What’s Happening on the Ground in Israel Today

Peter and Dalia Anik are former Louisvillians who live in Lotem, a kibbutz in Northern Israel. Prior to moving to Israel, Peter Anik worked for Louisville’s Jewish Federation. One of his roles was director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and in the capacity, he was an active advocate for Israel.

With almost daily reports in the news about the rise in violence in Israel, Community contacted Anik and he agreed to answer a series of questions to provide some perspective for those of us in Louisville.

Q: From the news reports we get in the United States, it sounds like this is a very dangerous time to be in Israel. Can you give us a realistic assessment of the danger? A: The perception of danger is from the fear these stabbings and car accidents (driving cars into pedestrians and bus stops) create in their apparent randomness. Twelve Israelis and approximately 70 Palestinians have been killed since mid September (many of those killed are the stabbers themselves).

Israeli victims of stabbings and intentional car accidents include pre-teen children, the elderly, policemen and soldiers. Especially targeted seem to be religiously garbed Jews.

Most of these incidents occur in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Almost all of the perpetrators of stabbings (a number of them being pre-teen children themselves) come from across the Green line, especially East Jerusalem.

Only a few Israeli Arabs with strong connections to Gaza or the West Bank have been involved with these extremely violent incidents. The frequency of these incidents seems to also have peaked and now occur far less often. That being said, it is still far more dangerous to drive on the roads in Israel because of the car accidents. The West Bank might be a different story

Q: Does this situation affect you and Dalia and are you taking any special precautions?

A: According to recent statistics for the Northern District, 44 percent of the population is Jewish, 38 percent Muslim and the remainder divided almost equally between Christians (mostly Arab but not all) and Druze. Most towns and villages are divided by ethnicity and religion.

Our community of approximately 500 people is located on a hilltop next to a Bedouin town and across the valley from a number of other Arab and Jewish towns. The main road runs through Saknin and Arrabe; a fairly large Arab Muslim metro area of about 30,000 people.

The two local Bedouin towns, Salame and Hosnia, are very friendly. A number of their residents serve in the IDF. Now, and even during the last two recent wars in Gaza they were both quiet.

Saknin and Arrabe, however, are a different story. Although both are quiet when things are calm and we all do much of our shopping in both towns, when there are tensions the situation becomes problematic. Saknin especially is a center for Arab Israeli Islamist activity.

The Islamic movement in Israel is extremely anti-Zionist and the city often hosts massive (20-50,000 participants) anti-government rallies. During times of tension there are frequent incidents of people throwing rocks at traffic and burning tires at intersections throughout the north. Last month we were warned to stay out of the local Arab towns during the most tense period.

I drive to work in Karmiel through the Bedouin towns, as does Dalia when she takes the bus, so neither of us experienced any problems, but I know people from other towns who did have issues with rocks being thrown at them. Last month, for a few nights following a huge anti-government Islamist rally, I did see police roadblocks at the intersection at Arrabe stopping people and talking to them before they allowed them to pass.

Dalia had an issue a few years ago on the bus in Bedouin Salame when a group of men started banging on the bus, but that wasn’t during a period of Jewish-Arab tension. It was during a period of local Arab on Arab tensions and we think it was related to that.

Being in the North we both work with many Israeli Arabs.

Dalia teaches English in an after school program in Karmiel (50,000 people and 90 percent Jewish) and she estimates half of her students are Arabs. Parents appear to relax and continue talking with each other waiting for their children to finish their lessons.

About one third of my workplace consists of Arabs. Some of the Arab women on the kitchen staff wear religious garb and I will admit to random thoughts while working next to them while they were cutting vegetables.

What I have experienced though, is that whenever tensions increase on the “street,” we all go out of our way to be more polite with each other in the workplace. In the six years I have been working in my present position, I have never seen or known of any issues between Jewish and non-Jewish staff. Karmiel is the commercial hub in this area. Businesses here are both Arab- and Jewish-owned. When shopping in any of our three malls, stores and restaurants, Jews – Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Ethiopian, secular and ultra Orthodox – and Druze, Christian and Muslim Arabs, all freely mix together. The scene on the street is a mish-mash of the diversity of Israel.

Security has, until recently, been tighter. Before entering the mall parking garage they returned to the practice of making us open up our rear trunks for inspection. They stopped doing that this past week.

So, all in all, things locally appear to have returned to what they were before the latest outburst.
Q: From your perspective, why is this happening now?

A: Every year or so the Islamist Movement in Israel promotes the narrative that Jews are about to take over the Temple Mount and action must be taken to prevent this from happening. I was actually pleased that last year’s call for a mass rally to protect the Mosque was met with mostly apathy as, notwithstanding the occasional appearance of a nationalist Jewish political figure participating in a tour on the mount, I think their claims are nonsense and a deliberate provocation.
What appears to have made this year different was the eruption of the “knife” intifada in Jerusalem. Depending on what you read and whom you talk to, you get a different explanation.

Personally, I think there was some behind the scenes provocation orchestrated probably by Hamas and their backers (Iran too) to stir things up, not only against Israel, but against Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) as well.

The media report that Arabic social media also worked to promote violence and celebrated each attack as an act of heroic resistance. Abbas and his PA always seem to follow the leader (not to be outdone by Hamas) in their actions and statements, and this time, it appears to be more of the same as momentum builds.
Israeli police and bystanders shooting Arab assailants was then portrayed as Jewish lynch mobs randomly victimizing Arabs on the streets and then planting knives next to the bodies.

We are living in a region that is aflame and Israel is surrounded by intense turmoil on all sides. Information and calls for action flow freely across all borders. I don’t believe there is one primary cause, but combinations of interacting issues that inflame the situation.
Settlements and occupation as primary cause? I don’t buy it.

A significant portion of the Arab public inside and outside of this country believes that all of Israel is occupied territory and must be liberated from the Zionists. The Palestinian Liberation Organization, riots and civil unrest predate the 1967 war, settlements and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (the latter of which is now completely free of all Jews).

Civil unrest within the Arab community and world because of the fear that Jews are about to destroy the Al Aqsa mosque is not new and reappears every few years. This too will quiet down, but guaranteed – especially with the current regional climate – something new will cause a flare up within the next year or two.

Given all the constant turmoil, a recent poll revealed that over 80 percent of Israeli Arabs and 80 percent of Israeli Jews would not want to live anywhere else but Israel, even if offered passports to any other country. Go figure.

Things get to a boil here, but before they go too far, everyone seems to work to cool things off – at least that’s how it appears to me.
Q: Do you have any other comments you’d like to add?

A: When I was in my 20’s, I taught in a boarding school for emotionally disturbed youths in Florida, and each summer, I co-staffed backpacking trips with our students throughout the American Northwest. Being a New Jersey/Metro New York City boy, this was all a new experience for me. I had traded the subway for the forest.

I especially remembered the thrill of camping in grizzly country, the need for caution and keen awareness of your surroundings. Living in Israel kind of feels like that – never a dull moment and the need to be constantly aware. Just as a grizzly might enter camp looking for a scent of food on some unsuspecting camper, at any time Hezbollah rockets from Lebanon might rain on our heads.

But time flies by here and my life is always meaningful and rich no matter what I am doing. Although I would like to get back to the States more often, especially to visit our daughter and her family, I would not trade this lifestyle for anything else and I love this country dearly.

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