Israel president warns of civil war as Jewish-Arab clashes spread

Decades of pent-up grievances and nationalism turn into communal clashes in Israel

Israeli Arabs gather next to a mosque during clashes between Jews, Israeli police and Arabs, in the mixed town of Lod. As rockets from Gaza streaked overhead, Israeli Arabs and Jews fought each other on the streets below. Photograph: Heidi Levine/AP

Israeli Arabs gather next to a mosque during clashes between Jews, Israeli police and Arabs, in the mixed town of Lod. As rockets from Gaza streaked overhead, Israeli Arabs and Jews fought each other on the streets below. Photograph: Heidi Levine/AP

 

Fighting between Israel and Gaza Strip militants is spilling over into communal clashes inside Israel, where decades of pent-up grievances and nationalism have exploded into mob violence between Arabs and Jews.

Street battles have spread across the country, with marauders attacking people, synagogues, businesses and vehicles. On Wednesday, a Jew and an Arab were badly beaten, and a second Jewish man was stabbed. Clashes continued in the city of Lod outside Tel Aviv, even after a state of emergency and curfew were declared there.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the “anarchy” must stop, and border police reservists were called to reinforce police in mixed Arab-Jewish towns. President Reuven Rivlin described the worst communal violence in years as “civil war”.

The unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, government policies that disfavour Arab citizens, Jewish and Arab nationalism, and revenge attacks have all dovetailed in this moment.

Discriminatory policies

While Israel Arabs, who account for about a fifth of the population, enjoy equal rights on paper, their communities don’t receive the same level of government funding, leading to poorer roads, schools and health services. They also face discrimination in housing and unemployment, and violence between Arabs has been unchecked by police.

Israel’s political paralysis after four inconclusive elections, and the emboldening of Jewish ultranationalists through their recent election to parliament, have also played a role in the worst communal unrest in years.

“This is the result of long-term simmering of discrimination and all kinds of grievances,” said Avraham Sela, a Hebrew University political scientist. “It also has a lot to do with the state of Israel and its current political situation. For the last few years we have lost the impact of functioning leadership.”

The clashes come at a time when an Israeli Arab party is considering joining a coalition government for the first time, in a bid to oust Mr Netanyahu. But the United Arab List has suspended coalition talks with a group of the prime minister’s rivals as long as the Israeli-Gaza fighting continues.

Yair Lapid, who leads the largest party in that would-be coalition, called for quick return to sanity.

“The vast majority of the people of Israel – Jews and Arabs – are far better than this,” Mr Lapid said in a statement. Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List, called on his constituents to show restraint and participate only in organised demonstrations.

In Gaza, violence showed no sign of abating, defying international efforts to wrest a cease-fire. The United States dispatched an envoy to the region, and Egypt and Qatar have also been trying to help broker a truce as relentless Israeli air raids and Palestinian rocket barrages sent the death toll climbing.

Sixty-nine Palestinians have been reported killed in Gaza and seven people have died in Israel since the violence erupted late Monday. – Bloomberg