Middle East

Middle East

Israel: Casting Light on a Dark Episode

In October 2000, at the outset of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, Israeli Arabs staged unprecedented demonstrations in support of Palestinians. The rallies turned into violent riots that left 13 Israeli Arabs and one Israeli Jew dead.

Nearly three years after it was charged with investigating the riots and their deadly aftermath, the Or Commission—comprised of Supreme Court Justice Theodore Or, Nazareth District Judge Hashim Khatib, and Tel Aviv University historian Shimon Shamir, a former Israeli diplomat with long experience in the Arab world—released its 831-page report, concluding that the police had used excessive force and that officials had sorely underestimated Israeli Arabs’ anger after decades of systematic discrimination. While the government of Ariel Sharon withheld immediate comment on the report, the media wasted no time reacting to its findings.

In its Sept. 1 editorial, Yediot Aharonot expressed hope that the report would prompt Israelis to consider these questions: “Is there really a way in which Israeli Arabs can become genuine citizens of the Jewish state? And if there isn’t, are the two sides destined for a violent, disastrous collision? Hasn’t the time arrived for a substantive dialogue on Israeli identity and to deal with basic questions that we have hitherto shied away from on the grounds that the time was not yet ripe?”  The editors argued that these broader questions are much more important to Israel’s future “than how the commission will judge those who were involved in that bloody week in which 13 [Arab] Israeli citizens were killed, at least some by police fire.”

Hatzofeh’s Sept. 2 editorial comment faulted the report from a different direction, saying that it “almost totally ignores Arab outbursts and also those who incited them, including Arab MKs [Knesset members].” Describing it as “the fruit of compromises reached between the members of the commission, in order to allow a unanimous decision,” the editorial predicted the report will satisfy nobody and will only serve to inflame Arab-Jewish tensions.

The Jerusalem Post, in a Sept. 1 analysis by David Rudge, took a similar position. Rudge blamed the Monitoring Committee of the Israeli Arab Leadership and the Islamic Movement, particularly its faction in the city of Umm el-Fahm—epicenter of the unrest—for igniting tensions by alerting Muslims that the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount was “in danger.”

Despite their support for the commission’s findings, Ha’aretz’s editors expressed pessimism about the government’s willingness to respond in good faith (Sept. 2): “The picture the commission paints is extraordinarily worrisome: a consistent policy, by all Israeli governments, of discriminating against the Arab sector…nevertheless, the report’s practical impact will be measured by the translation of its recommendations into practice. If the government ignores them, relations between Israel’s majority and its minority are liable to reach a boiling point from which there will be no return.”