Gaza Strip Conflict Deepens Divide Between Arabs, Jews in Israel

In Abu Ghosh, a village in the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Jewish customers typically pack the Arab-run restaurants. Since war broke out in Gaza last month, they’ve stopped coming.

It’s one example of how the conflict is straining the already fragile coexistence of Israel’s 20 percent Arab minority and the majority Jewish population, spreading mistrust and violence. A bus was attacked in Jerusalem yesterday by a Palestinian man, while Arab Israelis have complained of increasing harassment sometimes including physical attacks.

Abu Ghosh, 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Gaza Strip, is usually “an example of how Arabs and Israelis can live together,” said Ibrahim, who works in a restaurant overlooking the village’s terraced hills and a four-turret mosque. “This particular war has hit us the worst,” with business down 90 percent, he said.

Ibrahim, like others Bloomberg News spoke to for this story, asked to only be identified by his first name out of concern for reprisals.

More than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed, including hundreds of civilians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and three civilians have been killed. The conflict followed months of tension over issues including attacks on mosques and Arab property by suspected Jewish extremists in both West Bank and communities in Israel.

Dead Teenagers

The killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June, and the alleged retribution killing of a Palestinian teenager, caused frictions to explode in Arab towns in Israel and Palestinian neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 and annexed in a move that isn’t internationally recognized.

More than 1,000 Arab Israelis and Palestinians have been arrested for participating in violent protests, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. Rocket fire from Gaza surged after the Palestinian youth was allegedly burned alive, and days later, Israel began its offensive.

As the conflict deepened, Arab Israeli author Sayed Kashua, who has told Israelis the Palestinian story in his writing and on a popular television show, Arab Labor, announced that he’s had it with his native land.

“Last week I understood that I can’t stay here any longer,” he wrote in U.K.’s Guardian newspaper on July 19. “Something inside of me broke.”

With nine of 10 Jewish Israelis supporting the campaign, according to polls, dissenting views have been targeted with violence. Jewish opponents hurled eggs and bottles at anti-war demonstrators in Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem Post newspaper said.

Swastikas in Jerusalem

In the northern town of Qalansua, Arab youths were accused of pulling a Jewish man out his car, beating him and torching the vehicle. Swastikas were spray-painted in Jerusalem and in a Bedouin town.

While Israeli Arabs have full legal rights, they say that doesn’t translate to equal status in areas like the jobs or housing markets, or funds for local communities.

Several Arab Israelis have been charged with spying for Israel’s enemies. Arab lawmakers have riled some Israeli Jews with visits to enemy states and anti-Israel statements.

The war has exacerbated the alienation between the two communities, said Arye Carmon, president of the Israel Democracy Institute research center in Jerusalem. “It brings the hostility and the rift to a new level.”

Thabet Abu Rass, co-director of the Abraham Fund, which advocates coexistence, says relations haven’t been this bad since police killed 13 Arab citizens in October 2000 during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Deportations and Traitors

Politicians on both sides have fanned the passions. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has proposed redrawing borders to put some Arab communities in a future Palestinian state, and urged a boycott of Arab businesses that participated in a commercial strike protesting the Gaza operation.

Arab lawmaker Hanan Zoabi caused a storm by saying the Israeli teenagers’ kidnappers shouldn’t be labeled terrorists. Miri Regev, a legislator from Netanyahu’s Likud party, called Zoabi a “traitor” who “should be deported to Gaza,” Israel Radio reported. Zoabi was banned for six months from all parliamentary activity except voting.

Israeli Jews make the mistake of equating support for Palestinian civilians with support for Hamas, Abu Rass said.

State in Conflict

“My state is in a conflict with my own relatives in Gaza,” he said. “On the other side, Hamas is sending rockets, they are not differentiating between Jews and Arabs. This is why we have the interest to stop the war more than anyone else. And this is why we are unfortunately perceived as supporters of Hamas.”

Israel, like the U.S. and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group, and says militants in Gaza encourage civilian casualties by locating weapons in civilian areas.

Abu Rass said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “should stand up and say something about a shared society, a shared future for Arabs and Jews in Israel.”

A trip on the Jerusalem light railway, damaged and partially disabled by rioting after the murder of the Palestinian youth, shows the divide.

Before the killing, about 140,000 passengers took the service daily. One morning last week, a train traveling near the boy’s neighborhood of Shuafat was almost empty.

Atmosphere of Distrust

Ahmed, an east Jerusalem Palestinian, says young Jews on the train sometimes “go up and down asking passengers if they are Arabs and if someone says yes, they beat him. Who is protecting us?” The Jerusalem municipality said it has beefed up security and “won’t tolerate violence from any party.”

Susan, a 60-year-old American who lives in Israel, said she used to worry that Arab passengers might be carrying bombs. Now, they “don’t take the train any more,” she said. “I don’t have to worry as much.”

It was this atmosphere of distrust and sometimes open hatred that sent Kashua, the author, packing for good, he said.

“Twenty-five years of writing in Hebrew and nothing has changed,” he wrote in his opinion piece. “When Jewish youth parade through the city shouting ‘Death to the Arabs,’ and attack Arabs only because they are Arabs, I understood that I had lost my little war.”

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