The fires within

Iron Dome system intercepts a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in 2012. (Israel Defense Forces / flickr)

Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Walls is the kind of military operation with which we are very familiar. The country is under an attack from Gaza, with violence orchestrated by Hamas, a genocidal terror organization. Thousands of rockets have been fired indiscriminately across more than half of Israel.

Thanks to the miraculous 90 percent success rate of Israel’s Iron Dome system, the vast majority of rockets that would otherwise be capable of reaching Israel’s population centers have been intercepted. Nearly half of the rockets fall on unpopulated areas in Israel. Some 15 percent of the terror rockets fall short of the Israeli border and land in Gaza itself, often causing damage, injury and death among Palestinians.

Hamas regularly wages battle from within heavily populated areas of Gaza, using human shields and jeopardizing the lives of thousands of people trying to go about their daily lives. But Hamas has a singular objective: the complete destruction of the Jewish state. And the collateral loss of innocent lives is apparently deemed a small price to pay for the satisfaction of terrorist blood lust.

Israel’s response has been strong but measured. Reports regularly highlight Israeli Defense Forces efforts to avoid civilian casualties, including warning Gazans of impending attacks. The international community has been largely supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from attack, critical of the sustained rocket fire from Hamas that target Israeli citizens and repeatedly invoking the urgency of de-escalation of the fighting.

But there is another war going on within Israel that has the potential of being more threatening to the fabric of the Jewish state than the incessant rocket fire from Gaza. That is the very disturbing eruption of internal, ethnic violence in many mixed Jewish-Arab cities. The threat of civil war is serious. And on this very troubling issue, there is blame on both sides.

The rise of Arab violence against neighboring Jews is upsetting, and cannot be tolerated. It must be stopped even if one recognizes that the violence is at least partially the consequence of decades of government neglect in many Arab communities. Poverty, crime and alienation from the state have all come together to foment resentment and upheaval, with reactions further fueled by identification with the Palestinian cause. But civil war is not the answer. Civil discourse, meaningful engagement and practical policies to address legitimate grievances are needed.

Further, there is no excuse for the poisonous growth of Jewish violence against neighboring Arabs. The biblical “eye for an eye” was never intended to be enforced literally, and Israel’s political legitimization of several Jewish extremists and racists is cause for real concern. We know that there are, unfortunately, extremists and racists on the margins of all societies. It is civilized society’s responsibility to keep them on the margins.

Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, recently denounced the nation’s Jewish extremists as “rodents gnawing under the shared democratic and Jewish foundation of Israel.” He is right. The fires burning within the Jewish state are potentially more threatening than the fires from Gaza. They threaten the House of Israel, and must be addressed.

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