Street battles have spread across the country, with marauders attacking people, synagogues, businesses and vehicles. On Wednesday, a Jew and an Arab were badly beaten, and a second Jewish man was stabbed. Clashes continued in the city of Lod outside Tel Aviv, even after a state of emergency and curfew were declared there.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the “anarchy” must stop, and border police reservists were called up to reinforce police in mixed Arab-Jewish towns. President Reuven Rivlin described the worst communal violence in years as “civil war.”
The unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, government policies that disfavor Arab citizens, Jewish and Arab nationalism and revenge attacks have all dovetailed in this moment.
While Israel Arabs, who account for about a fifth of the population, enjoy equal rights on paper, their communities don’t receive the same level of government funding, leading to poorer roads, schools and health services. They also face discrimination in housing and unemployment, and violence between Arabs has been unchecked by police.
Israel’s political paralysis after four inconclusive elections, and the emboldening of Jewish ultranationalists through their recent election to parliament, have also played a role in the worst communal unrest in years.
“This is the result of long-term simmering of discrimination and all kinds of grievances,” said Avraham Sela, a Hebrew University political scientist. “It also has a lot to do with the state of Israel and its current political situation. For the last few years we have lost the impact of functioning leadership.”
The clashes come at a time when an Israeli Arab party is considering joining a coalition government for the first time, in a bid to oust Netanyahu. But the United Arab List has suspended coalition talks with a group of the prime minister’s rivals as long as the Israeli-Gaza fighting continues.
Yair Lapid, who leads the largest party in that would-be coalition, called for quick return to sanity.
“The vast majority of the people of Israel — Jews and Arabs — are far better than this,” Lapid said in a statement. Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List, called on his constituents to show restraint and participate only in organized demonstrations.
In Gaza, violence showed no sign of abating, defying international efforts to wrest a cease-fire as relentless Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rocket barrages sent the death toll climbing. Eighty-three Palestinians have been reported killed in Gaza and seven people have died in Israel since the violence erupted late Monday.
“It will take more time” to restore quiet, Netanyahu said, as the military prepared for scenarios including a possible ground incursion.
Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Army Radio that Israel “has rebuffed all the various appeals” for a truce.
“We’re done with having Hamas decide the program, we’re done with striking sand dunes,” Cohen said. “We’re talking about targeted killings of brigade commanders.”
The U.S. dispatched an envoy to the region, and Al-Arabiya TV reported that an Egyptian delegation arrived in Israel on Thursday.
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to Netanyahu by phone on Wednesday after Israel escalated its air campaign against the Hamas-ruled enclave, killing several of the militant group’s leading military figures. Overnight and into Thursday morning, Gaza rocket squads kept up their bombardments.
“My expectation and hope is that this’ll be closing down sooner than later,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “But Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.”
Israel says more than 1,600 rockets have been launched from the Palestinian territory since late Monday, and that Israeli aircraft have struck Gaza nearly 1,000 times. The devastation in Gaza included attacks on electricity lines that cut power to 230,000 people, the Israeli military said.
Power lines to two sewage plants also were severed, and a desalination plant was disabled, cutting off 250,000 people from their water supply, it added. Each side blamed the other for the power outages.
The deteriorating security situation led Israel to divert incoming flights from its major airport near Tel Aviv to one outside the southern city of Eilat, about 220 miles (350 kilometers) away. Departures will continue from the international facility.
With assistance from Gwen Ackerman, Alisa Odenheimer, Malak Saleh and Zaid Sabah