As IDF troops were preparing to enter the Gaza Strip, with the goal of stopping incessant rocket fire on Israeli cities and neutralizing the threat caused by Hamas’ extensive tunnel infrastructure, Balad MK Haneen Zoabi penned an op-ed for the Hamas-affiliated felesteen news site imploring Palestinians to “besiege” the Jewish state (which she referred to throughout her article as ‘Israel,’ in quotations).
“‘Israel’ will in no way eliminate Hamas, the motives for the resistance or the motives for [pursuing] liberation,” she wrote. Zoabi justified Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians as a means to ending the “soft occupation” on the Strip.
In response, Hamas spokesman Husam Bardan praised Zoabi as a “Palestinian patriot worthy of the respect of our people.” He expressed hope that other Israeli-Arab politicians would follow her lead.
And indeed they have.
One day after the launch of Operation Protective Edge, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) accused the IDF of “committing war crimes in Gaza, including blowing up houses and killing entire families intentionally.”
During the same Knesset plenum, his fellow MK Ibrahim Sarsour read aloud the names of Palestinians who had been “murdered by IDF soldiers,” a scene bearing an eerie resemblance to the Yad Vashem exhibit in which the names of those who perished in the Holocaust are recited.
Arab MK Masud Gnaim, also from Tibi’s party, accused Israel of perpetrating a “massacre” in the Strip.
These outbursts parallel the Israeli-Arab leadership’s collective response to the recent kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens.
Zoabi again was front and center, describing the abductors not as terrorists, but rather as beleaguered people “forced to use these means until Israel will wake up a little.” When pressed in an interview whether she was openly siding with the kidnappers, Zoabi responded: “I’m surprised you’re still walking around freely.”
She went so far as to endanger the life of her own relative, rejecting seventeen-year-old Mohammad Zoabi’s call for the three boys’ immediate release as “stupid” and “twisted.” (Mohammad subsequently received multiple death threats, necessitating a round-the-clock security detail.)
For her actions, Zoabi did not receive so much as a slap on the wrist; this, despite the fact that a police investigation determined that sufficient evidence exists for Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to investigate her for incitement.
Never to be outdone, Tibi too weighed in, responding to the kidnapping by denouncing the IDF’s “shooting of civilians and demonstrators” during its recovery mission in the West Bank. Hadash MK Afo Agbaria, like Zoabi, referred to Hamas not as a terror group, but rather as a “liberation organization.”
Despite this overt hostility by Israeli-Arab leaders, the public nevertheless responded with shock when riots subsequently broke out last month against Operation Brother’s Keeper.
Residents of Umm el-Fahm, one of the country’s largest Arab cities, threw stones at police, called for additional hostage-taking and repeatedly chanted, “With spirit and blood, we will redeem you Palestine.”
Arab MK and Hadash chairman Muhammad Barakei, who was on hand, described the violence as a “protest against the brutality of the IDF and against [its] illegal arrests and unlawful activities in the territories.”
Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka hailed the riot as the implementation of “our right and duty to protest against Israeli crimes.” Balad’s secretary-general, Awad Abderfattah, called it a legitimate expression of support for Palestinian prisoners.
The radicalism that reared its ugly head in Umm el-Fahm is the direct result of years of government inaction, the refusal of Israeli-Jewish leaders to punish their Arab counterparts for their provocations.
The case of Umm el-Fahm is particularly revealing, given the city’s former mayor is Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch, which is essentially the Muslim Brotherhood in Israel.
For decades, Salah was permitted to spew his anti-Israel invective with impunity. He urged young Arabs to wage war against Israel so they may die as martyrs, and accused Jews of “eating bread dipped in children’s blood.”
Salah was previously convicted of collaborating with, and raising millions of dollars for, Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood.
For his ongoing crimes, this past March Salah was given an eight-month prison sentence. Upon receiving the verdict, he affirmed: “Blessed is God—I got off cheap!”
Despite calls by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman for the Umm el-Fahm rioters to “be treated as terrorists in the full sense of the word,” they, not unlike their leaders, will not be.
The reason is, partly, due to external pressure, given the international community’s pro-Arab disposition, and the influence of people like Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On, who accused Liberman of racism for attempting to hold to account those calling for Israel’s destruction.
The government’s failure to address the issue has allowed a virtual powder keg to form in the heart of the country. The volatility of the situation primarily accounts for the ongoing reluctance to take action against Israeli-Arab agitators, as doing so, at this late juncture, would have serious consequences.
This reality was reinforced by the widespread violence that erupted in the wake of the brutal murder of teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a heinous crime that was in all likelihood a revenge killing by Jews.
But even before a motive could be determined, rioting broke out in Jerusalem and continued there for days. In the so-called Triangle communities, including Taibe and Tira, Arab residents burned tires and attacked security forces.
The violence extended from the country’s center all the way up to the north.
This past week saw similar outbreaks of violence against Operation Protective Edge. In Jerusalem, young Arabs threw Molotov cocktails at police in Isawiya, Shuafat and At-Tur. A rally attended by thousands in Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab city, saw demonstrators hold up placards reading, “Israeli army commits genocide in Gaza,” while some 200 masked protestors threw stones at security forces.
In Haifa, over a thousand Israeli-Arabs clashed with police as they attempted to block roads into the city. For her involvement, Zoabi was arrested and taken away in handcuffs and fellow Balad MK Zahalka was lightly injured in the rioting.
Apologists seek to justify such rampant and violent anti-Israel actions by Arabs as the byproduct of inequality; however, this argument simply confuses cause and effect.
While racism indeed exists in Israel—as it does in every other country—the “plight” of Israeli-Arabs, like that of the Palestinians, is primarily of their own making.
Since Israel’s founding, Arab parties have refused to form part of any ruling coalition, at the obvious expense of a smaller slice of the government pie. Israeli-Arab leaders have also failed their constituencies miserably by incessantly demonizing Israel—historically within the context of the greater Arab-Israeli conflict and today in relation to the Palestinians—which effectively prevented Arabs from integrating into society.
By contrast, had Israeli-Arab leaders ever agreed to sit in the government—especially between the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the start of the second intifada in 2000, when peace was formally made with both Egypt and Jordan and the Oslo Accords were signed with the PLO—they would have had much greater influence over the distribution of, and thus access to, state resources.
Had they shown even the slightest desire to embrace Israel as their own, their communities would almost certainly be far better off both socially and economically.
At the very least Israeli-Arabs would not be so openly disaffected.
Instead, Israel’s Arab leadership continues to maintain, and promote, rejectionist positions that view, and treat, the country as an abomination.
This reality was perfectly encapsulated by Tibi, when after being asked to quiet down during a recent Knesset debate by Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, he responded: “You’ve been disturbing us since 1948,” suggesting Israel’s reestablishment was an affront to Arab sensibilities.
Increasingly commonplace, and explicit, opposition to Israel’s fundamental right to exist is not about to cease unless concerted action is counter-taken from the top-down; namely, by holding Arab leaders, especially parliamentarians, accountable for their anti-Israel incitement.
If sedition is otherwise permitted to continue unabated and without consequence, it will not be long before Israeli-Arabs become radicalized to such an extent that mini-Gazas begin popping up within a stone’s throw away from the country’s major population centers.
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