When Middle Eastern summer heat coincided earlier this week with Muslim holy days and a long-simmering property dispute in Jerusalem, the result was predictably explosive.
So far, dozens of Palestinians and six Israelis have died in the exchange of the rockets fired at Israeli civilians by Hamas from Gaza and Israel's retaliatory air strikes on Gazan military targets. But there are unprecedented aspects to the latest round of violence, the worst in seven years, that deeply trouble Israelis.
Among the most challenging is the spread of the violence to Israel's own Arab population, a development that has thrown Israeli national politics into even greater disarray and is likely to prompt Israeli Jews to reconsider their own community's relationship with the country's 1.9 million Israeli Arabs, or roughly 20 percent of the country's 10 million people.
Unlike the earlier Palestinian "Intifadas," the uprisings that began in 1987 and 2000 respectively that affected mainly Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the current fighting has spread to Israel's own Arab communities, descendants of the Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 war that created the Jewish state.
In the mixed city of Lod in central Israel, for instance, over 200 Israeli Arab protesters, many of them masked, carrying Palestinian flags and shouting religious slogans in Arabic, threw stones, burning tires, and firebombs at police, burned Jewish cars and businesses, and even tried lynching their Jewish neighbors.
Several synagogues were vandalized along with a Jewish cemetery. Police fired back with pepper spray and stun grenades. After a Palestinian man was fatally shot, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency there.
Israeli police have also clashed with Palestinian citizens of Israel in nearby Ramle, the northern city of Haifa, Acre, the Jaffe area of Tel Aviv, the heavily Arab city of Nazareth and the Israeli Arab villages of Kafr Kana, Kafr Manda, and Umm al-Fahm, where a succession of radical Islamic religious leaders has held key city posts.
As of Wednesday morning, police had arrested over 45 people at protests throughout northern Israel. In Tiberius and other cities and towns, Jewish vigilantes have responded violently. In the town of Bat Yam, for instance, Jews attacked a man they thought was Arab but was Jewish, kicking him as he lay on the ground. The incident was widely broadcast on Israeli TV.
Israeli Arabs are furious over the air strikes on Gaza, the expulsion of Palestinians from the Al Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, holy to both Muslims and Jews, and the impending expulsion of some 70 Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Israeli Jews tend to see the effort as part of a long-running property dispute. But Arabs regard it as a right-wing settlers' attempt to change the demographics of East Jerusalem and a broader Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland. "Ethnic cleansing" is what Israeli critics like Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., call it.
The latest violence is also likely to make it even harder for Israel's political parties to end the country's political stalemate and form a government. Despite four indecisive elections in two years, neither Netanyahu nor his rivals have been able to cobble together a majority coalition to rule Israel. Now, mainly because of the Arab Israeli protests, said Ret. Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser, a former head of research for the Israeli military's intelligence division, neither of Netanyahu's main challengers – Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett –will be willing to rely on Israeli Arab parties to form a government.
In a webinar Wednesday sponsored by the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, Kuperwasser said that Israel cannot risk being seen as dependent on Israeli Arabs when "Israel is fighting a war not just in Gaza, but internally." If Israel's squabbling political parties are unable to form a government, a fifth election seems inevitable.
The most recent violence is also putting intense pressure on the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries that signed the 2020 Abraham Accords, normalizing their relations with Israel. The diplomatic breakthrough was one of Donald Trump's few foreign policy achievements. Although most analysts do not think that the Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, or signatories will withdraw from it, efforts to expand ties, cooperation, and trade with Israel are unlikely as long as the mayhem continues.
Netanyahu said this week that the air strikes against military targets in Gaza would continue for some time, and Israel's military said that it has already killed 14 senior Hamas commanders and officials. Both Israel and the U.S. consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
Kuperwasser said Wednesday that Israel had already attacked 1,000 Hamas military targets and could do far more damage to its military infrastructure without sending troops into the area it once occupied all but unilaterally abandoned.
Still, radical Hamas has gained political advantage from the conflict -- over both Israel and the Palestine Authority, its Palestinian rival in the West Bank.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas recently canceled what would have been the first Palestinian elections in 15 years partly out of concern that Palestinians would chose Hamas to lead them over his own corrupt, inefficient group.
Firing over 1,300 rockets into Israel has also enabled Hamas to portray itself as the defender of Palestinian rights, not only in Gaza, but now also for Palestinians in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel.