A new poll suggests regular people are now viewing everyone in the ‘other’ ethnic-national group as a violent threat. Is that an indication of the national conflict becoming an ethnic one?
Over three-quarters of Israeli Jews believe that either some (37 percent), most (33 percent) or all (8 percent) Arab Israelis support the terror of recent weeks, according to a poll published by Israeli news site Maariv on Thursday. Just one-fifth (19 percent) of Jews said that “only a minority (of Arab citizens) support it and the majority oppose” the violence. The wording reflects how the survey was reported in Maariv; the Jewish sample included 503 respondents and a 4.3 percent margin of error; the Arab sample was 304 respondents, with a 5.2 percent margin of error.
The dramatic numbers reflect what I believe is a dangerous shift in the nature of the conflict. The fighting was once primarily over statehood, borders, territory, resources with embedded layers of identity, religion and ethnicity. Now regular people are committing violence primarily based on ethnic or national identity. The survey shows that Jews view anyone associated with the other ethnic-national group as prepared to commit violence against them.
The individual Palestinian attacks on civilians are a statement that for those regular Palestinians – not just members of terror organizations – Jews rather than just soldiers, are targets.
When regular people view all other regular people of the other group as a violent threat or target, it is open ethnic conflict.
Mass hostilities that characterize ethnic conflict are driven by rumor. The very idea that 78 percent of Jews broadly see Arab citizens as supporting the terror helps fuel the violent attacks that have been committed against Arabs in recent weeks.
But only two Palestinian citizens out of 1.7 million living inside Israel proper have actually been involved in attacking Israeli Jews. One brandished a knife, not actually stabbing anyone, before she was shot and wounded by security forces in Afula. Palestinians in East Jerusalem who received citizenship are not included in this count, since their lives and experiences are radically different from those who grew up as part of Israel.
The survey shows further indications that Israeli Jews view their fellow citizens who are Arab as inextricable from the violence. Over six in ten (61 percent) support an economic boycott against all Arab citizens of Israel despite the fact that only one in 750,000, way fewer than 99.9 percent, have committed no violence against other Israelis.
Nearly one-third of Israeli Jews (30 percent) say they have become more right-wing during the violence, a political attitude that in recent years is heavily associated with anti-Arab sentiment, not just hardline attitudes regarding negotiations and concessions.
How do Arab Palestinian citizens feel in the midst of the violence and hostility? Fully two-thirds (65 percent) of the Arab respondents of the survey – citizens of Israel – said they don’t feel safe in Jewish communities in Israel (the word “yishuvim” describes anything from a city to a town or small community). In other words, most Arabs don’t feel safe in most of the country.
Many feel leaderless: fewer than half, 41 percent, feel the Arab parliamentarians don’t represent them. Forty percent think the MKs do represent them – an even split. One reason has to do with the fact that Arab MKs inevitably disappoint them. Palestinians of Israel commonly believe that Arab parliamentarians have no real power; Arab parties on their own have never been part of the executive branch, Israel’s governing coalition.
However, it is notable that when asked about what kind of political framework they would like to live in, the strong majority of Arabs chose something reflecting a two-state solution: 11 percent cited “Israel as it is now,” 48 percent – the strong plurality – prefers Israel within the pre-’67 borders next to an independent Palestinian state – for a total of 59 percent.
Another 14 percent choose a single bi-national state, and an eight-percent minority opted for a state that is part of a larger Islamic caliphate. Nearly one in five (19 percent) gave no answer.
From my conversations with Palestinian-Arab citizens, this reflects a very widespread approach perhaps underrepresented in the survey: that there is nothing worth hoping for by way of political solutions, and that the whole situation is hopeless.