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issues Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 15:13 GMT
Israel's Arabs: Enemies within?
Palestinian rioters in Nazareth
Gaza 1989? No, Nazareth in 2000: Not what Israel has been used to
By BBC News Online's Martin Asser

The latest Intifida is more than a year old now, with its established rituals of stone-throwing and sudden, violent death.

While it has been mostly able to contain Palestinian unrest inside the occupied territories, the last thing Israel needed was to have to face another front in its own heartlands

But alongside the Palestinian uprising, a new and possibly more ominous phenomenon for Israel has reared its head.

Soon after the Intifada began, first blood was also drawn between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs (the Palestinians who did not flee their homes when Israel was established in 1948).

The two communities had coexisted with little of the rancour characterising other Arab-Israeli relationships.

But in the last year, battles have raged between Arab and Jewish civilians in Galilee and in mixed towns on the Mediterranean coast.

Jewish mobs, chanting "Death to the Arabs", have burned tyres and attacked Arab properties in Tel Aviv. There have been reports of Arabs being stabbed in Bat Yam, riots in Acre.

'Fifth column'

For the Israeli Government, whose language has always been focused on ending the violence in the Palestinian territories, dealing with this new phenomenon has become a priority.

"I call on all Israeli citizens to refrain from violence," former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said in a special televised appeal to shore up Jewish-Arab coexistence within Israel's 1948 borders.

Burnt out shop in Nazareth
Arabs fear for life and property from vengeance of Jewish mob
He went on to say that the Arab minority - making up about 20% of Israel's population - deserved special protection under the Jewish rule, as the Jews were "a nation that experienced much suffering as a minority".

Mr Barak's solicitude towards this minority reflected a long-held Israeli anxiety that the Arab minority might become "Palestinianised" and eventually prove to be a fifth column - or an internal security risk.

While it has been mostly able to contain Palestinian unrest inside the occupied territories, the last thing Israel needed was another front in its own heartlands.

But now it is facing a wave of Arab-Israeli protest, a reaction to historic prejudices and inequalities experienced in the Jewish state, as well as feelings of solidarity with their brethren in the occupied territories.

Ugly attacks

Jewish Israelis may have been shocked by the banner of revolt being raised by "our Arabs", and the Jew-on-Arab violence that followed proved it.

The trigger for Jews may have been the abandonment by Israeli forces of a controversial Jewish shrine in the West Bank town of Nablus, and its subsequent ransacking by angry Palestinians.

Their first target was an abandoned mosque in Tiberias; after that came the most serious clashes, in Nazareth, when two Arabs were killed by a Jewish mob.

Meanwhile, in the occupied territories Palestinians and Jewish settlers have also exchanged tit-for-tat acts of brutality.

These and the memory of other recent events will be a hurdle for peaceful coexistence for a long time in the future.


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