On the Israeli side, rage has answered rage -- only in the Israelis‘ case, rage has come heavily armed. Having pursued a peace so generous that it imperiled his hold on office, Barak responded to the stone-throwing by ordering his soldiers to shoot first and ask questions later, if at all. The official Israeli response has been brutal and indiscriminate, and it is clear that in a number of instances, troops acting under the color of authority have beaten and killed Palestinians either out of anger or just for the hell of it.
Most troubling of all has been the civilian violence, Arab against Jew, Jew against Arab, within the state of Israel. Communities that have for decades lived side by side and shopped in the same stores have savagely turned on each other. Israeli Arabs have set fire to Jewish towns; Jews have burned Arab villages. In the middle of Tel Aviv, an almost entirely Jewish city, 500 Jews surrounded an Arab restaurant and torched it. The violence has been worst in Galilee, home to 800,000 of Israel’s 1 million Arab citizens. In Nazareth, Arab youths stoned an upscale shopping center in the Jewish part of town; Jews responded by marching on the Arab sector by night in a stone-throwing fury. The Arabs called the (Israeli) municipal police force, which responded, eyewitnesses say, by shooting dead two of the Arabs. The specter of ”Lebanonization“ -- the transformation of Israel into a site of block-by-block tribal warfare -- looms over the land.
Israeli Jews seem genuinely dumbfounded at the smoldering rage that their Arab neighbors have displayed. They shouldn‘t be. Israel is a land of soft apartheid. Arabs can vote and move about, but they have great difficulty buying land outside the Pale of their settlements; they go to separate and unequal schools; their professionals must settle for second-class jobs; their streets and villages are not maintained by the public authorities. (Barak, who received nearly every Arab vote in the last election, promised to direct public funds into Arab communities, but in his preoccupation with getting a peace accord, he has ignored these commitments as he has those he made to Russian Jews -- indeed, almost all of his domestic promises.)
At the forefront of Israeli Arab discontent, not surprisingly, are the educated young. Last year, Arab students at Haifa University, where they constitute 20 percent of the student body, demonstrated for equal rights. Like black college students in 1960, they have limited opportunities and freedoms -- but can’t understand why they don‘t have more.
The challenge before Israeli Jews is to clarify the meaning of Zionism. As an ideology that asserts that Jews need a homeland -- a belief that the experience of the Holocaust considerably reinforced -- Zionism requires a state in which Jews are in the majority. Tragically, it has also come to stand for a state in which Arabs are second-class citizens, and so long as that persists, Jews -- doves included -- have no grounds for feeling betrayed if the dominant emotion among Israeli Arabs turns out to be fury.
For the moment, the worst may be passing. Barak has condemned the violence from Israeli Jews and commanded the police forces to protect Israeli Arabs who are under attack. Both he and Arafat seem to be ordering their forces to stand down. But as my friend Jo-Ann Mort, who sits on the board of Americans for Peace Now, points out, the last two weeks have made clear that there is no longer the possibility of stasis between Israel and Palestine. The center has not held, and the sole remaining alternatives are war or peace.