The frequent use of the term “civil war” or “fraternal war” in Israel in recent months has become a prominent element in public discourse following the Israeli government’s unilateral attempt to revolutionize the judicial system of the country.
However, there is a significant gap between the current situation: violence, demonstrations, disputes, and even dark prophecies of rage, and the civil wars that other countries, not far from us, experienced a few decades ago.
A P R I M E M I N I S T E R W A S M U R D E R E D H E R E
The waves of riots washed over the country, threatening to submerge the “silver platter” on which the State of Israel was born in 1948. Riots erupted over social backgrounds, economic factors, and tensions between Arab and Jewish communities, war, and peace.
Take for example the ״Saison״ the “Hunting Season” code-name given to the campaign led by the “Haganah” [Haganah was the main Zionist paramilitary organization of the Jewish population in Palestine until 1948] against the “Irgun” [The right wing nationalistic paramilitary group]. The campaign was aimed at forcing the Irgun activists to cease fighting the British army at the end of World War II.
The Irgun operators blew up the the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, in retaliation to the campaign. The building collapsed and buried 90 people under the rubbles; Jews, Arabs and British citizens.
The sinking of the “Irgun” weapon-laden ship, “Altalena,” off the coast of Tel-Aviv in June, 1949, when the newly formed state military forces [IDF] tried to stop the “smuggling” of weapon by remnant members of the underground paramilitary group the “Irgun“. The attempt turned into a shooting scene between “Irgun” members on the ship and the IDF troops on the beach, the ship caught fire and sank. Sixteen “Irgun” members and three IDF soldiers lost their lives.
Early 1950s, riots erupted over discussions surrounding the Reparations Agreement with Germany, where the Israeli government agreed to receive a substantial sum of money from West Germany as compensation for “correcting the injustice…” Demonstrators against the agreement stormed the Knesset building and pelted Knesset members with stones.
Move on to 1959, Wadi Salib Disturbances in Haifa where bloody riots erupted between new immigrants who came from Muslim countries and were given poor housing with very little work, no medical care. The young generation of the immigrants claimed sectarian discrimination and denounced the “MAPAI” [the ruling party at that time] establishment. The establishment defined the protestors as a “desert generation” and “human dust” from which the orientalism must be removed. However, there was no real solution to their problems. in March 1971, the “Black Panthers” movement arose to protest exactly the same injustices. And eleven years later, riots erupted again. Demonstrations started in Jerusalem by the group which called itself the “Black Panthers“.
The “ethnic demon” was out of the bottle… and never been put back…
Another pivotal event was the murder of “Peace Now” activist Emil Grunzweig during a demonstration protested Israel’s involvement in the first Lebanon War and the massacre of palestinian refugees in refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut in 1982. A hand grenade was thrown by a right-wing orthodox Jew towards the demonstrators, Grunzweig was murdered and nine other Peace supporters were wounded.
Later that year, it was the right-wing protestors who protested adamantly and violently their forced evacuation of their homes in the Sinai peninsula, which was part of the “Camp David” peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
This era concluded in the 1990s with demonstrations both for and against the Oslo Accords, which threatened to divide the nation. The era concluded with three shots fired by Yigal Amir, a messianic right-wing activist, at the end of a peace rally, leading to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. November 4th, 1995!
The evacuation of Jewish settlements from Yamit settlements in the Gaza Strip and two more such settlements in northern West Bank [Samaria] in 2005 brought another wave of riots. Demonstrators fortified themselves on rooftops, chaining themselves to synagogues, and resisting evacuation. Gush Katif was returned to Palestinian control.
However, no matter how traumatic these events were for Israeli society, they never devolved into a full-fledged “fratricidal war.”
The Use of “Fratricidal War”
The use of the term “fratricidal war” is intended to shock, perhaps to deter further deterioration of the current divide. However, it is far from the civil wars that plagued other countries in the eighties and nineties of the last century.
My experience as a news producer for American television networks during the 1980s and 1990s exposed me to covering and documenting civil wars. I reported on the Yugoslav civil war from its inception in 1991 to 1993 for NBC.
The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia began its self-destruction with the separation of the northern region – Slovenia, from the central government in Belgrade. The fire of conflict spread to Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was a clash between brothers of the same nation, people who had lived alongside each other for centuries. Muslims and Christians. Catholic Christians and Orthodox Christians. They set fire to houses, fields, churches, and schools, abusing the weak and murdering the strong.
I’ve also witnessed fraternal conflicts in Africa – wars between neighbors from different tribes. Driven by weapons and a lack of conscience, these conflicts inflicted merciless violence.
Fraternal war, whether in Africa or Yugoslavia, illustrate the name given to such atrocities: ethnic cleansing. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled, chased from place to place, as the blaze of civil or fraternal war consumed everything in its path.
In May of 1993 I was in Sarajevo, the capital of a newly independent state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Serbian army imposed a siege on the city, aided by local Serbian militias. The Bosnians endured constant sniper fire and heavy artillery shelling. Basic tasks became life-threatening challenges.
Staying in Sarajevo for three weeks, I witnessed the impact of the siege. The Bosnians faced snipers and artillery fire daily. One morning, I visited a local children’s hospital, a heartbreaking story even for a father of two young daughters. I covered the story for the American network, an armored car cruising Sniper Alley, a perilous street controlled by Serbian snipers. We documented the lack of medical supplies and the mental toll on the children as we saw it in the children hospital.
Amidst the chaos, I met Amir, a two-year-old boy who had been in the hospital for three months. His mother had left him as she tended to her other children, and Amir now searched for her. I can still remember him, thirty years later, a baby with a scar on his lip, holding a rag doll that might have been his only reminder of home.
Civil wars never conclude happily; there are no winners, only losers. These conflicts scar nations and spare no one – friend or foe, brother or sister. The siege on Sarajevo, lasting nearly four years, resulted in thousands of casualties. Such is the nature of a fraternal war; it leaves a mark that time can’t erase, it never heals…