Arab-Jewish Relations Strained after Arrest of Israeli Arabs

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israelis were still reeling Tuesday from news that seven Israeli Arab citizens had been arrested in connection with a deadly suicide bomb attack.

Israel's secret service revealed on Monday that it had arrested seven members of a prominent Israeli Arab family believed to be involved in an early August terror attack that killed nine people and wounded 48.

Ibrahim Bakri, 22, and Yassin Bakri, are accused of planning and scouting for a location for an attack and hiding and aiding suicide bomber Jihad Hamada in blowing up the No. 361 bus at the Meron junction in northern Israel on August 4.

Another family member, Yasra Bakri, was arrested shortly after the attack. A suicide bomber reportedly warned her that she should get off the bus because something bad was going to happen. She disembarked with her girlfriend but failed to notify the authorities.

About 20 percent (1.2 million) of Israel's six million citizens are Arabs.

Israeli Public Security Minister Uzi Landau was quoted in Tuesday's Ma'ariv newspaper as saying that he would personally help to demolish the homes of Israeli Arabs found guilty of terror attacks.

The Israeli army has been demolishing the homes of Palestinians who carry out terror attacks in the hopes of deterring Palestinians from their terrorist offensive.

Alex Fishman wrote in the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot that the terrible thing about the latest arrests is that the Bakris were not "juvenile delinquents or religious fanatics but are members of a respected, middle-class, Israeli Arab family."

It was also noted that some members of the Bakri family had paid a condolence call to the Hassan family who lost their daughter in the bombing.

But Israeli Arabs were hesitant to condemn the bomb attack.

Israeli actor Muhammad Bakri, who is related to those in custody, said there is frustration and anger at the police and the Israeli secret service for accusing the Arabs in public before the charges are proven in court. He also accused the media of stirring up anger against the Arabs in a radio interview.

Dr. Ahmed Sa'di of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev said it was hard for Israeli Arabs to see what is happening to the Palestinians.

"In the final analysis, the Israeli Arabs are Palestinian," Sa'di said in a telephone interview. "It is hard for them to see what is going on every day with house demolitions and killings. They find it hard to cope with the situation. One outlet is violence," he said.

"By and large the Arab citizens try not to be involved in this way," he added. They prefer to offer their support to Palestinians through the parliament or by sending money and food to help with humanitarian needs, he added.

Nevertheless, Sa'di blamed Israeli government policy for the outbreak of violence and said it was an indication that there is something wrong with the way Arabs are being treated.

Wadie Abunasser, coordinator of the Haifa-based International Center for Consultations, said he is worried that there will be similar incidents in the future.

He placed about 90 percent of the blame on the Israeli government and apportioned about 10 percent of the blame on Israeli Arab political leaders.

"[We must] look what is behind the phenomenon," Abunasser said. "The main guilty party is the government for neglecting the Arab sector." He said Arab political leaders are also guilty for making irresponsible declarations that could be interpreted as a call for using violence.

According to Abunasser, there has been a deterioration in relations between Israeli Arabs and Jews following Israeli Arab demonstrations expressing sympathy for the Palestinians in October 2000. Police killed thirteen Israeli Arabs when trouble erupted.

"Relations between Arabs and Jews are not as they used to be," Abunasser said. "There is mistrust among the vast majority." Although there have been recent attempts among some Arab and Jewish mayors at reconciliation, he said, this one terror attack is likely to "destroy a lot of efforts."

But Israeli expert Dan Schueftan said the treatment of Israeli Arabs should not be used as an excuse for terrorism.

He put the blame on Israeli Arab leadership and said there are "twin" phenomena growing side by side in Israel: Democratically elected Israeli Arab parliamentarians are giving subtle anti-Israel messages to their constituencies and Israeli Jews see Israeli Arabs more as their enemies.

"The message [the Israeli Arabs] get is (a) the Jewish State is illegitimate; and (b) the Arabs are right when they struggle with Israel. They not only side with the PLO [but with] Hamas, Syria, Hizballah and even Saddam Hussein," said Schueftan, who is a senior fellow at the National Security Study Center at the University of Haifa.

"[The Arab parliamentarians] are very careful not to say openly, 'We support [terrorism]. The message is that Israel is usurping the rights of Arabs," Schueftan said.

"This is one phenomenon. The twin brother is a very slow and painful and reluctant understanding among Israeli Jews that Israeli Arabs identify with their worst enemy whether they're engaged in terrorism or not," he added.

According to Schueftan, Israeli Arab involvement in terror attacks is on the rise. In the year 2000, there were eight cases of Israeli Arab involvement in terror attacks. In 2001, there were 50 cases and until now in 2002 there have already been 50 or more cases of involvement.

It is a minority, he said, but an ever-increasing minority. It is significant enough to affect Jewish-Arab relations.