Two separate cases that were released on Friday March 5, 2004 reflect
the complex nature of the relations between the Jewish majority and the Arab
minority in Israel, and the destructive potential that is manifest in the
behaviour of their respective leaders.
On the one hand, there was the revelation of the arrest of a Jewish
youngster and his father, both Haifa residents, who are suspected of placing
nine explosive devices (or aiding and abetting in this act) aimed at Arab
citizens of this country. On the other hand, it was publicized that two
brothers - both residents of the Galilee village of Arabeh - were put on
trial on charges of aiding Hezbollah and passing information to Palestinian
These events again testify to the fact that there are extremist elements
in both the Jewish and Arab publics who are ready to translate the
incendiary rhetoric that the two sides direct at one another into violent
and deadly national acts. There is nothing surprising in this: The
Israeli-Palestinian arena, and within it the Israeli-Arab relationship
within the Green Line, is infused with hateful, incendiary vapours. Israel's
Arab citizens are exposed to ongoing poisonous incitement that presents
their country in satanic terms and enhances their anger and frustration over
its treatment of their brothers who are under occupation.
Israel's Jewish citizens hear more and more accusations levelled at the
country's Arab leaders, especially the Arab Knesset members, which stoke
suspicion toward them, as well as raise questions over the extent of their
identification with the state and its troubles.
In this explosive situation, it is the obligation of the leaders of both
the majority and minority to show responsibility, in their actions and their
words. The events of October 2000 show how rapidly the decline can be from a
situation of distrust and ongoing bitterness to one of violent confrontation
that spins out of control. It is disappointing to discover that, among the
heads of the Jewish and Arab communities in Israel, there are those who have
not learned the necessary lesson of those tragic events and instead of
trying to cool tempers are contributing to stirring them up.
Leading figures in the Arab community, among them Sheikh Ra'ad Salah and
MK Azmi Bishara, have said and done things that got them into legal trouble.
Jewish ministers and MKs, among them Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert,
Ze'ev Boim, Eliezer Sandberg and Yisrael Katz, have on more than one
occasion used racist terms to label the Arab MKs as traitors, agents of
Palestinian terror, and the like.
Words have the power to move people to carry out wicked acts. The
revelations that there are perpetrators of terror against targets in the
Arab sector, including MKs, and of the existence of another Israeli Arab
cell charged with aiding the Palestinian terror networks, are testimony to
the fact that there are receptive ears when it comes to incitement. The task
of Jewish and Arab leaders in Israel is to educate their communities toward
tolerance of the views of the other side, to cultivate the recognition of
freedom of speech, and to remove stereotypes that derive from racist and
preconceived notions from public discourse. They, of course, are abusing
their positions, and they take upon themselves a responsibility filled with
danger when they utter words that add fuel to the flames of enmity and
suspicion that exist in the Israeli-Arab divide within the borders of the