Late last week I returned from a month in Israel, and amidst the spate of violence that has gripped the country, it was more difficult than usual to say goodbye. When times are tough, I want to be with the people and country I love.
On my last morning in Tel Aviv, I planned to meet a friend for coffee. She texted to say she was too nervous to leave her home and asked that I come to her. In the preceding days, terrorist attacks in the southern city of Beersheba, the northern city of Hadera, and the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, took the lives of 11 people and left countless Israelis shaken.
In just eight days, more lives were lost to terrorism than in all of 2020 and 2021 combined. That the attacks did not take place in the usual flashpoint sites, added to the air of uneasiness.
Like my friend, many Israelis are bracing for further violence as April brings the holy days of Ramadan, Passover and Easter. Over the weekend, as Ramadan began on April 2, Israeli security forces clashed violently with Palestinian protestors near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City.
This is not a Third Intifada. The violence is not following in the wake of a specific incident such as tension around the Temple Mount or a land dispute. Moreover, the perpetrators behind the deadly attacks hailed from different sectors. It was a Negev Bedouin behind the Beersheba attack; Arab Israelis who perpetrated the Hadera attack; and a West Bank Palestinian in Bnei Brak.
At the same time, we have seen how quickly a spark can ignite an inferno in this region. Last May, tensions around Ramadan flared into a fierce 11-day conflict.
Even more troubling was the rioting that erupted in mixed Arab-Jewish cities. In places where Arabs and Jews have lived side by side, neighbours turned on each other in a spree of vandalism, stabbings, and beatings. Almost a year has passed, and an uneasy tension still lingers between the country’s Jewish majority and the Israeli Arabs, who comprise 20 percent of the nation’s population.
Violent crime has been escalating inside Israeli Arab communities for years. With Israeli police paying scant attention, illegal firearms have proliferated, and estimates place the number of weapons circulating on the street in the hundreds of thousands.
The goal of terrorism is not just to murder innocents, it’s to foment unrest and incite hatred that leads to further violence. Herein lies the real threat. Israel’s political and security establishments must take more determined action to address the inequalities that lead Palestinian citizens to feel a sense of injustice and inequality. This requires political determination and real investment.
In the meantime, any calls for retaliatory violence to acts of terror must be quashed. A day after the attack in Bnei Brak, dozens of young Jewish teens were filmed roaming the streets of downtown Jerusalem, chanting “death to Arabs.” A disgusting act, particularly since two of the 11 victims were Arab Israelis—Druze Border Police officer Yazan Falahn and Christian Arab police officer Amir Khoury—and both lost their lives serving the State of Israel.
While the situation may feel ominous, I am optimistic about the leadership shown by Mansour Abbas who heads the Arab party that joined Israel’s governing coalition. He has proven to be refreshingly pragmatic and forward-looking.
In a recent conversation with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, he said, “I think of myself as an Arab, a Palestinian, a Muslim, and a citizen of the Israeli state. These identities, the national and religious, can live together. These identities coexist within the larger envelope of values, humanism, justice, mutual support, tolerance, and acceptance of the other.”
Beyond Israel’s borders, there is also reason for optimism. Peace is blossoming. In recent weeks, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett returned from a positive summit meeting with the leaders of Egypt and the UAE. Shortly afterward, Israel hosted the foreign ministers of Egypt, the UAE, Morocco and Bahrain, along with the U.S. Secretary of State. And days later, President Isaac Herzog made the first presidential visit in 15 years to Amman, where he met with Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Feeling betrayed and sidelined by the Arab nations that have normalized relations with Israel, Palestinian terror groups are desperate to push the Palestinian agenda to the forefront of the global agenda by any means. Hamas is openly threatening an escalation and said it welcomes “the blessed month of Ramadan, the month of struggle and martyrdom and victories.”
It is incumbent on the international community, particularly Arab states and European funders, to ensure violence is never rewarded politically or economically. The response to terror groups must be greater efforts toward cohesion within Israel and solidarity with Israel’s Arab neighbors. In doing so, Israel will realize the famous words of its first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, “History isn’t written; history is made.”
Aviva Klompas is co-founder of Boundless and previously served as director of speechwriting for the Israeli mission to the United Nations. She can be found on Twitter @AvivaKlompas.