June 1, 2021
Sondra Oster Baras
Israel experienced a totally new reality during these past few weeks. A reality that could have been expected, a reality that some might even say was an obvious development. But at the end of the day, we woke up one morning and realized that the Arab-Israeli Conflict that we have been talking about for decades, was far worse than what we may have hoped. That whatever progress we thought we made in the past 20 years may well have been cosmetic at best, or at worst a deliberate manipulation of the Israeli psyche.
From the beginning of the Zionist movement, when Jews first began returning to Israel in numbers, the local Arabs resented our presence, later turning to violence to deter our return. When the British controlled Mandatory Palestine, the geographical region that became modern-day Israel and Jordan, they quickly adopted policies that were meant to placate Arab hostility towards Jews. Arab riots resulted in severe limitations on Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel, even as Hitler was shipping millions of Jews to torture and death in the camps. But despite British pro-Arab sentiment, the Arabs launched violent attacks against Jews on several occasions, most notably in 1929 and 1936.
When Israel accepted the partition of Western Palestine in 1948 (Jordan had already been created in Eastern Palestine in 1923), compromising on the borders of what would become the State of Israel to enable an Arab state to share the area, the Arabs totally rejected the compromise. To them, there was absolutely no place in the Middle East for a Jewish State, anywhere, under any circumstances. And when Israel became a state in 1948, the surrounding Arab nations attacked Israel with the express aim of destroying the nascent state and murdering its Jewish inhabitants. Many Arabs fled what became the State of Israel, encouraged by Arab leadership to witness the demise of Israel from the sidelines, after which they could swoop in and help themselves to Jewish property whose owners would have been killed or exiled.
But the story didn’t work out like the Arabs anticipated. Israel became a state, the Arabs who did not flee became Israeli citizens, and Arabs and Jews ended up living side-by-side in a number of mixed cities: Lod, Ramle, Haifa, Aco and Jaffa in particular. Meanwhile, the Jordanians had captured most of Jerusalem, where they did succeed in killing or driving out Jewish residents from their homes in the city. Never dreaming the Jews would one day return to Jerusalem, the Jordanian government invited homeless Arabs to live rent-free in these Jewish homes.
In 1967, the Arabs attacked once more but the Jews surprised them even more than before, repelling the attack and capturing Judea, Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem that had been in Jordanian hands.
As Israel grew and developed, most Israeli Arab citizens, went about the business of living. They were educated in Israeli Arab-language schools, studied at Hebrew language universities, created businesses and political parties and seemed to have integrated into Israel. While their Arab MK’s seemed to devote most of their energies to supporting the Palestinian cause, the Arab population seemed content to make a living and raise their children. They were exempted from serving in the IDF so as not to put them in the impossible position of fighting against their families in Judea and Samaria or in the surrounding Arab countries. But that was understandable.
For years, Israel lived under the illusion that these Arabs were content, although unquestionably eager to improve their educational and economic opportunities. And there was growing awareness among Israeli Jews that more government funding should be invested in Arab areas. But this was a civil dispute, not a political one.
The events of the last two weeks shattered this picture, perhaps irreversibly. Arabs in East Jerusalem drew on nationalist sentiments as they fought the impending eviction of Arab squatters in those original Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. Israeli Arabs attending Ramadan services on the Temple Mount, rioted and attacked Jews who happened in their path, calling upon Muslim symbols to justify their attacks. The Hamas Terrorist government in Gaza lobbed rockets and artillery at Israel, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and all across the country, with rockets that far exceeded the range experienced in past attacks. And, most frightening of all, Israeli Arabs who lived side by side with Jewish neighbors for decades, sharing the same apartment buildings, went on the rampage, violently attacking Jews (killing one), burning synagogues, Jewish schools and Jewish-owned cars and homes.
These acts of violence were coordinated and shared a common ideology — the determination to drive the Jews out of Israel. Young Israeli Arabs told TV cameras that Israel was a passing phenomenon, that it would soon be gone, the Jews disappeared. The violent, Jew-hating theology and ideology of Hamas, had been picked up by Arabs across Israel, not only in Judea and Samaria but in Jerusalem and Lod as well. While some Israeli Arabs denounced the violence, their voices were few and far between. The overwhelming Arab voice echoed the sentiments of 1948 — to drive the Jews into the Sea.
Years ago one of Israel’s political leaders commented that the Arabs are the same Arabs and the sea, the same sea. That statement seemed to go out of fashion as Israeli Jews from across the political spectrum believed that most Israeli Arabs and a growing number of Palestinian Arabs had grown to accept the State of Israel, even recognizing the enormous benefit that Israeli citizens of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds draw from Israel’s healthy and robust democracy and economic strength, enjoying far better living conditions than Arabs in other parts of the Middle East.
Today we have returned to this statement and to the reality that we continue to fight the 1948 war. We do not have a border dispute with the Arabs. The issue is not the consequences of the 1967 war and the issue of a Palestinian State alongside Israel. The issue is Israel’s existence.
Neither the Arabs nor the sea has changed. And neither has our determination to grow and develop the one Jewish State in the world, located in the beautiful Land of Israel, first promised by G-d to Abraham, as an everlasting possession for the people of Israel. And G-d does not change either.