An Israeli Arab intifada?

Building healthy Jewish-Arab relations is essential to strengthening Israel’s democratic society.

BaladMKHaneenZoabi311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Haneen Zoabi, the firebrand Arab MK, recently warned of a third Palestinian intifada, declaring that this time the uprising will come from within Israel.
Zoabi is about 10 years late. Jewish-Arab relations hit a dangerous nadir in October 2000, when Arab citizens across the country took to the streets, some violently, in solidarity with the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza. The second intifada was launched by Yasser Arafat just weeks after he rebuffed a generous offer from prime minister Ehud Barak to resolve the conflict when they met at Camp David with US president Bill Clinton.
The sudden outpouring of rage caught the government and police off guard.
Arab citizens threw stones and Molotov cocktails, blocked roads and threatened Jews – all tactics used by Palestinians across the Green Line. Yet, it was the killing of 12 Arab citizens by police that sent shock waves throughout the country.
Recognizing the severity of the situation, and its impact on the always delicate Jewish-Arab relationship, the Barak government created the Or Commission to examine the causes of the uprising and how the government and police responded. The Or Commission report is an historical accounting of the discriminatory treatment of the Arab minority. It stressed the government should make investing in improving the conditions of Arab communities a priority.
The commission also looked at interactions between police and Arab citizens. While it suggested that the government and police improve how they handle protests, it also underscored the responsibility of Israeli Arab leaders to act and speak in ways that do not instigate violence.
To be sure, Israel still has to address more fully social and economic conditions for the Arab minority. But, importantly, there has not been a replay of the 2000 tragedy, though incidents have occurred that under other conditions could have escalated quickly.
In September 2008, on Yom Kippur, Arabs rioted in the mixed city of Acre. Community leaders and police came together to coordinate on resolving the situation. There were concerns that the rage in Acre would spread to other communities, and foreign minister Tzipi Livni was dispatched from Jerusalem to meet with Arab leaders in the city.
Later, in January 2009, some Israeli Arabs protested the IDF incursion into Gaza as Israel sought to stop Hamas’s constant rocket fire.
Although Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh voiced an expectation that Israeli Arabs would rise up, the protests did not escalate.
Most recently, Israeli Arabs protested the clash between the navy and the flotilla that attempted on May 31 to break the blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza. The presence of several Israeli Arabs, notably MK Zoabi, on the Turkish vessel boarded by commandos further spurred outcry in several Arab communities.
STILL, THIS record of relative calm did not dissuade Zoabi from warning of an Israeli Arab intifada in her interview with The Guardian and in speeches to Palestinian groups during a recent visit to London.
Interestingly, that trip came soon after the Knesset stripped her of certain parliamentary privileges, punishment for her participation in the Turkish flotilla.
Zoabi’s confrontational rhetoric may appeal to the PLO or Hamas, or even Hizbullah, but most Israeli Arabs would concur that these groups do not represent their interests. Indeed, Arabs in the Galilee learned in 2006 that they are equal to Jews in the view of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah who commanded Hizbullah to fire thousands of rockets at the North, killing Arabs and Jews alike.
Building healthy Jewish-Arab relations is essential to strengthening Israel’s democratic society.
Jews should not impulsively view all Arabs as potential enemies and, likewise, Arab citizens should not instinctively regard all police with suspicion.
In this effort nongovernmental organizations have been instrumental. With strong and trusting relationships in both the Arab and Jewish communities, the Abraham Fund, for example, has helped to design a program that every cadet attends at the police academy.
The right to protest is just as integral to Israel as to other democratic societies. But those who come out to demonstrate also have a duty to not resort to violence.
Threatening the state or encouraging insurrection, as Zoabi and her Balad party do, can only lead Israeli Arabs up exactly the blind alley that the Or Commission warned against.
The writer is director of communications for the American Jewish Committee.