A Dangerous Divide: The Deterioration of Jewish-Palestinian Relations in Israel

Article excerpt

This article examines the relations between Jewish and Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel since the events of October 2000, when massive Arab protests and riots took place and thirteen Arab demonstrators were killed. In the decade since then Arab-Jewish relations have been characterized by growing mutual mistrust, fear, and hostility. Together with these negative attitudes, political polarization between the two communities has also increased. This poses a serious threat to Arab-Jewish coexistence in Israel and to Israeli democracy itself.

In the first ten days of October 2000, as the so-called "al-Aqsa Intifada" got underway in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, massive demonstrations were held in Arab-populated areas throughout Israel. In the course of these demonstrations, Arab protesters blocked roads (including major highways and junctions), burned tires, and set fire to buildings such as post offices, banks, and gas stations. Some Arab youth threw stones (and in a few cases, firebombs) at cars, police vehicles, and policemen as well as at some Jewish civilians (one Jewish passerby was even killed). In trying to quell the demonstrations, police officers (including police snipers) fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and live ammunition. Thirteen Arab protesters (including a Palestinian from Gaza) were shot and killed by the police, and many more were injured. This was the single bloodiest event for Palestinian citizens of Israel since the Kfar Qassem massacre in 1956.

The violence of October 2000 was not restricted to clashes between the police and Arab demonstrators. In reaction to Arab rioting, in some "mixed" cities (i.e., cities with a large population of both Jews and Arabs) Jewish mobs attacked Arabs and Arab property, and violent clashes occurred between Jewish and Arab rioters. The worst instance of Arab-Jewish violence took place in the town of Upper Nazareth. Jewish mobs responded to Arab rioting in the adjacent Arab town of Nazareth by throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Arab neighborhoods and damaging Arab-owned property in (predominantly) Jewish Upper Nazareth; and on October 8, 2000, hundreds of Jewish rioters faced off against about a hundred Arabs on two sides of the road separating Nazareth from Upper Nazareth. The mobs exchanged insults and threw stones at each other. In the melee, two Arabs were killed and many injured. Never before in Israel's history had there been inter-communal violence on such a scale.1

Now over a decade later, the "events of October 2000," as they became known, remain an unhealed wound. They are also a watershed, marking the beginning of a new period of escalating tension and hostility between Jewish and Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel.2 This article examines Jewish-Palestinian relations in Israel since the events of October 2000. In it, I argue that the October 2000 events represent a turning point in Jewish-Palestinian relations in Israel. While these relations have always been fragile and uneasy, in the decade since October 2000 they have seriously deteriorated and the ever-present rift between the Jewish and Palestinian communities in Israel has widened even further.3 Attitudes on both sides have hardened, mutual distrust has intensified, fear has increased, and political opinion has become more militant and uncompromising. 4 In the words of a report by the International Crisis Group: "The sense of alienation among Palestinian citizens of Israel is mirrored on the Jewish side by the feeling that Arab Israelis are increasingly disloyal."5 The Palestinian minority and the Jewish majority in Israel have been caught up in a negative spiral in which the suspicion, fear, and animosity of one intensifies the suspicion, fear, and animosity of the other. While the outcome of this negative spiral cannot be predicted, it clearly does not bode well for the future of Jewish-Palestinian coexistence in Israel.

The Palestinian Minority since Octo ber 2000

To this day, the events of October 2000 stand out as the most visible and violent manifestation of the alienation, frustration, and discontent felt by many Palestinian citizens of Israel. …