2021 Annual Assessment

In addition to the political developments toward a Jewish-Arab partnership, May 2021 witnessed a severe and violent crisis in Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, which became known as the 2021 Arab Israeli Riots. This crisis drove home the fact that Jewish-Arab relations in Israel cannot be measured along a single developmental vector; any prediction of future trends must consider deep undercurrents and the possibility of unexpected turnarounds capable of undermining the desire of both parties to live in peace, prosperity, and security.

The May crisis coincided with a flare-up on the Gaza front, during which more than four thousand rockets were fired at Israel. During this time, violent incidents of various kinds occurred in Israel (including East Jerusalem): demonstrations, riots, arson, Molotov cocktails, stone-throwing, clashes with the security forces, and physical attacks, with casualties in some instances. This domestic front reflected negatively on Jewish-Arab relations, and its long-term outcomes will become clear only with time.15

The violent events within Israel during the period in question emerged in four stages. They began with tensions in Jerusalem, and with confrontations over the Temple Mount and the Old City’s Damascus Gate. They continued with Arab Israeli riots in mixed cities and other places, and with life-threatening attacks on Jews. Events of these kinds were observed in Jaffa, Lod, Akko, Ramle, Haifa, and at major intersections in the north and south of the country. These incidents undermined the sense of security of Jewish residents and caused serious damage to the fabric of coexistence. Police response to the riots was slow, which resulted in an escalation of the rioting and reactions to it, including gunfire by Jews in self-defense. This was followed by retaliatory violence by Jews in a number of hotspots – Arabs were attacked, some of them innocent bystanders, and these incidents attracted wide attention. The events came to an end when the Israel Police forces were supplemented by forces of the Border Police, and temporary curfews were imposed in some places.

Tensions have remained high in the mixed cities since calm was restored, and there is mutual suspicion (stronger on the Jewish side). Some Jews say that it will take a long time to restore a sense of partnership and security, and they demand that the state act to ensure their safety should further outbreaks of violence occur. Without entering into the complex and multifaceted question of what caused the recent outbreak, the violence clearly demonstrated the very real danger of a rapid deterioration in Jewish-Arab relations to the point of “civil war” – a situation that would make life especially hard for an Arab minority, but would also exact a high price from the Jewish majority in terms of its sense of security, economic prosperity, and the need to take measures detrimental to the state’s international standing and relations with other countries.

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