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Gaza War Changing Arab-Jew Relations, But Not in the Way You Think

Intuitively, one would think Israeli operations in Gaza would anger Palestinian citizens but that doesn't necessarily seem to be true.

One of the more interesting consequences of the Israel-Hamas war is its impact on the relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Intuitively, one would think the Israeli operations in Gaza would raise the ire of its Palestinian/Arab citizens against the Jewish State. After all, aren’t the two populations related? In some cases, they even possess family ties.

Surprisingly, the trend appears to go in the opposite direction.

Opinion Polls

A few days following the October 7 Hamas attack, a Hebrew University poll found that around 80 percent of Israel’s Arab citizens opposed the terrorist assault, and 85 percent condemned the hostage-taking of civilians.

Interestingly, 75 percent expressed their willingness to volunteer and assist impacted civilians, while two-thirds of respondents agreed Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas.

More astounding is a survey from November 10, in which 70 percent of Arab citizens polled indicated they “feel part of the country,” contrary to a mere 48 percent in June 2023.

This trend has been noticeable in the political sphere too. Israeli Arab politician Mansour Abbas, the head of the Islamist political party Raam, has repeatedly denounced the October 7 attack, often labeling it “un-Islamic.”

Abbas also demanded his own party member Iman Khatib-Yassin resign after she questioned the severity and authenticity of the violent atrocities of that day.

Israeli troops
Israeli troops in Gaza. Photo: AFP

Jewish-Arab Initiatives

In addition, since the day of the attack, there have been many Arab or joint Jewish-Arab initiatives to assist those harmed.

In Rahat, the predominantly Bedouin town in southern Israel, locals prepare packages filled with “hygiene products, food, and toys” to be sent to Jewish and Arab families in southern Israel.

In the northern city of Haifa, a joint movement of Jews and Arabs has worked tirelessly to clean up and prepare bomb shelters in the event of a serious escalation at the northern front.

In the northern mixed town Nof Hagalil, dozens of Arab and Jewish volunteers hold joint patrols to demonstrate “business as usual” and reduce intercommunal tensions.

Arab Victims

But what is the explanation for this trend? The most obvious one is the direct impact October 7 had on Israel’s Arab/Palestinian minority, as Hamas militants killed dozens of them.

Notably, several cases were recorded in which Hamas attackers knew the identity of Arab victims and still executed them.

For example, Sohaib Abu Ammar, an East Jerusalem resident, was a bus driver at the outdoor music festival where Hamas gunmen killed around 250 people. In a video released a couple of weeks later, it can be seen that Hamas militants identified Abu Ammar’s place of residence by examining his ID, yet they still killed him.

Awad Darawsheh, a resident of the northern, predominantly Arab-populated town of Iksal, was a paramedic and an ambulance driver at the same party. He reportedly believed that he could reason with Hamas terrorists just to be shot dead while treating the wounded.

Members of the Hamas militant group. Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP


Another explanation pertains to the shock as a result of the sheer brutality employed by Hamas militants on that day.

These tactics reminded many of the brutality exercised by the Islamic State during its conquest and reign over large parts of Syria and Iraq between 2014 and 2017.

One Israeli-Arab/Palestinian, a CEO of a tech company, claimed on social media that up until October 7, he identified as Palestinian first and as Israeli second. However, following Hamas’ brutality that targeted both Jews and Arabs, he described his identity as Israeli first and Palestinian second.

Jewish Population

But what about the Jewish population? It appears to be too early to determine whether it will move towards a more intolerant or more accepting direction.

That said, despite the occasional provocative and violent views by some ministers in the Israeli cabinet, there are credible signs that the future of the Jewish public is not going in a more far-right direction.

Indeed, in every single opinion poll since the war commenced, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish coalition is projected to win 42-43 seats compared to the opposition, which would win 77-78 seats out of 120 in the Knesset were elections to take place.

This includes only 18-19 seats for Netanyahu’s Likud party and merely 9 seats for the far-right Zionist Union, compared to their current 14 seats. This indicates there is no shift further to the right as a result of the war.

In a head-to-head competition between Netanyahu and his chief centrist rival Benny Gantz, the former would lose by more than 20 percent, highlighting the increased dissatisfaction with the current prime minister.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: AFP

Nation-State Law

Although largely stemming from concerns about the sacrifice of Israel’s Druze minority during the war, as this Arab minority has a mandatory draft to the IDF similarly to Israeli-Jews, there have been growing public calls to amend the controversial Nation-State Law.

Indeed, even Welfare Minister Yaakov Margi, who is a member of the coalition party Shas, called for an amendment, stating that “with a bit of will it’s possible to find the balanced formula that will reflect the Druze community.”

He further decried the fact that Israel has failed to fulfill its part in the alliance with its Druze citizens. Indeed, large parts of Israeli society, including the Jewish population, hold positive views of the Druze community given its contribution to Israeli society, especially in the field of security.

In spite of the declared aim of improving the status of the country’s Druze community, such statements underline the growing possibility, along with an expected different political constellation, that the path to a more accommodating environment for Israel’s non-Jewish citizens might be clearer than thought.

Therefore, while it may be too early to reach concrete conclusions, future relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel are not automatically bound to deteriorate as a result of the war.

Asaf Day is a Middle East and North Africa geopolitical analyst

Asaf Day is a political science PhD Candidate, Teaching Assistant, and Lecturer at the University of Kansas. He has an MA Degree in Arabic Studies and a BA in Middle Eastern Studies.

His area of expertise is International Conflict, Terrorism, and Middle Eastern Politics.

In addition to English, Asaf speaks fluent Hebrew and Arabic, as well as Turkish and French to a lesser degree.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.

The Defense Post aims to publish a wide range of high-quality opinion and analysis from a diverse array of people – do you want to send us yours? Click here to submit an op-ed.

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