Against Rockets, Riots, Israel’s B’nei Menashe Wanted Tougher Line
(May 19) Thursday night’s ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas came too late for our Newsletter to ask any members of Israel’s B’nei Menashe community about it, but to judge from earlier conversations, it wasn’t what they wanted. Don’t give an inch to either Hamas or Israeli Arab rioters: such was the sentiment we heard this week.
North or south, whether living close to Hamas rockets or far from them, in mixed towns or all-Jewish ones, the refrain was trhe same. Seventy-one-year old Yaacov Tuboi of Sderot could expressed it when he said, “Our government has been too soft on Hamas. Enough! This time we have to fight until we finish them. It’s discouraging to think that the government might agree to a premature ceasefire under government pressure. Hamas will just use the respite it’s given to restock its rockets and become even deadlier. We mustn’t allow this to happen again.”
Sderot’s population, which includes some 70 B’nei Menashe families, has come in for heavy shelling in the current rounding of fighting, just as it has in the past. “It’s unnerving,” Tuboi said. “We’re always on the alert, ready to run to the nearest shelter within seconds.”
Yoel Misao, 54, of the southern town of village of Nitzan not far from Sderot, said he was lucky to have a shelter in his own house. Still, said Misao, “this time the rockets gave us a good battering. We’ve been hearing ten sirens or more every day. We haven’t had a good night’s sleep for days, even though we’ve become so numb that we’ve lost our sense of fear.” Nevertheless, he went on, “I’m all for the government’s decision not to agree to a ceasefire that will let Hamas off too easily again. It has to be made to pay an unaffordable price for all this.”
Maor Lotzem, 37, lives in Kiryat Arba in the Judean hills, which though within range of Hamas missiles was not targeted, perhaps because it is on the outskirts of the large Arab city of Hebron. “We haven’t even heard a siren,” he told our Newsletter. “We’ve busy, as usual, with our jobs and families.” Lotzem, too, however, thought that Israel’s government should take as strong a stand as possible with Hamas. “I was happy to hear that it turned down a ceasefire,” he declared. “Israel should destroy as much of Hamas’ arsenal as possible, Hamas should never be allowed to threaten us again.”
Gershom Mate, 28, of Acre, also thought that Hamas could only be subdued by force. “Peace with Hamas simply isn’t possible,” he stated..
Mate lives in the mixed seaside city of Acre, north of Haifa, which has seen extensive Arab rioting, attacks on Jews, and looting and vandalizing of Jewish property. “Fortunately,” he told us, ”my own photography shop wasn’t touched, because the disturbances were all in Acre’s old walled city and I live in the new part of town. But it’s been a terrible situation. First a year of Corona and then this!” The one bright spot in the disturbances, Mate said, was that most of the rioters arrested by police were non-locals. “Relations between Jews and Arabs in Acre have been good,” he says. “I think the unrest has been caused by outside elements.”
Ethnic conflict is not something new to the B’nei Menashe, especially not to those who come from Manipur, a state riven by rivalries and violence between the different parts of its population for as long as anyone can remember. “This is the first time, though, that I’ve seen anything similar break out in Israel,” said Yaacov Tuboi. “It happened because the Arabs have
perceived us Jews as being weak. I’m not saying we should behave like them. We have five or six Arab families living here in Sderot, and nobody bothers them and nobody will. Just think of what would have happened had the situation been reversed! But our tolerance is seen as timidity. That’s where the problem lies.”
Yoel Misao, too, thought “the recent rioting was unprecedented. I never thought it could happen here. It shouldn’t have been permitted to happen.” Misao agreed with Gershom Mate that outside instigation was involved. “None of this would have taken place without it,” he said.
For Maor Lotzem, the riots called for self-examination. “Maybe it’s time to look more carefully at ourselves,” he told our Newsletter. “We need to be stronger in our faith.”
On the whole, B’nei Menashe reactions to the past week’s violence reflect the views of a community that leans heavily to the Right politically. “This partly has to do with its background in Northeast India,” says Isaac Thangjom, Degel Menashe’s executive director. “We come from a heavily ethnicized society. In Manipur, for instance, where I’m from, it’s one group against another: Kukis against Nagas, Nagas against Meiteis, and so on. If you’re a Kuki, as all the B’nei Menashe from Manipur are, the Kukis come first. There’s no sense of a society in which everyone needs to be treated fairly and no group should be given an advantage over another. The understanding is that someone will always have the advantage – and you want that to be you. In the old days, a Kuki chief could make peace with his enemies, but he only made it after he vanquished them. We’ve brought that attitude with us to Israel. That’s why endless ceasefires with Hamas make no sense to us.”