Though a troubling trend, Arab rioters in Israel seen as small percentage

The Israeli city of Lod, where synagogues and cars were torched, and shops damaged, by Arab rioters, May 11, 2021. Photo by Yossi Aloni/Flash90.

by Israel Kasnett

(JNS) — The Israel Police instituted a blanket curfew on the central Israeli town of Lod on May 12 after Arab rioters destroyed cars, businesses and synagogues the day before. Arabs continued to riot into the evening in other towns with large Arab populations, including Akko, Jaffa, Bat Yam, Haifa and Tiberias.

In a video posted online, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin came down hard on the Arab rioters.

“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 declared.

“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,” he added.

Rivlin also turned to Arab community leaders, chastising them for their failure to rein in their followers and community members.

“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,” he said.

He called on authorities to quell the violence, saying “the Israeli government must pursue the rioters with a firm hand restore security and order while fighting terrorism from Gaza without compromise.”

In one rare incident on May 12, a group of Jewish rioters attacked an Arab driver in Bat Yam, pulling him from his car and beating him on the street; he was taken to the hospital in moderate condition.

That incident drew outrage across the Israeli political spectrum, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it “intolerable.”

“I don’t care if your blood is boiling. So it’s boiling. It’s irrelevant. You can’t take the law into your own hands,” he said. “You can’t come to an Arab civilian and try to lynch him, just as we can’t see Arab citizens do so to Jewish citizens. This will not stand.”

Since the beginning of the Muslim month of Ramadan in mid-April, Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians have engaged in public misconduct.

Massive riots broke out on the Temple Mount on May 9, when Israeli Border Police officers were forced to enter the compound to quell the riots that endangered both those on the Temple Mount and Israeli worshippers on the other side of the Western Wall.

Events escalated on May 10 with the end of Ramadan, which coincided with Israel’s Jerusalem Day celebrating Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War in June 1967, during which Israel captured and unified Jerusalem.

Tensions rose as well in connection to a pending ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court that is expected to decide on a case in which Jewish owners of property in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah seek to remove Palestinian squatters who have occupied their homes for decades.

‘A lot has changed in a dramatic manner’

Three experts who spoke with JNS all agreed that the Arab rioters do not represent the larger Israeli-Arab population, which they say is mostly peaceful and intent on integrating into Israeli society.

Meir Elran, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, told JNS Arab society in Israel has been “undergoing major transformative changes over the last 20 years.”

“A lot has changed in a dramatic manner,” he said, including a “new forward integration of Arabs into Israel in terms of social and economic transformation, and in the last two years, political transformation” as well.

Such integration into Israeli society has improved “significantly,” according to Elran.

However, Elran said that the events over the last few days are “a game-changer in the trajectory of the last two years.”

“We are right now at a crossroads between being able to enable the process to continue ‘Israelization’ at the expense of ‘Palestinization’ of the Arab community in Israel,” he said.

According to Elran, major social and economic progress in the Arab community means Israeli Arabs are now “less conservative, more academic and even more well-to-do, despite the huge economic gaps between Jews and Arabs.”

There is “no doubt,” he said, that Arabs in Israel live better lives than in most parts of the Arab world.

“Most Arabs in Israel do not see what is happening in their midst positively,” he said of the incitement and rioting. “They want it to stop, and they want to continue with the process” of integrating further into Israeli society — and enjoying the benefits that come with that.

Hillel Frisch, an Israeli political scientist and professor of Political Science and Middle Eastern History at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, explained that “the rallying point for Muslims here is Al-Aqsa. It’s what brought them together to join in a war against Israel in 2000. Palestinian or Arab nationalism wasn’t sufficient to galvanize mass support. It was Al-Aqsa that did.”

He told JNS he believes that the Arab rioters are “a small percentage” and that there may be “lots of economic ramifications” because people will be afraid to shop in Arab stores, not because of racism, but out of fear.

According to Frisch, there is an “emotional, irrational [side] in every person,” and it is these emotions that have overcome Arab youth.

“What triggers it is Al-Aqsa,” he said.

On the other hand, Frisch applauded the integration of eastern Jerusalem Arabs in the Israeli economy, especially in the medical field, where they make up a significant portion of Israel’s doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Even with the rioting, Hirsch said “given the tremendous differences between Jews and Arabs, the basic tenor of the relationship is still pretty good.”

‘Greater integration into the broader Jerusalem envelope’

David Koren, an expert on Jerusalem and Israeli Arabs at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, spoke specifically about Arabs living in eastern Jerusalem and told JNS that “the level of boiling tensions in Jerusalem at any given time is a function of several factors.”

“First,” he said, “is the religious and political struggle over sovereignty in the city.”

The second factor that leads to tensions, according to Koren, “is the significant societal changes underway among eastern Jerusalem Arabs. The moderating influences of clan and community belonging are weakening, giving way to more nationalistic movements,” he said.

A third cause of growing tension, according to Koren, “is the intervention in eastern Jerusalem affairs of foreign anti-Israel actors, like the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, the Turkish government, radical Islamic movements in Israel, etc. They expressly seek to undermine Israel’s control of the city,” and “they gladly rode the recent wave of violence and sought to inflame the situation further.”

Finally, he said, mass media and social media “have played an important and dangerous role in driving eastern Jerusalem Arabs into nationalist activity and violence.”

Regardless, Koren said, most eastern Jerusalem Arabs “still seek greater integration into the broader [Israeli-Jewish] Jerusalem envelope of higher education and gainful employment. For this purpose, they generally are willing to behave moderately. More eastern Jerusalemite Arabs are studying Hebrew because they realize that this is critical for successful employment.”

According to Koren, “none of these youths want a criminal record that would end their chances of going to university in Israel.”