Andrew Getraer
American, Zionist, Husband, Father, Idealist, Skeptic.

What’s Happening in Israel? Civil War By Proxy

An Israeli soldier looks across the border at Gaza in the distance. (Photo credit:Andrew Getraer)
An Israeli soldier looks across the border at Gaza in the distance. (Photo credit: Andrew Getraer)

The current violence between Israelis and Palestinians is the worst of its kind in many years. But the catalyst for the current violence is not really about Israelis and Palestinians. It’s a Civil War by Proxy between Hamas and the PA, replacing the recently cancelled election. Each side competes for ‘legitimacy’ by demonstrating who can organize more violence against Israelis.

FYI: Palestinian society is governed by two parties, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, who have literally been at war with each other for years. Hamas won a local Gaza election in 2006, then shot their political opponents and threw them off roofs. That’s how they gained power. There have been no subsequent elections. On the Palestinian Authority side, President Abbas was elected to a 4-year term 16 years ago. There have been no subsequent elections.
With no elections, no legislature, and no accountability, demonstrating who is more committed to murdering Jews is how The Palestinian Authority and Hamas compete politically. That’s how you ‘win’ in Palestinian politics. All else is tangential.
US INFLUENCE MATTERS. Over the past few months, Pres. Biden has restored funding for and removed every sanction against the Palestinian Authority put into place by the Trump Adminsitration. In this newly-friendly environment, Abbas felt emboldened to call elections for April. Abbas is generally seen by his own people as a useless, corrupt, stooge who has delivered nothing. So Abbas’ main campaign strategy was to incite small scale violence against Jews, which killed several Israelis. This was Abbas’ way of proving he is as committed to ‘resistance’ as his arch political opponents, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood groups, who have cells all over the West Bank.
When it became clear that Abbas’ party, Fatah, faced certain defeat, he cancelled the elections, as everyone knew he would from the beginning. Then Abbas did what every Palestinian leader has done for literally 100 years to gain followers: created a fake crisis over Jerusalem, claiming Jews were attacking the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is on the Temple Mount. He did this through official PA newspapers and tv, etc. There is no free press under the PA.
There is a neighborhood on the eastern side of Jerusalem called Sheikh Jarrah. Before 1948 it contained a large Jewish neighborhood called Shimon Hatsadik, which Jews had purchased from the Ottomans in 1875. From 1948-1967 the Jordanians occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank (a name they invented, as opposed to the rest of Jordan, which is on the east bank of the Jordan river). They killed or kicked all the Jews out of Shimon HaTsadik and gave their homes to Arabs. Israel took control of Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah in 1967 and was faced with a quandary.
The Jews who had lost their homes and property to the Jordanian government in 1948 wanted it back. But the Arabs who now lived there claimed rights, too. These cases went thru Israeli courts for DECADES without real resolution. Back in the 80s or 90s some of the Arab families recognized that their homes legally belonged to Jews and the court said they could stay, but had to pay rent to the legal Jewish owners. Other Arab residents had no proof at all of ownership, or claimed to have purchased the houses in the 90s from unverifiable sources. In all cases, the Arab residents refused to pay rent as ordered by the court. It went back and forth in the courts for more years. A few weeks ago the Israeli Supreme Court (which has Arab justices, btw) ruled that the Arab residents – representing 4 families – had a right to stay, but in cases where legal Jewish title was provable, they were required to pay rent. If they continue to refuse, they will be evicted. No Arab family has actually been displaced. No mass evictions are planned.
During an ‘election’ season, this was a gift to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority media and government seized on the case, claiming Israelis were stealing Palestinian homes, evicting Arabs, giving their homes to Jews, etc. They fomented protests and riots which grew into mass violence. Israelis were killed, rioters took shelter in the al-Aqsa mosque and were pursued by Israeli police.
This was a challenge to Hamas. With the Palestinian Authority “defending Al-Aqsa” Hamas had no choice but to compete for attention by attacking Israel. So in the past few days Hamas unleashed the largest barrage of rocket attacks on Israeli civilians in many years. Thousands of Hamas rockets have blanketed Israel. Some 60% of the Israeli population has been forced into bomb shelters, and several Israelis, both Arab and Jewish, have been killed.
As I write this, it is 4 am in Tel Aviv and the entire central population center of Israel is in bomb shelters. The video of the Iron Dome defense missile system blocking Hamas rockets is like a terrifying fireworks show over every city on the Israeli coast.
Another indicator that this is an internal political battle between Hamas and Fatah is that reporting on Gaza by official PA media NEVER mentions Hamas rocket attacks on Israelis. To do so would be to give Hamas ‘credit’ for its ‘resistance.’
It is also no coincidence that Hamas is funded by Iran. Iran is newly flush with cash to spread to its military proxies in Gaza and Yemen after US sanctions were removed by the Biden administration. The violence also undermines the Abrahamic Accords, the growing normalization and peace between Israel and Muslim and Arab nations that developed in the past 18 months. This coalition shares a fear of Iranian expansion and it is in Iranian interests to thwart it. Whereas Saudi Arabia was once seen as ready to join these accords, video of Israeli-Palestinian violence will likely cause the Saudis to back away from relations with Israel. A huge opportunity for the peace of the whole region is being undermined.
As the crisis grows, violent gangs, which had been a growing but ignored problem in Israeli-Arab communities, have taken advantage of the moment. These gangs of extremist and disaffected young men, some affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, have been an internal problem for several years, with local Israeli-Arab leaders calling for the government to do something about them. But the Israeli government has basically ignored the issue. Now there is shocking and terrible rioting in a number of Israeli Arab communities, with neighboring Jews fleeing the towns, dozens of synagogues destroyed, and who knows what else to come. Both Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs have been killed and the IDF may be called in, since this has exceeded the police’s ability to control.
Meanwhile, every politician and pundit in American and elsewhere feels the need to weigh in on the issue, with most having NO IDEA what they are talking about. Not just the usual suspects like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, but Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, whose statements indicate that they believe Israel has ethnically cleansed all Palestinians from Sheik Jarrah. It’s worth repeating: No Arab family has been displaced by the court order.
As usual, the internet is full of fake images – many taken from Syria or Iraq, some just staged – purporting to show Israeli atrocities. Some have called it a “social media pogrom.” Mainstream media are quick to quote the Palestinian Health Ministry’s claims re casualties in Gaza – but the PHM is just an arm of Hamas (!). The media having learned NOTHING from the past, when PHM claims have been compleley debunked months after the anti-Israel damage is done.
This is the real goal for Hamas and the PA. They have no strategy for ‘winning’ against Israel, much less for peaceful coexistence. They know that the more violence they provoke, the greater the Israeli response will be, the more Palestinians will suffer. But they don’t care. The more Palestinians who suffer, the more support they will get. Palestinian political leadership are martyring their own people for no cause other than their own power. It’s a tragedy in every way.
About the Author
Andrew Getraer is the former managing director of Harvard Hillel and executive director of Rutgers Hillel, working on college campuses for over 20 years. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
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