March 21, 2024 | The Algemeiner

Despite Deadly Stabbing, Hopeful Signs for Jewish-Arab Relations in Israel

March 21, 2024 | The Algemeiner

Despite Deadly Stabbing, Hopeful Signs for Jewish-Arab Relations in Israel

Israeli soldier Uri Moyal’s visit to a café in southern Israel last Thursday ended up being his last.

While Moyal waited in line, Fadi Abu Altayef, from the nearby Bedouin city of Rahat, fatally stabbed the soldier from behind. With help from a bystander, Moyal shot Altayef dead before succumbing to his wounds. Moyal’s murder is an example of the worst in Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, but there have been many hopeful signs.

Altayef, 22, grew up in Gaza, where his parents currently reside. His father is from Gaza, but his mother is from Rahat in Israel. Under family reunification protocols, Israel granted Fadi citizenship in 2019 after he married a woman from Rahat. Fadi repaid that kindness by stabbing Israelis, but this extreme act represents a small minority of this minority community.

By contrast, fellow Rahat resident Ahmad Abu Latif, a reserve fighter in the Israel Defense Forces’ 8208 Battalion, was among the 21 soldiers killed in a building explosion in January in central Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a condolence visit to Ahmad’s family, and said, “Ahmad fell for the home of us all.” Countering initial reports that Fadi was his cousin, Ahmad’s family denied they were related and condemned the attack.

Since October 7, nine Israeli Arabs have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend Israel. During Hamas’ killing spree, the terrorist group killed more than 20 Israeli Bedouins and abducted another six. Ali Ziadna, whose family members are being held hostage in Gaza, confronted the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations on March 11, demanding their release.

Arab bravery was a bright spot on the Black Saturday, and — along with Hamas’ indiscriminate murder of Arabs and Jews — showed the shared fate of Israel’s citizens. Rahat bus driver Youssef Ziadna dodged bullets to rescue 30 Israelis from the killing fields. Ismail Alkrenawi and three relatives set out from Rahat to save his cousin Hisham, a worker at Kibbutz Be’eri. The Alkrenawis saved their relative and 30 to 40 Israelis fleeing the Supernova music festival. And Hamid from Arara, whose wife was murdered by Hamas that day, risked his life and that of his infant son to warn Israeli soldiers of a Hamas ambush.

Just after the October attacks, an Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) poll found that a record 70 percent of Israeli Arabs identified with Israel, up from 48 percent in June. And an IDI poll released on March 14 found significant increases in Israeli Arab faith in Israel’s institutions, including the army, between June and December 2023.

The high levels of connection to Israel are even more dramatic considering it was Israeli Arabs’ bloodiest year ever. According to a non-governmental organization focused on Israel’s Arab communities, 244 Israeli Arabs were killed in 2023. The deaths decreased sharply after the shock of October 7, but they did not disappear. While most of the killings were crime-related — they were not related to any acts of bias or hate — the violence has impacted innocent civilians. In separate incidents in 2022, stray bullets claimed the lives of two children on playgrounds.

A June 2023 survey found that 62 percent of Israeli Arab respondents were concerned for their personal security, but only 41 percent trusted the government’s ability to deal with the violence. Several factors contributed to the intolerable violence, including the preponderance of illegal weapons in Israel; the rise of Arab mafias following the decline of Jewish ones; financial challenges that have driven Israeli Arabs to rely on loan sharks; family honor murders; and Iran funneling weapons to Israeli Arabs to sow civil strife.

But while Israeli Arabs were reeling, they were also enjoying some incredible highs. Soccer-crazy Israel qualified for its first-ever Under-20 World Cup, eventually securing third place, a huge win for Israeli soccer. Israeli Arab Anan Khalaili scored the game-winning goal to send Israel to the quarterfinals, and he and Israeli Bedouin Hamza Shibli combined for two of Israel’s three goals to defeat powerhouse Brazil en route to the semis. The team served as a model for what can be achieved when Israel’s Arabs and Jews fight together instead of against each other.

The soccer success came not long after Israeli Arabs enjoyed unprecedented political success. From mid-2021 until the end of 2022, Mansour Abbas’ Ra’am party was part of the ruling coalition. Abbas’ pragmatic approach broke taboos among Israeli politicians that once blocked cooperating with Arab parties. He is committed to working within the Israeli political system to help his constituents, has rejected the canard of Israel practicing apartheid, and said that Hamas’ “massacre is against everything we believe in.”

But progress with Mansour Abbas has been mixed. Amid elevated Palestinian violence, Abbas’ inclusion in the Lapid-Bennett government became a vulnerability that helped lead to Netanyahu’s return. And a recent expose revealed that Ra’am promoted fundraising for a Hamas-tied charity, though Ra’am claimed it was unaware of the connection.

Jewish-Arab unity in Israel is a long and winding road. Much progress has been made, but much work remains.

David May is a research manager and senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Follow David on X @DavidSamuelMay. Follow FDD on X @FDD.