From across our southern border, an Islamic terrorist organization is firing hundreds of rockets indiscriminately across half or more of the country, in the current phase of its ongoing declared effort to remove the world’s only majority Jewish state from our biblical homeland.
Inside Israel, Arab and Jewish extremist thugs are attacking arbitrary members of each other’s community — beating, shooting, stabbing, attempting to kill — in an orgy of ethnic violence that is tearing this country apart from within.
With familiar malice and/or superficiality, some leaders and would-be opinion shapers around the world are, despicably, accusing Israel of immoral behavior and seeking to punitively constrain Israel’s capacity to defend itself, for the ostensible crime of attempting to quell the Hamas fire from neighboring Gaza.
Where our morality is actually being tested, however, is in grappling with the internal violence — born of a boiling mix of factors both historical and fresh that now threatens to burst out of any control.
The following is an effort to make some sense of the challenges we face. It’s brief and imperfect; the background is complex, and the reality is shifting hour by hour. More than anything, I hope it’s redundant, and that both our current wars prove less threatening than they appear right now.
Gaza, in context
Amid bitter domestic argument, and with strong support from the international community, Israel unilaterally “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005. It uprooted more than 20 settlements and their approximately 8,000 residents, and pulled back to the pre-1967 lines.
Many Israelis considered the withdrawal a dangerous vindication of Palestinian terrorism; many were relieved at the thought that Israel had finally separated itself from the toxic Gaza Strip. Any faint notion that Gaza, without the Israelis, might start to thrive as an independent Palestinian enclave and come to constitute an encouraging step toward a wider Israeli-Palestinian settlement was thoroughly dispelled by June 2007, when Hamas ousted the Fatah forces of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from the Strip in a few days of no-nonsense brutality.
Since then, Hamas and its various other allied and rival terrorist groups have subverted any and every possible resource to the goal of harming Israel. Hamas has mounted cross-border terrorist attacks, sent killers via tunnels dug beneath the border, flown incendiary balloons into Israel, goaded masses of Gazans into endless confrontations at the fence.
And, as underlined by the current onslaught, it has assembled and gradually upgraded a formidable rocket arsenal, capable of launching dozens upon dozens of increasingly potent projectiles deep into Israel within minutes. Thursday saw it targeting both of Israel’s international airports — Ben Gurion and, apparently using a rocket of unprecedented range, Ramon, near Eilat.
Were it not for the 90% successful Iron Dome rocket defense system, much of Israel would have been reduced to rubble over the past few days, as it would have been during the innumerable previous Hamas rocket onslaughts in recent years. Were it not for the Israeli and Egyptian efforts to deny Hamas a free hand in importing weaponry, Israel would have faced still more devastating military perils from Gaza. These would have included the kinds of precision-guided weaponry stockpiled over the years by that other quasi-state terrorist army, Hezbollah, that dominates a second territory from which Israel unilaterally withdrew, southern Lebanon.
The cynical, astute and amoral Hamas has presented the current escalation as a “battle for Jerusalem” — reflecting its stated motivation to eliminate Israel and sever the Jewish people’s 3,000-year connection to their capital, while advancing its goal of supplanting Abbas, Fatah and the PA as the principal leader of the Palestinian people.
In battering Israel with its rockets, forcing the gradual isolation of Israel as worried foreign airlines begin canceling flights, securing “victory pictures” when interrupting a session of the Knesset or sending people running for cover at the airport, and re-galvanizing anti-Israel forces worldwide, this campaign has already proved a considerable success for Hamas, which cares not at all for the suffering it is causing Gazans as the Israeli army attempts to stop the rocket fire.
No country on earth could allow its home front to be targeted in the way Hamas attacks Israel. No military force on earth could counter that threat, when the rockets are launched from the midst of a civilian populace, without harming civilians. The amorality of Hamas as the cynical aggressor, and the legitimacy of Israel in defending its populace against the de facto government of the terror state next door, should be clear to anybody prepared to familiarize themselves with reality.
Israel, in ferment
One of the chorus of Israeli politicians across the spectrum moved to comment on the eruption of internal, ethnic violence in Israel, Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday pronounced our bloodily exposed internal divisions to be “no less dangerous than Hamas.”
In fact, a descent into civil war is potentially more threatening than the enemy across the border. A country without internal cohesion simply cannot survive in a perennially dangerous region. A country tearing itself apart from within is no place to live.
The explosion of Arab violence against Jews is, among other factors, a consequence of decades of government neglect in much of the Arab community. Crime has long run wild. Poverty, alienation from the state, a pervading sense of discrimination — all this and more constitute fertile ground for extremism, hatred, and violence. And that’s without factoring in identification with the Palestinian cause.
The explosion of Jewish violence against Arabs is, among other factors, a consequence of an emboldening of the extremists and racists that are present on the margins of all societies, and that thrive when they internalize a political climate moving in their favor, and a law enforcement establishment unable to cope. Known political provocateurs such as the Kahanist Itamar Ben Gvir are now Knesset members; his party Otzma Yehudit, which encompasses the anti-miscegenation Lehava group — denounced by President Reuven Rivlin as akin to “rodents gnawing under the shared democratic and Jewish foundation of Israel” — was shepherded into parliament as part of an alliance shamefully brokered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lehava was at the heart of recent anti-Arab protests near Damascus Gate (which themselves followed incidents of East Jerusalem Arabs attacking ultra-Orthodox Jews).
בת ים, הערב: זה לא ניסיון דריסה, זה פחד של הנהג מההמון הקיצוני. לינץ' בנהג ממוצא ערבי, למה? כי הוא ערבי. תוהו ובוהו. pic.twitter.com/o5Z0iLCd5n
— אור רביד | Or Ravid (@OrRavid) May 12, 2021
Israel’s police force — underfunded, understaffed and left without a commissioner from 2018 to 2020 — has proved as incapable of deterring Jewish extremists as it has of deterring Arab extremists. Everybody is complaining that the police are nowhere to be found, or are taking too long to arrive at flashpoints of internal ethnic violence, police spokesman Eli Levy told Channel 12 news on Thursday afternoon, “but you have to understand that in the past 24 hours there have been 127,000 calls to the police emergency 100 hotline.” On a normal day, he said, there are about 10,000.
Feeding off each other, the thugs on each side are gaining momentum, and the vast majority of Israelis are caught, horrified and targeted, in the middle. The interethnic friction and violence, to the undoubted delight of our external enemies, is of course being exacerbated by the incessant Hamas attacks.
After Wednesday’s endless series of vicious attacks, denunciations poured in from all the way across the political spectrum. But angry condemnation and plaintive calls for calm are no substitute for principled leadership, practical policies to address legitimate grievance, adequate funding to tackle inequalities, and both budget and support for effective law enforcement.
Israel cannot and will not be deterred by malicious or misguided international castigation from seeking to safeguard its populace against Hamas and other external enemies. But to ensure we have a country cohesive and resilient enough to defend itself, a country in which our overwhelmingly fine and decent citizens can delight and thrive, we need leadership and governance willing and able to rectify the moral and practical failings that have set our streets on fire from within.
“The violent disturbances we saw yesterday are a genuine threat to Israeli sovereignty,” Rivlin said on Thursday. “Our home is on fire, and we don’t have another one.”
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