In the media, extremism is often associated with the Muslim world. Rarely is it ever associated with Jews in Israel. However, recent events demonstrate not only how extremism is infiltrating Israel, but how such a trend threatens even more the unstable social fabric of the region.
Just today, while trying to appear as if Israel is enforcing a building freeze in the West Bank, security forces clashed with settlers in the settlement of Beit El over the demolition of an illegal structure. About 100 teenagers tried to block the forces and threw rocks, against the advice of their rabbi. And one officer was injured. The fact that the next generation is so unyielding in their views that they are willing to fight, even their own people, is very worrisome.
Also this week, Arab Israeli MKs have been receiving death threats. Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi received a letter from an extremist group that stated he has “180 days to live” and he will have a “sudden and cruel” death. The group, Pulsa Denura, which means “whip of fire” in Aramaic, targeted him because of his “poisonous stance against Israel and Zionism.”
After United Arab List chairman Talab al-Sana’s reaction to the Gaza flotilla, in which he compared IDF soldiers to Nazis, he also received a death threat through an anonymous fax stating, “‘you’re dead.” Both Tibi and Sana have lodged complaints with the Knesset security in response to such harassment. However, with power in the hands of the rightist leaning Likud, it may be unlikely that there will be a substantial improvement in the treatment of Israeli Arab MKs. Indeed, the Knesset has stripped Hanin Zuabi MK, a participant in the Gaza flotilla, of her parliamentary privileges in a 7-1 decision. The fact that the government is capitalizing on, or even enhancing the hateful mood of the public is especially perturbing.
In the past, Israeli leaders have also fallen victim to extremism. Former PM Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a radical Orthodox Jew who opposed the signing of the Oslo Accords. The assassin justified his actions under din rodef, a fairly new concept in Jewish law, that allows a Jew to kill another Jew if his/her actions are placing other Jews in danger. Former PM Ariel Sharon also faced death threats for disengaging from Gaza, and some even believed the subsequent stroke that left him incapacitated was punishment.
More recently, clashes on the Temple Mount have become a serious concern, as some fear they may lead to a religious war. Just last week, the Israeli decision to include two mosques in the West Bank as national heritage sites sparked violence at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Muslims began throwing stones at worshipers at the Western Wall, and the police subsequently entered the temple mount to halt the violence. Muslims see the Israeli decision to include the sites as blatant provocation, similar to Sharon’s antics when he sparked the 2000 Intifada by entering the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount itself is a contentious issue, and clashes over control of the site have been increasing over the years. Though the site is holy to both Jews and Muslims, it is only open to Muslims for worship out of fear of conflict. And it appears that the site cannot remain without conflict, as Muslims are beginning to fear ultra-Orthodox Jews and their advocacy of rebuilding the Third Temple on the site. The destruction of the Al-Aqsa mosque would have serious international implications, and the increasing trend of ultra-Orthodox advocacy makes it seem as if a religious war is actually credible. If the patterns of religion-based violence and hate continue to spread throughout Israel and Palestine, the regional conflict may very well become an international religious one.