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Aurele Aaron Tobelem

Israeli-Palestinian Violence Threatens Diplomatic Progress

Juxtaposed Palestine & Israel flags with intermediate blurred zone (WikiMedia Commons/Yellowblood)
Juxtaposed Palestine & Israel flags with intermediate blurred zone (WikiMedia Commons/Yellowblood)

Once again, hostilities have resumed in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. In the wake of an IDF raid on operatives of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror cell in the Jenin refugee camp which left 7 gunmen and 2 civilians dead, a series of terror attacks have taken place at a synagogue in Neve Ya’akov and on the streets of East Jerusalem, leaving 8 Israelis dead and many more wounded. Another suspected terror attempt against Jewish residents in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim on Saturday evening resulted in an armed Palestinian man being shot dead by Israeli security forces.

Thousands of Palestinian Arabs have taken to the streets to celebrate the deaths of Israelis with firework displays and the distribution of sweets. Chants of “Allahu Akbar” and “Khaybar, Khaybar, Ya Yahud” can be heard from hordes of young Arab men, although the festivities have spread to every age and gender demographic among the Palestinian Arabs, including children.

Violence threatens to escalate in the coming weeks as retaliatory and defensive measures are adopted by both the Israeli Knesset and the Palestinian Authority. 

At this stage in the crisis, defensive measures can easily turn into offensive ones. The cessation of security co-ordination between the PA and Israel in the aftermath of the Jenin raid is looking increasingly likely. Further, the Israeli government has expressed its wishes to discuss the deportation of Palestinian terrorists’ families as well as the expedition of firearm licenses to Israeli civilians. Needless to say, such policies are likely to increase ethnoreligious tensions and gun violence in major Israeli cities: the very risks which both governments should be aiming to avoid.

At a time when co-ordination should be most crucial, respective governments on both sides have chosen to dig deeper trenches. Diplomatic channels have become a no man’s land, and an extremely volatile atmosphere is being fostered.

In such a situation, pragmatism and level-headedness must be prioritized. Measures that Netanyahu and his army of yes-men are supporting, including sealing the homes of convicted or neutralized terrorists, are neither pragmatic nor level-headed. Nor is the PA’s attribution of sole and complete responsibility to Israel for the deterioration of domestic affairs in any way a tenable position.

Throughout the history of this conflict, the line between “terrorist” and “potential terrorist” has been blurred. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s proclamation that “we will deprive them [the terrorists] of their rights” can easily become a universal crackdown on the civil freedoms that Arabs have traditionally enjoyed whilst residing in Israel. Of course, Israel reserves every right to protect its citizens, but the measures which are set to be effected will put Israeli civilians at risk in the long term.

In a wider Middle Eastern context, the escalation of violence and government retaliation constitutes a threat to the stability of diplomatic relations. Media informs collective thought, cultural attitudes, and political action down the line. Many news outlets in the Arab World continue to churn out headlines which tell only one side of the story and depict Israel as the unreasonable oppressor. A notable example is Al Jazeera, an outlet financially supported by the Qatari government – a regime with a history of anti-Israel policies.

The anti-Arab rhetoric espoused by far-right elements within the Israeli government will undoubtedly become more relevant and persuasive to Israelis who are suffering through the pain of loss and the fear of violence. However, action based on such ideologies could send Israel into a downward spiral and serve as cannon fodder for those who wish to see it fail.

A significant minority in Israel are waking up to the fact that their government’s domestic policy has set them on a collision course. The anti-coalition muted rallies on Saturday evening, which saw tens of thousands of Israelis gather across multiple cities, have shown as much.

The progress of the Abraham Accords has taught us that co-existence and mutual co-operation should be at the forefront of Israel-Arab relations. The current situation has shown an inability to commit to either of those values, and this is deeply concerning. If violence and hatred are a destructive black hole, then leaders must do all that they can to maintain a safe distance from the event horizon.

About the Author
Aurele Tobelem is a first-year History student at King's College London. A Sephardi Jew of French-Moroccan origin, he is predominantly concerned with exploring and documenting Jewish relations in the Middle East and North Africa. He is the President of KCL Israel and a Youth Advocate for Harif UK. Aurele is open to working with other organizations to have fruitful discussions about Israel and the future.
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