On the afternoon of Saturday, October 7, as the full scale and brutality of Hamas’s incursion into Israel was becoming clear, Mansour Abbas, Knesset member and leader of the Islamic party Ra’am wrote to his 300,000 followers on social media. “I call on Arab citizens and all Arab and Jewish citizens to maintain restraint and behave responsibly and patiently, and to maintain law and order.” Referring to the “unfortunate, tragic and reprehensible events” still in progress, he also called on the leadership of the Palestinian factions in Gaza to “release the captives in your hands. Islamic values command us not to imprison women, children and the elderly.”
A little later, when Hamas leaders began calling on Israel’s Arab citizens to join the fight, Arab Knesset member Ayman Odeh responded angrily. In a media interview, he said: “Any call for militant actions and igniting a war between Arabs and Jews inside Israel is something we will not accept.”
It quickly became clear that the two Arab Israeli politicians were speaking for the vast majority of their community, not least because Arabs were also killed, abducted and injured in the Hamas raid on southern Israel and as a result of its continuous rocket barrages. A former member of the Knesset, Walid al-Hawashla, the head of relief work in the Negev area, told of 18 Bedouin killed in the region, “six because of rockets that hit their houses, and 12 who were working in agriculture in the area around Gaza on the first day of the Hamas attack.”
The news website Barron reported Alaa Abu Jamaa saying that on the morning of October 7, just as Hamas launched its assault against Israel, he was driving home to Ararat an-Naqab with breakfast for his children. As he left the car at his front door, he was hit by the blast of a rocket exploding near him, and was sent flying.
A five-year-old boy named Yazan “was standing at the door of his house near another car,” said Jamas. “When the rocket exploded…Yazan was killed. He was blown to pieces.” He said the rocket left a crater “more than three meters deep.”
The news report adds that Yazan’s father Zakaria, a driver, recalled with tears that he “was in Eilat on Saturday morning when I learned of my son’s death. I came back in the midst of the exchange of bombing between Hamas and Israel and saw my son in the hospital.”
The stories appearing in the press of acts of mutual aid, and simple kindness and friendship between ordinary Jews and Arabs in the face of Hamas’s assault on the nation, run completely counter to the initial reaction of Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir. Responsible for Israel’s police force, he ordered them to prepare for riots, warning that Arab-Israeli violence in cities like Lod, as occurred in 2021, was likely.
During a visit to a police station in Sderot, Ben Gvir said he had instructed Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to be prepared for severe inter-communal riots in mixed Jewish-Arab cities. In 2021 an IDF operation against Hamas in Gaza, code-named ‘Guardian of the Walls’, was in progress.
“I have instructed the police commissioner to be prepared for a ‘Guardian of the Walls 2’ scenario,” he said, “… to be prepared for the infiltration of towns.”
A spokesman for Ben Gvir confirmed he was referencing the possibility of Arab citizens of Israel rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab cities.
His remarked were condemned across the political spectrum, with police sources accusing him of fearmongering. Senior government officials criticized his comments as irresponsible. Social Equality minister, Amichai Chikli, wrote: “Thus far, the Arab population has shown much solidarity and responsibility, and this is especially true for the Bedouin population in the Negev.” One police source is quoted in the Hebrew language daily Maariv as saying that Hamas has been trying to incite Arab Israelis to instigate violence, and that Ben Gvir’s words could inflame tensions.
The Arab Israeli politicians’ remarks clearly resonated with their voters. The respected news website Al Monitor reported a resident of the Galilee Jewish community of Atzmon, two of whose residents were killed in the Hamas assault, praising the support of her neighbors from the Arab town of Sakhnin.
“Many stores ran out of water,” she said, “but we found a grocery store in Sakhnin that gave us water and refused to accept payment.” The grocer told her that since hearing about the horrors perpetrated by Hamas, he had been thinking of ways to help.
Such sentiments were reciprocated. Awad Darawsheh, a resident of the village of Iksal, was killed while working as a paramedic at the music festival on the Gaza border. A convoy of motorcycles and ambulances operated by a Jewish company accompanied the body and brought it for burial in his hometown.
Rula Daoud, co-director of the Standing Together movement, reacted angrily to Ben-Gvir’s suggestions that the Arab community might rise up in solidarity with Hamas.
“In our Arab society,” he said, we are “…building an entire [emergency and relief] system in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in order to strengthen the community in every way and prevent violence.”
Social activist Hosam Mawasi, who volunteers with emergency aid organizations, told Al-Monitor he was not surprised by the Arab public’s reaction.
“Quite a few Arabs work with Jews on a daily basis,” he said, “and there is a full understanding that the two populations in Israel have more in common than what separates them. And therefore there are those who think about the day after the war.”
A last word from Mohammad Magadli, one of Israel’s most prominent Arab journalists. Unlike in 2021, he told the New York Times, “the Arab and Jewish societies are more aware of each other’s pain, and can understand how destructive the consequences can be if they don’t consider each other’s feelings…There is greater responsibility between the two societies.”