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August 7, 2014

Reflecting on Israeli Society During the Conflict: The Best and the Worst

With Israel scaling down its operations in Gaza and a ceasefire beginning to hold, Israeli society will now reflect on the last four weeks. Out of this frightening and tense period, one source of inspiration and optimism has been the sense of solidarity and closeness felt by Israelis.

Across the country, people of every age and political affiliation clamored to help and “do something.” Israelis mobilized to show support for the IDF soldiers serving on the front – people sent food, care packages, supplies – even washed uniforms.  Others offered to host residents of the south who left their homes for fear of the unending fall of rockets and blare of warning sirens. Thousands went to funerals and shivas for the fallen soldiers – particularly those of the “lone” soldiers – whose families live outside Israel. Mass prayer vigils were held.

Funeral of IDF Soldier Max Steinberg

Funeral of IDF Soldier Max Steinberg

But while we can celebrate in this widespread feeling of unity and generosity, we cannot deny that other, troubling tendencies also emerged over these past weeks.

Some who publicly disagreed with Israel’s military operation were called “traitors” and in some cases, even “Nazis.” Some protesting the conflict were physically attacked. Tensions with Israeli Arabs have grown. Many were outraged by reports of some groups of Israeli Arabs who celebrated in the killing of IDF soldiers. This hostility intensified in both speech and action, and there were reports of isolated vigilante attacks on Israeli Arab targets. Indeed, when an East Jerusalem Palestinian attacked a Jerusalem city bus with a construction vehicle, killing one, out of concern for their physical safety of Arabs in the vicinity, police quickly moved to ensure their safety.

As we begin to think about “the day after,” Israelis must think about how to harness the positive while reducing the negative. We must figure out how to build on the sense of unity and generosity while still valuing the exchange of different viewpoints, and ensuring that respectful discourse thrives.

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