 200,000 mark. This means that about 85% of Israeli Arabs are normative citizens who have never been involved in any way in terrorist activities or acts against the state.
Yediot Aharonot published an article a year ago which claimed that 86% of Israeli Arabs do not support terrorism, and certainly not ISIS’s actions. Most Israeli Arabs consider themselves Israeli and are faithful, law abiding citizens.
Most people who are familiar with this community know that the majority of Israeli Arabs identify culturally as Palestinians, but that they are mostly concerned with making a living and getting by. None of them would be willing to give up their citizenship in the Jewish state.
The significance of this information is that the security establishment’s fear of extremist individuals and cells among Israeli Arabs is exaggerated and unsubstantiated.
Israeli Arabs on the whole are actively interested in becoming a part of society, and the best way for the government to make sure that Israeli Arabs will continue to feel like they’re a part of society is to make significant improvements in infrastructure, education and employment opportunities in the Arab sector. The police must go into each village and implement the rule of law, an action that it has been procrastinating about for many years now.
Leaders in the Israeli-Arab communities must work hard to root out radicalism.
They must work to integrate Arabs into Israeli society, encourage them to ask for the civil rights due to them by law, but also remind their constituents that they must fulfill their responsibilities as required by law. Without a longterm strategy to accomplish all of this, nothing will ever happen. Or rather, something will end up happening, but it won’t necessarily be something good.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.