by Prof. Eyal Zisser
Arson was, and remains, part of the story of the Jewish-Arab struggle for Israel, going back to its earliest days
The riots of 1929, which erupted over the Arabs' objection to changes in the arrangement for Jewish prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, were one of the first serious outbreaks of violence among the Arab population of prestate Israel. A total of 133 Jews were murdered and hundreds more wounded. Dozens of Jewish communities were attacked and set on fire, some of them completely burned down. The most serious example was the ancient Jewish community of Hebron, where dozens of Jewish residents were slaughtered by their Arab neighbors.
These riots inspired the unforgettable poem by Emanuel Harusi, "Schav B'ni" ("Lie down, my son"), a poem about a young father worried about his little boy in the midst of the bloody events taking place around them. We cannot help but recall these lines from the poem: "The silo at Tel Yosef is burning / and smoke is also rising from Beit Alfa / But don't cry anymore now, rest and go to sleep / Night, night, a night of fire that will devour the harvest and the straw / We must not, must not despair / tomorrow we will begin again."
Arson was, and remains, part of the story of the Jewish-Arab struggle for Israel, going back to its earliest days. That was how it was in the 1929 riots, and that's how it was during the massive Arab revolt of the mid-1930s and during the more recent intifadas, especially the fire in the Carmel National Forest in the summer of 1989 and throughout the First Intifada.
The Palestinian war on Israel has seen ups and downs, as well as innovations, some of which turn out to be imitations of methods used in the past. Indeed, every time the Palestinian battle reaches an impasse and appears to be dying down, someone will always seek out and find new-old tactics. Sometimes, it's a calculated moved planned by the leaders of some group, and sometimes it's outbreaks of local, even spontaneous, violence.
The waves of terrorism 10 years ago showed what a disaster a lone terrorist carrying a bomb could create. After the Shin Bet security agency and the Israel Defense Forces found a solution to those waves of attacks, it was time for waves of stabbings or car ramming attacks, which we have seen for more than a year now. And once it appeared that those, too, were wearing thin, it was time to set fires.
We can assume that in the next few days, as long as the weather cooperates, the same lone actors -- some of whom are youths influenced by online incitement -- will try to imitate earlier arson attacks. The rain that is on its way will wash away the traces of the fire and bring this wave of attacks to an end, until next year.
This wave of attacks must be addressed mainly on the preventative level. It is inconceivable that a few lone terrorists, or even a single one, can set a fire that forces tens of thousands of Haifa residents to evacuate their homes. Past experience has taught us that sooner or later, we'll find a solution.
What should be of concern, other than the immediate efforts to capture the arsonists, is the push they're getting, mainly on social media, both from the Palestinian public and the Arab world. It's encouraging to see Egypt, Jordan and even the Palestinian Authority officially step up and help Israel battle the fires, but it's depressing to discover how much hatred toward Israel still simmers in the Arab world. These are the embers that must be stamped out to prevent the next fire.
The Palestinians have cause to worry, too. The regression nearly 100 years back to fires, and before that to stabbings -- mostly the work of lone individuals -- indicates that the Palestinians are going back to the starting point of the conflict, as if 100 years hadn't passed and the Palestinian national movement, which today oversees a government entity in Judea and Samaria, had never been founded. The Palestinian national movement is on the brink of collapse, having achieved nothing and reached a dead end. The actions of individuals when no path forward exists say it all.
But we can take comfort in the condemnations by individuals and by the Palestinian Authority, which, unlike Hamas, even sent teams of firefighters to help battle the blazes. This shows that even when no diplomatic solution is on the horizon, large parts of both peoples understand the need to live peacefully side by side, and even with each other.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
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