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News Analysis: Wave of Attacks Revive Concerns About Radicalization of Israeli Arabs

September 8, 1999
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Just as Israel agreed to release hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners and just as the High Court of Justice ruled against some interrogation methods used by Israeli security service officials against Arab suspects, terrorism struck again.

This time around, however, it was not Palestinians from the territories who were involved in three incidents that took place over the past few weeks. The crimes were carried out by Israeli Arabs.

On Sunday — hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat signed an agreement in Egypt for advancing the peace process — near-simultaneous car bombings occurred in Tiberias and Haifa.

bombings were Israeli Arabs. And last week, a 20-year-old Israeli Arab confessed to killing a young Israeli couple who were hiking in a forest in northern Israel because he “wanted to kill Jews.”

Although Israeli officials — Jews and Arabs alike — were quick to say that the entire Israeli Arab population should not be condemned for the crimes of a few, the incidents prompted serious concerns.

First, as has happened in the past whenever there were any advances in the peace process, there was a resurgence of terror against Jewish targets.

Second, the attacks renewed concerns about the growing alienation of some members of Israel’s Arab community, who make up one-fifth of the population of the Jewish state.

Third, Israeli security officials pointed to the growing radicalization of a political group that has a strong following in the Israeli Arab community – – the Islamic Movement.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak was among those who said that Israel’s Arab population should not be subject to wholesale discrimination because of the crimes of isolated individuals.

“Extremists, as serious as they may be, will be dealt with as individuals,” Barak told Israel Radio’s Arabic service on Tuesday. “There is no place for generalizations.”

Israeli Arab legislator Talab el-Sana of the United Arab List sounded the same theme, cautioning that “one should not blame the entire Arab population in Israel.”

But at the same time, he added, the involvement of Israeli Arabs in the attacks should lead to some “serious soul-searching.”

Sunday’s car bombings, still a subject of an ongoing police investigation, have prompted theories that Hamas recruited Israeli Arabs to carry out their missions because of an ongoing clampdown on their activities in the territories by Israeli and Palestinian security officials.

The two car bombs apparently exploded prematurely, killing the two occupants in the car in Tiberias and seriously wounding an Israeli Jewish woman who was passing by.

An almost simultaneous explosion in Haifa killed its occupant.

It remains unclear whether the bombers were recruited by any organization or acted on their own, but the incidents mark the first time that Israeli Arabs were believed involved in attempted suicide bombings.

In the case of Abdullah Aghbariya, who confessed to murdering a young Israeli couple last week, it seems clear that he acted on his own.

Just the same, he told his interrogators that recently he had read a number of religious books that contained sharply worded attacks against the state, blaming the Jews for heresy and Israel for having unlawfully confiscated Arab land.

Aghbariya, like Sunday’s three car bombers, did not live in a vacuum. All of them may well have been motivated by a growing anti-Israel rhetoric.

Such rhetoric comes not only from the militant Palestinian groups Hamas or Islamic Jihad, which are based in the territories and in neighboring Arab lands, but from some elements of the Islamic Movement in Israel itself.

Aghbariya came from Musherfeh, an Arab village in Israel’s Wadi Ara region.

About a year ago, local residents engaged in violent clashes with the police over an army plan to confiscate Arab land for a military training base. Following the clashes, the land confiscation plan was put on hold. Just the same, the incident created scars among the local population.

Although Aghbariya was not a member of the Islamic Movement, Wadi Ara is the leading hotbed of Muslim nationalism in Israel. The village of Musherfeh is actually a suburb of Umm el-Fahm, the second largest Arab town in Israel after Nazareth.

The mayor of Umm al-Fahm is Sheik Raed Salah Mahajneh, leader of the radical wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which boycotts formal participation in Israel’s wider political life.

In contrast to moderate elements in the movement that have joined forces with non-religious groups to form the United Arab List, the largest Arab party in the Knesset, radical Muslims in Umm el-Fahm have deliberately stayed out of Israeli politics to underscore their alienation from the Jewish state.

The Islamic Movement has developed its own social services — including kindergartens, medical services and libraries — as a substitute for what it says are insufficient services provided by the state.

Although Israeli security officials said the Islamic Movement was not involved in last week’s murders, they expressed concern that the group was creating an atmosphere in which people like Aghbariya would be motivated toward acts of violence.

“What is worrying about this story,” said an unnamed security source, “is the fact that the Islamic Movement allows for the growth of weeds like Aghbariya.”

Indeed, Sheik Abdullah Nimer Darwish, one of the leaders of the Islamic Movement in Israel, said that involvement of Israeli Arabs in terrorist attacks should be condemned with no “ands, ifs or buts.”

The murders committed by Aghbariya, as well as the involvement of other Israeli Arabs in Sunday’s attacks, will now create a new challenge for Israeli security officials as they attempt to clamp down on terror.

At the same time, it may well provoke some of the soul-searching that legislator Talab el-Sana called for — from Israeli officials as they deal with Arab citizens of the Jewish state, and from leaders of the Israeli Arab community, who may have to become more circumspect in their anti-Israel rhetoric.

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