"For several years, extremist West Bank settlers have conducted a campaign of low-level violence against their Palestinian neighbors — destroying property, vandalizing mosques and occasionally injuring people. Such “price tag” attacks, intended to intimidate Palestinians and make Israeli leaders pay a price for enforcing the law against settlers, have become part of the routine of conflict in occupied territory.
Now that conflict is coming home. The words "price tag" spray-painted in Hebrew on the wall of a burned mosque inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders transformed Israel’s Arab citizens into targets and tore at the all-too-delicate fabric of a shared democracy.
Indeed, the mosque burning represented the violent, visible edge of a larger change: the ethnic conflict in the West Bank is metastasizing into Israel, threatening its democracy and unraveling its society.
The agents of this change include veterans of West Bank settlements seeking to establish a presence in shared Jewish-Arab cities in Israel and politicians backing a wave of legislation intended to reduce the rights of Arab citizens....The group’s rabbi, Nachshon Cohen, was an alumnus of a yeshiva in the Palestinian city of Hebron. The reason to start the religious project in Acre was “the demographic problem,” Rabbi Cohen explained to me. The mixed city had about 45,000 residents. But Jews were leaving because “people didn’t want to live next to Arabs.” The energy of the new core group, Rabbi Cohen hoped, would keep the town Jewish.
A key part of the settlement project in Acre was the establishment of a hesder yeshiva — a seminary mixing religious study and army service. It, too, would help draw Jews who were both “ideological” and “on a high socio-economic level” into the town, the yeshiva’s director, Boaz Amir, told me. While moving back into Israel and speaking of helping poor Israelis, the settlers were reimporting the message of Jewish-Arab struggle. It was gentrification with a hard ethnonationalist edge.
Acre is just one of the mixed Jewish-Arab cities that religious nationalists have set out to “save.” The Acre core group has grown to 110 families, roughly one percent of the town’s population. Drawing this number of potential settlers to live inside Israel has an insignificant effect on settlement growth in the West Bank.
Yet it broadcasts a message that Israel’s Arab citizens are strangers and opponents rather than members of a shared polity. Rabbi Yossi Stern, the yeshiva’s dean, described the transformation of Acre’s Wolfson neighborhood — a set of Soviet-style apartment blocks built in the 1960s — from a Jewish to a majority-Arab area as “a national sin.” He argued forcefully that Jews should move back into such shifting areas. For Arabs and Jews “to be in the same neighborhood, in the same building ... that’s not good,” Rabbi Stern said. Coexistence was clearly not his goal.
Segregation, though, is intrinsically a denial of rights. The countryside throughout the Galilee region of northern Israel is dotted with a form of segregated exurb, the “community settlement.” In each of these exclusive communities, a membership committee vets prospective residents before they can buy homes.
The concept, born in the mid-1970s, originally allowed West Bank settlers to ensure that their neighbors shared their “ideological-social background,” including the same shade of religious commitment. The Likud government that came to power in 1977 applied the model to create Jewish-only bedroom communities in the Galilee and in the Negev.
In 1995, Adel and Iman Ka’adan, an Israeli Arab couple, tried to buy a lot in the community settlement of Katzir. As educated professionals eager to live in a place with good schools for their daughters, they fit the community’s profile. But as Arabs they were ineligible...Katzir’s membership committee proceeded to turn the Ka’adans down again on the grounds that they would not fit in socially. It took five more years in court before they were they allowed to buy land there. But last April, the legislature overrode the judiciary, when the Knesset passed a law authorizing community settlements in the Galilee and Negev to reject candidates who did not fit their “social-cultural fabric.”"