Yuval Diskin, who served as director of Israel’s Shin Bet security service from 2005 to 2011, posted some rather blunt observations on his Facebook page this morning regarding the tit-for-tat murders of teenagers, the Palestinian rioting in East Jerusalem and the Triangle (the Arab population center south of Haifa) and what he fears is coming down the pike.
It strikes me that he’s probably saying a lot of what IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz was thinking at this week’s security cabinet meeting, when Gantz’s far more restrained comments led to a tongue-lashing from Naftali Bennett. In other words, this is how the current meltdown looks to much of the top Israeli military and intelligence brass. It’s what they’ve been saying privately while in uniform and publicly after retiring (and occasionally even while still in uniform). I’ve taken the liberty of translating Diskin’s Hebrew into English.
Dear friends: Take a few moments to read the following words and share them with others. I see the severe and rapid deterioration of the security situation in the territories, Jerusalem and the Triangle and I’m not surprised. Don’t be confused for a moment. This is the result of the policy conducted by the current government, whose essence is: Let’s frighten the public over everything that’s happening around us in the Middle East, let’s prove that there’s no Palestinian partner, let’s build more and more settlements and create a reality that can’t be changed, let’s continue not dealing with the severe problems of the Arab sector in Israel, let’s continue not solving the severe social gaps in Israeli society. This illusion worked wonderfully as long as the security establishment was able to provide impressive calm on the security front over the last few years as a result of the high-quality, dedicated work of the people of the Shin Bet, the IDF and the Israel Police as well as the Palestinians whose significant contribution to the relative calm in the West Bank should not be taken lightly. However, the rapid deterioration we’re experiencing in the security situation did not come because of the vile murder of Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad, may their memories be blessed. The deterioration is first and foremost a result of the illusion that the government’s inaction on every front can actually freeze the situation in place, the illusion that “price tag” is simply a few slogans on the wall and not pure racism, the illusion that everything can be solved with a little more force, the illusion that the Palestinians will accept everything that’s done in the West Bank and won’t respond despite the rage and frustration and the worsening economic situation, the illusion that the international community won’t impose sanctions on us, that the Arab citizens of Israel won’t take to the streets at the end of the day because of the lack of care for their problems, and that the Israeli public will continue submissively to accept the government’s helplessness in dealing with the social gaps that its policies have created and are worsening, while corruption continues to poison everything good, and so on and so on. But anyone who thinks the situation can tread water over the long run is making a mistake, and a big one. What’s been happening in the last few days can get much worse — even if things calm down momentarily. Don’t be fooled for a moment, because the enormous internal pressure will still be there, the combustible fumes in the air won’t diminish and if we don’t learn to lessen them the situation will get much worse. I’m reprinting here a portion of my speech at the tenth anniversary of the Geneva Initiative in December 2013, which was based on several articles I’ve written in the last few years. The words are based on my experience in the security arena in general, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in the schism between Jews and Arabs in the state of Israel in particular. It’s important to read in order to understand where we’re headed, because under the existing circumstances there aren’t too many other possibilities:
“… and alongside all these — the growing tension and enormous frustration of the Palestinians in the West Bank who feel that their land is being stolen from them, who gather that the state they yearn for is slipping away from them, and even the economy that has improved slightly since 2007 is no longer something in which to take comfort. • All these things lead toward a problem that is more severe and dangerous than anything, namely the sense that’s spreading among the Palestinian masses — a sense that “there is no future, only the past,” that the past holds nothing good and the future, undoubtedly the shared future, no longer exists! • Deep societal changes usually occur slowly, but we must not ignore the implications of the emergence of a new generation, a generation that sees the phenomenon of the “Arab spring” erupting all over the Middle East and feels trapped, with no way out. Thus hundreds of thousands of young Palestinians who grew up under Israeli occupation, embittered, frustrated, angry and above all without hope, are seeking a target to pounce upon, and it’s easy to guess who the target will be. • And let’s not forget that within our own midst, within Israel society, there are complex tensions between the Jewish majority and the Arab-Muslim-Christian minority, and these can easily be fed by what’s happening and will happen between us and the Palestinians. Past experience has proven that in the course of major confrontations, Arab citizens of the state of Israel have demonstrated solidarity with their Palestinian brethren, and therefore we must take into account the affinity between the Palestinians and their brother Arabs of Israeli citizenship. Therefore I believe that the combustible fumes in the air have reached a level of concentration at which even a small spark can ignite a huge explosion. The growing trickle of terror incidents in recent months, the vast, suppressed tension among the Palestinians, and even the eruption of demonstrations against the Prawer Plan [for relocation of Negev Bedouin] can be understood as isolated, incidental events, but they are evidence of a very tense atmosphere that can easily explode. A mass eruption of Palestinians and/or Arab citizens of Israel taking to the streets is an entirely plausible scenario, not an extreme case. It happened in the last three years in Iran, in Tunisia, in Libya, in Egypt, in Syria, in Bahrain, in Turkey, in Russia, in Brazil and in the last few days even in Ukraine … Therefore it would be a serious mistake to think it can’t happen here. From my experience I can tell you that it is in the nature of such events to spin out of control. Even Marwan Barghouti, who was the principal initiator of the events that led ultimately to the Second Intifada, didn’t plan in advance for street demonstrations in September 2000 to turn into a seven-year intifada with suicide bombings killing many hundreds and wounding tens of thousands on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. He planned for a few days or at most a few weeks of isolated demonstrations. But the chain of events, the reactions to them and the reactions to the reactions, led to a loss of control and a serious deterioration into waves of terror that lasted almost seven years.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).