Ellen Ginsberg Simon

Internecine fighting marks this war as crucially different

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We find ourselves witness yet again to another micro-war between Israelis and Gazan Palestinians.  It all looks depressingly familiar:  the barrage of missiles; the Iron Dome hard at work intercepting those missiles; rubble and death in Gaza; rubble and death in Israel; Israeli families cowering in bomb shelters or at the side of the road, throwing their bodies over their children; Gazan families carrying crying, injured children from the wreckage of bombed buildings.

We all know there will be no winner of this conflict.  There never is a winner.  An uneasy ceasefire somehow is reached when both sides are exhausted enough through the efforts of outside parties such as the United States and Egypt.  Everyone knows it will not last.  No one is fully satisfied with the outcome, which is why everyone knows that aggressions will spike again in the future.

So what is different about this particular conflict in comparison with the Gazan wars in the past two decades?  What makes this conflict more frightening?

From the perspective of Israel, this conflict is markedly different because of the internecine conflicts occurring among Israel’s diverse populace.  Netanyahu is correct in his assessment that the most dangerous aspect of this current flare-up in hostilities is the manner in which it is tearing Israelis apart from within.

It is no secret to those who know Israel that its population is ethnically, religiously, and nationally diverse.  When Israelis are not facing a common, external enemy, they are usually pitched in battles — albeit civil — among themselves over various aspects of such a multinational state.  The Orthodox and the Russian parties vie over control of immigration.  The far-right and far-left spar over the settlements.

Today, those battles have transcended civility into outright hostility.  In Lod, we see religious nationalists attacking Israeli Arabs and Israeli Arabs burning synagogues. Religious students are organizing mob violence via WhatsApp.  The city has descended into what its mayor, Yair Revivo, described as “civil war.”  The streets are in shambles, with burnt-out cars, stores, and synagogues as a testament to a frightening phenomenon.  Israelis are eating each other alive in the midst of an external threat to their safety and existence.  They are also showing the worst side of themselves and this conflict.

Why is this happening this time?  What is spurring this concomitant, internecine warfare?  Israel has faced violent conflict with the Palestinians in Gaza more times than anyone cares to count.  Why are the internal extremists so emboldened to act violently at such a juncture?

Israel’s far-right had been empowered and emboldened in recent years.  No one can form a government coalition without them.  Netanyahu is beholden to them; he cannot maintain his hold on power without including religious extremists and those who adhere to the concept of a Greater Israel (i.e., settlement of the West Bank).  They, therefore, have an assured seat at the table, and they have a disproportionate voice in Israeli governmental decisions and actions.

In the meantime, Israel faces the same weaknesses that every other nation on Earth faces.  Jerusalem may be an actual city on a hill, but it is far from perfect.  Racism and discrimination exist in Israel just as they do in every other country on this planet.  And Arab Israelis are voicing their exhaustion with it and their fear of and anger toward those far-right Israelis who are openly threatening and attacking them.  Even as they loathe Hamas for its extremism and heedless acts of violence that result in these wars, they also are grieving for their brethren stuck on the other side of the wall.

A maelstrom of emotional turmoil is leading to outright street warfare among Israelis.

This does not excuse the ignorance of American leftists who erroneously and irrationally conflate U.S. identity politics and the U.S. history of racism with Israel’s history.  Such comparisons are specious excuses to voice underlying anti-Semitic sentiments under the guise of appearing “liberal.”  They are dangerous because they stoke the anti-Semitic flames that inevitably accompany all-out war in Israel.

And none of this — I repeat — none of this excuses Hamas’s overt aggression against ALL Israelis, be they Religious Zionists or Muslim Arabs.  Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks requiring 70 percent of its population to seek shelter in the past week should be unquestionable.  Hamas is engaged in the double war crimes of violating Israel’s sovereign border with its barrage of missiles and placement of combatant sites and missile silos in its own civilian areas thereby using its own people as human shields.

None of that is new, though.  And it will pass as it always does after too much blood has been shed and destruction wreaked on both peoples.

The more disconcerting issue posed by the current state of affairs in Israel is how the internal divides that previously simmered and have now boiled over into overt violence can be contained and mended.  If Israel treats these internal battles as a sideshow and does not seriously seek to address their sources and their solutions, there is little point in fighting for the survival of the Jewish State as it will crumble from within.  For those who dearly love Israel and what it represents to the Jewish people, such a calamity cannot be allowed to occur.

About the Author
Ellen Ginsberg Simon is an attorney and compliance professional. She has an M.Phil in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from Oxford University and is also a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School.
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