Internal violence: state's role and society's responses.

AuthorShihade, Magid
PositionMiddle Eastern Arab society


THIS ARTICLE FOCUSES ON the argument whether Middle Eastern Arab society is a violent, feudal one. The topic--violence in Arab society--is part of an Orientalist approach that dehumanizes the Arab world, presenting it as fractious, divided, and violent; and often describes it as paternal, traditional, underdeveloped, and tribal.

A challenge to such notions is attempted here through a specific example of how Palestinian Arab society views conflicts and violence and how it is able to manage violence, even when the state is unwilling or unable to do so. The event that the article is based on took place in 1981 in the Galilee where violence broke out after a soccer game between two Palestinian Arab villages. A few days after that incident, more violence occurred in which people were killed and injured, and much property was lost. The violence was perceived as being supported by the state, since state security did not stop it and the attackers, who were Druze, used arms issued by the Israeli military. The event occurred in the context of increasing violence involving Druze attacks on non-Druze Palestinian Arabs in Israel, using military and police arms. The Israeli state has done nothing of consequence to stop the violence.

Soon after the attacks, leaders and the communities of both villages were able to contain the violence and end the fighting even when the state was unable or unwilling to intervene. No hostilities between the two villages have taken place since. Leaders in the Palestinian Arab community relied on Sulha, a traditional indigenous conflict resolution method, which has been used successfully to contain and manage community conflicts and violence. Sulha has been used for centuries by the local Arab community and draws on traditional Arab and Islamic principles that aim at containing violence and ending hostilities among individuals, groups and villages. Sulha is led by a group of community leaders that mediate among the fighting parties to bring an end to the hostilities (for more details on this method of conflict resolution, see Elias Jabbour, Sulha Making, 1996).

The focus on the 1981 event in the Galilee provides a way of countering dominant constructions of Arab societies. That event also brings the state and, more generally, other external factors back into the discussion of communal violence that is often presented as something that only the communities themselves are guilty of producing.

In countering some of the problematic trends in the literature on violence in the Arab world, focus is on the way in which this body of work has often ignored local voices. Scholars rarely included the causes of violence or the role of the state in either initiating, allowing violence to occur or not intervening later to stop it. Thus the role of the state is absent in most analyses of communal or ethnic conflicts. What is meant here by state is the governing authority in any locality, which could include an occupying authority, such as the USA in Iraq. The state in modern times cannot be ignored and its powers, imposed on its subjects, cannot be underestimated. State intervention, or non-intervention, is something that we need to take into account when discussing violence in societies. Finally the article will briefly discuss the link between democracy and communal violence. The argument that dominates mainstream political analysis is that in democratic states (unlike non-democratic ones) such violence is less likely to occur. This argument needs to be challenged.

The article is based on fieldwork that I conducted in the summer of 2004, including interviews with eyewitnesses and research using local publications pertaining to the event.


The two villages--Kafr Yassif and Julis--have had a friendly neighborly relationship and no incident of violence or conflict occurred between them. Julis is inhabited by Druze and Kafr Yassif by Christians (55%), Muslims (40%), and Druze (5%). Arabs consider the Druze sect an offshoot of Islam. After the establishment of the state of Israel, the Druze were considered a separate religious community by the state and they were later defined as a separate ethnic group and were drafted into the Israeli army. The relationship between the Druze and non-Druze Palestinian Arabs started to shift, at times expressing itself in Druze armed attacks on non-Druze Palestinian Arabs. Any attempt by any group from the Druze community to reunite politically with the larger Palestinian Arab community was suppressed by the state (Firro, 1996). The 1981 event was the first significant instance of a Druze attack on non-Druze and was the beginning of a series of such attacks in different villages in the Galilee with no state intervention to stop them.

The narrative below is based on accounts of local witnesses and on reports issued by the Kafr Yassif local council during the event and in the first few weeks after. It includes significant details that shed light on the role of the police and the state in this incident.


On 11 April 1981, a soccer game took place between teams from Kafr Yassif and Julis. The game was decisive in that the winner would advance to the next soccer league. Kafr Yassif soccer team managers asked the police to send a force as a precautionary measure. During the game, a fight between the fans of the two teams broke out and people were injured on both sides. Two individuals, one from Julis and the other from Kafr Yassif, were taken to the hospital and died there. It should be noted that fights during and about soccer games are common all over the world. The difference here was that although police were present during the fighting that took place at the soccer field and after the game, they did nothing to stop it.

When news about the fights broke, the head of the local council in Kafr Yassif, Nimer Morcos, called the head of the local council in Julis and asked for a meeting to prevent any further escalation. The head of the local council of Julis initially accepted the offer to meet but later declined, arguing that pressure from some families in Julis forced him to change his mind. However, according to Morcos and others interviewed, it was pressure from government officials that made him reject the invitation to meet. Morcos then called for a special meeting of the local council in Kafr Yassif, which met on the night of 11 April 1981.

The Kafr Yassif local council then initiated contacts with Palestinian Arab community leaders from the region who came to help in resolving the conflict between the two villages. This is a common practice in the Galilee whenever a conflict or violence in the community arises. The delegation consisted of community leaders, who were often called upon to participate in such cases, began talks with the leaders from the two villages in the hope of reaching a settlement that satisfied both parties in accordance with the Palestinian Arab traditional practice of Sulha.

The delegation initiated contacts with the leaders in Julis on Saturday night (11 April 1981) and was optimistic after making initial contacts with community leaders in Julis. However, by the end of the next day when the Sulha committee left Julis and returned to Kafr Yassif, they informed Morcos that they had failed in achieving a truce because the demand by Julis was that the Kafr Yassif council should first identify the killer of the Julis victim. However, according to the Kafr Yassif local council, this was impossible to do because the identity of the killer was unknown and it would be unfair to place such a heavy accusation on an individual without being fully confident about the killer's identity. The council also argued...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT