Terror in the streets.

Photographer: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Mutual Fear of Attacks Divides Israel Further

Daniel Gordis is senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. Author of 11 books, his latest is "Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn."
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In Israel, the university academic year is about to begin, now that the Jewish holidays are past. New students and faculty are making their way to campus, and learning their way around.

Shalem College, where I work, is in a quiet, mostly residential neighborhood in south Jerusalem. A couple of days ago, one of the new Arabic language instructors, a Muslim woman from a different area of Jerusalem, requested a parking space in a usually off-limits area that is protected by security. None of the other faculty members park there, so someone from human resources asked her why. The instructor said she was afraid: The college is in a Jewish part of town, and if she parked in the regular parking, she feared that she would be attacked by Jews.

Had she known the neighborhood and the campus better, she might have known that there was nothing to worry about. Her fear is nonetheless significant. Unlike the First and Second Intifadas, it is not only Jews who are scared now -- everyone is on edge.

Some of what we’re experiencing is what we have become accustomed to. Ominously, rocket fire from Gaza has resumed. The stabbings, hit-and-run attacks with cars, and attempted car bombings all continue. But something about this round is making people particularly apprehensive. This is primarily a wave of stabbings, apparently by lone operators, and there’s no way the security forces can confiscate all the knives in the country. There is constant discussion of shutting down Jerusalem schools because teachers and parents are worried about security. On the Sunday evening news, many Israelis told interviewers that they had simply stayed inside over the weekend.

That fear is bringing out the worst in a small minority of Israelis. Now, Arabs are frightened, too. Even right-of-center newspapers are not hiding the fact that attacks on Arabs are becoming more common. An Arab casher in Tel Aviv was harassed, and protected by Jewish passers-by. In Jerusalem, three Jewish women were arrested after an apparent tear gas attack on an Arab man. Jewish Israelis have increasingly been using social media as a means of incitement against Arabs (and Arabs have been doing the same against Jews). Chants of “Death to the Arabs” have sadly become more commonplace. Israelis as a whole believe with no question that this latest round is the result of Palestinian intolerance, yet mainstream society is deploring the Jewish revenge attacks (which have been far fewer than Arab attacks on Jews, and have not caused grievous harm or deaths) in no uncertain terms.

The phenomenon of fear nonetheless suggests a potentially substantive change in the conflict. In one of Sunday’s stabbings, which left a 19-year-old woman grievously wounded, the attacker was an Israeli Arab. Increasingly, this feels less like a reprise of the battle between Israelis and Arabs over land and borders, and increasingly like the unleashing of venomous hatred that the two peoples now have for each other. Decades of war and despair may finally have pushed the sides so far that the conflict is no longer political, but ethnic and religious. If that's the case, even a far-reaching political settlement wouldn't suffice to put the conflict to rest.

This latest round of fighting, which may or may not escalate into a full-blown Third Intifada, isn't going to topple the Jewish state. It might have political fallout for the increasingly unpopular Benjamin Netanyahu, it will probably hurt the economy, and Israelis will no doubt be fearful and nervous for as long as it lasts. The long-term victims, though, may be Israel’s Arabs. In a political conflict, Israeli Jews don't typically see Israeli Arabs as the enemy. If the conflict becomes incontestably ethnic, that will no longer be the case.

Some of Israel’s Arab leaders understand that. On Sunday, Ayman Odeh, the head of the joint Arab list in the Knesset’s most recent elections, was preparing to give a live interview to Israeli TV. Nazareth Mayor Ali Salem accosted him on camera, and told him to leave town. “Ayman, go busy yourself elsewhere, you’ve ruined the city for us!” the Nazareth mayor complained. He explained his anger to Israel’s Army Radio, saying, “I blame the leaders” of the Arab uprising. He continued: “They are destroying our future; they are destroying coexistence.” To another website, Salem said, “We need to find a way to live together. We cannot fight like this. We are damaging ourselves.”

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Daniel Gordis at danielgordis@outlook.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Stacey Shick at sshick@bloomberg.net