The morning after Israel and the Palestinians signed the last interim agreement of the Oslo peace process at Sharm e-Sheik, four Israeli Arab youths, driven by religious fervor, set off in pairs for two nearby hubs of the Galilee, Haifa and Tiberias. Having taken delivery of time-bombs rigged in northern Samaria by Hamas terrorists, they hoped to plant them on public buses headed for Jerusalem. In their exhilarated minds, they had another hour before the bombs’ timers were to simultaneously detonate. But they had broken the first rule of any such operation –- synchronize watches!

The Palestinian bomb-makers were still on summer time, while their accomplices from the Galilee had switched two days earlier –- like every good Israeli –- to winter time. The mistake cost three of them their lives.

Many in Israel –- Jews and Arabs alike — were shocked a few days later when investigators identified the Haifa and Tiberias bombers as Arab citizens of their own state, but it was not the only such instance of home-grown terrorism that week.

Soon after discovering the slain bodies of a Haifa couple in the Megiddo forest the previous Sunday, police arrested an Israeli Arab for the gruesome double-stabbing. Neighbors in the small village of Musheirifa could not believe quiet young Abdullah Salah Agbariya was capable of such an inhuman deed. But Abdullah soon admitted, without remorse, he was determined to kill Jews after Islamic writings and mosque sermons convinced him it was a religious commandment. Although he denied membership in Hamas, he was firmly linked to the fundamentalist Islamic Movement in Israel and sought martyrdom.

These revelations should not have taken his fellow villagers by such surprise. Hamas and the Islamic Movement had penetrated their ranks before, recruiting three of their finest sons for a brutal operation in 1992 known as “the night of the pitchforks” that claimed the lives of three IDF trainee soldiers at a nearby tent base.

They also fit a deliberate pattern in recent years of Hamas recruiting suicide bombers, first from Palestinian villages still under Israeli security control, and now from Israel itself – so as not to embarrass Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.

The recent stabbing and bombing episodes were a wake-up call, demonstrating the alarming inroads radical Islam has made among Arab society in Israel. The poisonous rhetoric brainwashing Muslims youths in Gaza is now permeating the peaceful Galilee. The Islamic Movement in Israel has proven its ability, as never before, to amass rallies, command riots... and dispatch terrorists.

ISRAEL’S ONE MILLION Arab citizens have always presented unique challenges to the Jewish state, especially in terms of its democratic values and security concerns. For the most part, they have been loyal and amenable, adapting to their status as the only minority Arab community in the Middle East. The fact they enjoy greater freedoms and better social and economic conditions than Arabs in neighboring states is a powerful incentive.

Nonetheless, Israel’s Jewish majority has always harbored fears of a fifth column, which might one day rise up in their midst during an armed conflict with outside Arab armies. The peace process was meant to eliminate the possibility of another such war, and finally allow Israel to turn its energy to other priorities, like normalizing the status of its Arab citizens. But it has been in a race against the spread of fanatical Islam which, in the case of Israeli Arabs, is not bred by poverty but simple religious hatred. No manner of security fence along the “Green Line” can keep it out. And it is showing troubling signs of ascendance.

Further, Israelis now face the dire prospect that the cornerstone of what is hoped to be a long-awaited final settlement to the Palestinian question — a Palestinian state — is only stirring Arab longings for independence within their own borders. Nevermind the Palestinian flag flying over another one or two percent of Judea or Samaria, what about those who want to raise those same colors in Um el-Fahm – as 35,000 did in a September rally to “defend” the Temple Mount mosques.

These erosive influences of radical Islam and Palestinian nationalism reach to the highest levels of Israeli Arab society, as Arab Knesset members publicly side with the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel. A delegation visited Damascus two years ago as “Palestinians from occupied Palestine.” United Arab List chair Abd al-Malik Dahamshe declared in the national elections this year, “We shall liberate Jerusalem from the Zionists, the enemies of humanity.”

WHILE THIS TRANSPIRES among their Arab neighbors, Israel’s Jewish majority clearly has grown weary of the enduring conflict thrust upon them, and want to find a way out. A few have started believing the propaganda of the other side about the “evils” of Zionism, and are inflicting it upon their children through “revisionist” history books and textbooks. They seem willing, for purposes of a risky political agenda, to replace what they consider one set of national myths with another. Others have openly questioned the accuracy of their Bible – the Jewish title deed to this Land – in what even militant anti-religious MK Tommy Lapid labels a naked attempt to “feed propaganda to Israel’s enemies who want to negate our right to be here.”

Outside this small but influential minority, what is driving the more sober majority of Israel’s Jewish public to support the current peace process is the desperate hope that secure and recognized boundaries can finally be set with their Palestinian Arab neighbors. Every time they have looked at and studied the map over the years, Israelis have believed it possible to one day, once-and-for-all, draw a contorted line somewhere around Judea/Samaria and call it done. Yet this same peace process is nuturing a parallel (arguably latent) hope in many Israeli Arabs to redraw those lines to include Nazareth, the Triangle, Lod and Ramla and other portions of Israel itself. Was it only a matter of time?

Somewhere in the collective consciousness of this nation, the mundane annual routine of setting your clock back an hour each fall will never be the same.

David R. Parsons

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