isf Groundhog Day was a horror movie, it would look like this. The deadly violence shaking the Middle East – the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel – seems to unfold the same way, over and over again, as on a repeating macabre cycle. We saw it in 2009 and we saw it again in 2014. Every element is familiar: the number of deaths out of balance, the Palestinian deaths outnumber the Israeli women; images of flattened buildings; the tears of the bereaved. And outside the region, the same armies of keyboard warriors, each parroting the talking points on their own, insisting that only their own pain counts, blind to the other’s losses.
It usually goes like this. The violence escalates, with Israel moving from airstrikes and artillery fire to some sort of action on the ground. (Israel appears to be shifting gears faster this time.) The death toll rises until, finally, there is a ceasefire, negotiated through the United States and Egypt. Coming quietly, Hamas satisfied to have once again asserted as the main agent of Palestinian resistance, Israel contenting itself with “mowing the lawn”, reducing Hamas’ military capacity. Things are getting back to normal – until next time.
This pattern is horrible. The eruption of violence most obviously, given the agony and destruction it causes each time, but also the return to the status quo: this too is terrible, because it simply allows the hurt of this conflict to s ‘poison until it reopens, bloodier than before.
If you’re looking for evidence that the model might be different this time around, there’s a sign, but it’s far from encouraging. If anything, that suggests this current episode could be even worse. This is because the war between Israelis and Palestinians has found a new front, not in the occupied territories, but within Israel itself. This is what sets 2021 apart from 2014 or 2009: inter-communal violence in mixed cities of Israel, pitting Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel against each other in streets where they have lived side by side for decades. This violence is disturbing because it is intimate, neighbor against neighbor. It concerns the attempted lynching of an Arab in Bat Yam, dragged out of a car to be beaten and beaten; it is the burning of at least five synagogues in Lod.
These scenes shocked many Jewish Israelis who have long told themselves that their fellow Arabs are not like other Palestinians, that they do not have the same deep sense of national identity that their primary goal is to enjoy. economic parity with 80% of Jewish Israelis. The current bloodshed shatters this consoling illusion.
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. On the one hand, as longtime analyst and sometimes negotiator Hussein Agha observes, it is increasingly incumbent on the Arabs of Israel – “the Palestinians of 1948” as he calls them – to “carry the banner of traditional Palestinian nationalism ”. According to him, the cover has been kept on the West Bank by the Palestinian Authority; Gazans cannot move without hitting “the wall of Hamas and Islamic Jihad”, and the Palestinian diaspora in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are too busy to fend for themselves. This leaves the Arabs inside Israel.
Furthermore, how exactly did Jewish Israelis expect Arab citizens, mostly Muslims, to respond to the arsonist movements in Jerusalem and its holy places that sparked this latest crisis? What did they think would happen, given the 2018 passage of Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Nation-State Law”, which stipulated that only Jews had the right to self-determination in Israel, and which stripped Arabic from its official status?
And yet, the pull to revert to the status quo will be strong. You can see it in Joe Biden’s transparent desire to say the bare minimum and get back to the rest of his agenda. Watch The Human Factor, a fascinating new documentary about past attempts by the United States to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and it’s obvious Biden would like to be clear: it’s a black hole sucking up colossal amounts of money. energy, all for nothing.
Agha suggests that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is also “dependent” on the status quo. They too concluded that no resolution of the conflict was possible; and so, for now, the current configuration suits them perfectly, allowing them to “operate as a group with privileges”, giving them status in the eyes of the UN, the EU and the United States. .
The cyclical model certainly works for Netanyahu. Take a look at how this week went for him. Just a few days ago, he was on the verge of losing power to an opposition coalition supported, among others, by two Arab parties. It would have been a first, a decisive moment in the integration of Palestinian citizens into Israeli life. But once Hamas rockets started hitting Israeli towns, that prospect seemed dead. No one needs to say out loud that they do not view Arabs as legitimate partners in government; they can simply say that a national crisis is not the time to change direction. Not for the first time, Hamas has done Netanyahu a favor.
But it’s not just Israeli leaders who have grown accustomed to the status quo. The Israelis themselves have learned to live with these periodic outbursts of violence, even the terror of rockets falling from the sky, as the price to pay for long periods of calm when they can put conflict out of their minds. They are good at it, living in a bu’ah, a Tel Aviv bubble in which they are the nation of high-tech startups, leading the world in vaccine rollout one moment, partying on the beach the next.
Inside the bubble, it’s easy to forget the West Bank, with its two legal systems – one for Jews, the other for Palestinians. It’s easy to forget Gaza, with its 14 years of suffocation by the closure and joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade, or the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Jews can reclaim property owned before 1948, but Palestinians are denied this same right. It’s easy to forget a 54-year-old occupation.
The only people who cannot forget are those who live with it every day, those for whom the status quo is unbearable: namely ordinary Palestinians. If the tables were reversed, Israeli Jews could not stand it either. This is why former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak spoke a deep truth when he said that if he was born a Palestinian, he had no doubt that he would have become a fighter.
I desperately want the current violence to stop. I long for a ceasefire But I can’t hope for things to get back to normal. Because that’s normal, that’s what brought us here – and which brings us back again and again.