Israel’s unraveling

Bat Yam is an Israeli seaside suburb, nestled just south of Tel Aviv. It’s primarily known for its pretty beachfront.

On Wednesday night, Bat Yam erupted in violence. A mob of Jewish extremists surrounded a man they presumed was an Arab and pummeled him mercilessly. Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, aired live footage of the unnamed man being beaten with a flagpole flying the Israeli flag.

“We are watching a lynching,” Kan reporter Daniel Elazar said during the broadcast.

What happened in Bat Yam is not an isolated incident. The current fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza has led to an eruption of violence in Israeli cities, with dueling Jewish and Arab mobs roaming the streets, destroying property and beating innocents.

In the city of Lod, the epicenter of the communal violence, an armed Arab mob torched three synagogues on Tuesday. In retaliation, Jewish mobs lit Arab buildings aflame on Wednesday. The violence has continued since, in Lod and other places like Bat Yam. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that troops may be deployed to quell the fighting, a striking threat given that Israel is currently at war in Gaza.

While fighting between Israel and Hamas is unfortunately common, this kind of street violence inside Israel’s internationally recognized borders is not. Nothing at this scale happened in the prior three Gaza wars; in fact, nothing like this has happened since a wave of ethnic rioting in October 2000. Even then, the centers of the current violence — so-called “mixed cities” like Lod, with high proportions of both Arab and Jewish citizens — were relatively calm.

“I don’t think that, since the creation of the state of Israel, we’ve seen this kind of domestic violence,” Ami Ayalon, the former director of the Shin Bet (Israel’s FBI equivalent), tells me. “We are not far from … not a civil war, but a level of violence that I don’t know if we can control.”