In short, the whole country is living in the shadow of violence
Tor the second time in two weeks, I am forced by events to put aside a piece already in layout and start again. With the post-Shavuos issue closing early because of Yom Tov, I had planned to reinstate the column withdrawn two weeks ago in the wake of the Meron disaster. The current state of warfare, however, makes that impossible.
After Meron, at least, I was writing following the crucial events. Now, however, there is absolutely no way to know where or when the current round of rocket attacks from Gaza and rioting by Israeli Arabs will end. The only certainty is that whatever I write today will be long superseded by events when this issue appears on newsstands a week hence.
Yet to publish a column that does not take note of the threat under which Israelis are living would, rightly, strike readers as bizarre. Already well over 1,000 rockets have been launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel (with approximately 40 percent falling in the Gaza Strip itself) and six people have been killed within Israel, including a 16-year-old girl and her father while driving in an Israeli Arab town.
Israel currently teeters on the verge of its first large-scale ground operation in Gaza in nearly seven years. The Israeli population will not tolerate too many more nights of sirens in Tel Aviv without a response.
ONCE MORE, we are reminded that we live on a powder keg. But the events of the past few days have made clearer than ever the multitude of potential igniters. Arabs in Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab city, with numerous well-armed Arab criminal families, have been rioting for days. Three shuls and a Talmud Torah have been torched and largely destroyed. That is in addition to weeks of confrontations between Arabs and the police in Jerusalem.
Ramadan, always a period of high tension, began with Arab youths assaulting yeshivah students on Jerusalem's light rail and uploading videos of their doing so. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, now in the 16th year of his four-year term, canceled the first Palestinian elections since 2005 because he knew that his Fatah faction would lose to Hamas. He needed a violent eruption to distract attention from that cancelation, and found the pretext in the prospect of Israel's High Court upholding the eviction of Arab families from Jewish-owned homes in the Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon Hatzaddik neighborhood of Jerusalem, upon the expiration of the leases granted them by the Jordanian government in 1948. Abbas and the PA media have been inciting for "everyone to raise the level of confrontation in the coming days" in preparation for the arrival of the "battle of all battles" against "the satanic colonialist force."
Not to be upstaged as a defender of Jerusalem and the Al-Aksa Mosque, Hamas unleashed its rockets from the Gaza Strip.
NORMAL LIFE has not been completely disrupted, but apprehension hangs in the air. My niece is getting married in a few hours — the first family chasunah in over three years. The cousins were very much looking forward to getting together. But many will not be coming. After a night of sirens in Bnei Brak last night, my daughter feels she cannot leave her kids with a babysitter.
Another son lives in Achisamach, a new chareidi development adjacent to Lod. Last night, in the middle of our Zoom chavrusa, the sirens went off and the reinforced room from which he was learning became a temporary shelter, as his young daughters were awakened and herded inside.
Yesterday, the highway on which he usually returns home from kollel in Jerusalem was blocked off, and he was rerouted through the main city of Lod. Baruch Hashem, I did not know until he had safely returned home, not without a few heart palpitations of his own. He too will not be coming to the chasunah.
As of last night there were rumors that the authorities were banning all gatherings of more than ten people, and that the chasunah would either have to be postponed or become "corona-style." Even those attending tonight are busy recalibrating routes so as not to pass any nearby Arab villages.
In short, the whole country is living in the shadow of violence, except, ironically, the North, which has in the past borne the brunt of Hezbollah missile fire from Lebanon. And who knows how long the North will be spared. As reported by Reuters in May 2020, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, admitted that his regime has long been supplying Gaza with rockets, after years of denial that it was doing so. But if Iran has a hand in the rockets from Gaza, how sure can we be that it will not eventually unleash Hezbollah's far more numerous and lethal guided munitions from Lebanon?
Today's events are not just about faraway Gaza and the Jews of Sderot, on the other side of the Gaza border: We are all on edge. I'm not much of a thrill seeker, but there is something positive about the general trepidation. When our fellow Jewish citizens and our soldiers are threatened, that threat should not become something far away and out-of-mind. I wonder if the current events are not a reminder to all of us who may sometimes feel detached from Israel's military battles of all the sacrifices made and dangers endured by those in the security services, who risk so much day-in-and-day out so that we feel reasonably secure most of the time.
THOUGH, AS MENTIONED AT THE OUTSET, no one can speak with confidence as to when and where the violence will end or with what long-range consequences, the outbreak of rocket attacks on Israel's cities has already had a dramatic impact on the political scene. A broad anti-Netanyahu coalition, from Meretz on the left to the nominally right-wing Yamina and New Hope parties, was poised to inform President Reuven Rivlin that it was prepared to form a government. Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu, who has vowed to wreak havoc on chareidi budgets and the religious status quo (and can be believed on both scores), was to be the new finance minister.
That coalition also included Mansour Abbas's Islamist Ra'am Party. Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu could not attack the coalition for the unprecedented step of depending on the support of one of the Arab parties, as he had himself conducted lengthy and largely successful negotiations with Abbas, only to be stymied by the refusal of Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionist Party, to join a coalition dependent on Abbas's support.
Abbas actually preferred a coalition of Likud and religiously conservative parties. And in the earlier negotiations with Netanyahu, he remained solely focused on increased budgets for the Israeli Arab sector, a larger police presence to fight the crime wave in Arab towns and cities, and the building of a new Bedouin city in the South, while studiously ignoring the Palestinian issue. Pretty much the same strategy of focusing on sectoral needs that has made the chareidi parties such desirable partners for the Likud.
But with the outbreak of fighting on the Temple Mount and Israeli retaliatory bombing in Gaza, Abbas withdrew from coalition negotiations at the last moment. In addition — and perhaps even more significant in the long run — he sharply criticized the government's actions in Gaza and Jerusalem, and demanded apologies from his prospective coalition partners for those actions. He too, after all, cannot stray too far from his Islamist base.
At the moment of Abbas's withdrawal, Naftali Bennett of Yamina was slated to become the new prime minister, in a rotation deal with Yair Lapid, despite having garnered only seven seats in the last elections. But now that Abbas has piped up for the first time on security issues, it is hard to see how Bennett can move forward without completely alienating his right-wing base — one MK has already defected.
All of which throws the Israeli political scene back into total disarray, with no prospective coalition on the horizon.