The intensity and scope of Arab rioting has caught Israel’s governme
JERUSALEM (AP) _ The intensity and scope of Arab rioting has caught Israel’s government and army off guard and challenged some widely held Israeli beliefs about Arabs.
Israelis appeared most shaken by the fact the violence spread from the territories captured in the 1967 Middle East War to the Tel Aviv suburb of Jaffa, whose cafe-lined streets had become a symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence.
″This is the first time the Israeli public has actually seen that there is some kind of mutuality between events in the (occupied) territories and what takes placer among Israeli Arabs,″ military commentator Zeev Schiff wrote in the Haaretz newspaper.
The point was hammered home by Rifaat ″Jimmy″ Turk, an Israeli Arab soccer star who endorsed Monday’s general strike by Israeli Arabs in support of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
″Listen, I have family in Gaza and the West Bank and I can’t detach myself from them,″ Turk said in a television interview. ″I’m not going wild or doing illegal things. But I belong to this nation. I can’t cut myself off from it and don’t want to either.″
His support shocked many Israelis who had come to see the 750,000 Israeli Arabs, who speak Hebrew and vote in Israeli elections, as a contented minority separate from the 1.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Amnon Cohen, a professor of Middle East history at Hebrew University and a former adviser to the military government in the occupied territories, said a variety of contacts including intermarriage had brought the two communities together.
″In 1967, there was a total divide between them, physical, economical, even emotional. But that has dissipated gradually,″ he said.
Political analyst Shmuel Segev said Israeli Arabs would become even more active in campaigning for equal status with Israel’s 3.5 million Jews.
″Israel will have to take into consideration today that Israeli Arabs will fight to obtain more power to rectify what seems to them an inequity in comparison with Israeli Jews in development, education, universities, etc.,″ Segev said.
Some right-wing politicians, fearing further outbreaks of unrest, called for the reimposition of military rule over Arabs in northern Israel. But the idea was dismissed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
The army also was caught by surprise. It has maintained a small force of a few hundred soldiers in the territories. Most lack the means and training to deal with rioters.
″Most of the soldiers are very young, their experience in such activity is very limited,″ said Brig. Gen. Ephraim Lapid, the army spokesman.
Army officials said the military is reconsidering its opposition to forming a riot force and is giving serious thought to equipping units with water cannons and other non-lethal means such as improved rubber bullets and tear gas.
The government, deeply divided over Middle East peacemaking strategy, was caught by the riots with both Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres out of the country.
Segev said their absence was one reason the government failed to come to grips with the situation.
″If the government had taken a strong hand immediately, fewer people would have been killed overall and it would have not lasted this long,″ Segev said. ″The cumulative effect on world opinion would have been lessened.″
Uzi Baram, secretary general of the centrist Labor Party, said Shamir’s opposition to a proposed international peace conference was to blame for the recent violence.
″The policy that offers no hope, the policy of not encouraging peace is favorable ground for instigators to get what they want,″ he told Israel army radio.
Only days before the rioting began Dec. 8, Shamir had noted with evident satisfaction that the Arab-Israeli conflict did not top the international agenda at the Soviet-U.S. summit.
But there is a widespread belief now that one of the underlying causes of the unrest was a lack of attention to the plight of the Palestinians - by the Israelis, the Arabs and the big powers.
Lapid said Palestinians were disappointed by the superpower summit and the recent Arab League summit in Jordan which focused on the Persian Gulf War.
″The very high expectations of the people here turned into great despair,″ said Lapid.
EDITOR’S NOTE - Nicolas B. Tatro is bureau chief in Jerusalem and has been covering the Middle East for the past 10 years.