The central picture on the New York Times web site is of a "Peace Symbol (that) Sits Along Jerusalem's Divide." http://www.nytimes.com/pages/index.html?partner=rssyahoo The article tells about a statue erected at one of the meeting points between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, donated by a Polish billionaire, and goes on to report about the tensions, violence, and accommodations between Arabs and Jews.
I had to read the New York Times to learn what happened in my home town. Perhaps the monument went up when we were visiting family and friends in the United States. If it made an impression on the Israeli media, I missed it.
When we were overseas I did not miss a report about a Jerusalem Arab who drove a BMW into a group of soldiers who were on an educational tour of the city.
The new monument is called the Tolerance Monument. It did better than the Center for Human Dignity Museum of Tolerance, planned to be financed near the city center with a $150 million gift from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. It stalled before the basement could be excavated due to its location on a Muslim cemetery. The site lies hidden behind a construction fence erected more than two years ago, while the courts ponder claims from Muslim religious institutions that the planners are concerned with something other than tolerance.
One does not need Polish billionaires or donors to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in order to find accommodation between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem. I experience it twice a week when I go to the university gym. At my normal hours there are likely to be a half-dozen Arabs in the locker room. They include social workers, an accountant, and the owner of a shop on the main tourist street in the Old City. Some are Hebrew University graduates, including one of the best students in my workshop on policy analysis.
I cannot testify about the conversations in Arabic, but from the tones and body language they seem similar to the conversations in Hebrew. Mostly they resemble the banter I have heard in locker rooms over the course of several decades in different places. Humor is more prominent than philosophy or political preference. Multi-cultural themes include queries about one another's religious holidays, and whether or not someone has fasted on Yom Kippur or Ramadan.
A day after the riots in Acre the humor seemed forced, but that observation may reflect excessive sensitivity. I participated in one conversation that featured an Arab saying that the Arabs of Acre were known for their involvement in illegal drugs, and a Jew noting that the Jews of Acre were nothing to write home about.
One of my Arab students has made the point that the university remains a place of mutual accommodation. That is true in a limited sort of way. I never experienced a class discussion that got ugly, or even resulted in Arab students united against Jewish students. Occasionally an event will prompt Arab students and their left-wing Jewish allies to demonstrate at a busy location with signs and chants. This is likely to produce a count-demonstration by right-wing Jewish students, with university security personnel and the police between them, and police reinforcements located a few blocks away in case things get out of control.
Security has approached that at airports since a bomb exploded in a university cafeteria during the height of the intifada in 2002. That took the life of one of my students, and the eye of a young friend.
Some time later a critic asked why the university continued to employ Arabs among its security guards. "Why not?" was the official response.
When our children were in primary school, there were several cases of individual Arabs with large kitchen knives attacking Jews on the street. We did not want to be overprotective, or to produce children who were either racist or naive. We urged them to think of Arabs as likely to be decent, as we showed in our own conversation and behavior. However, we also told them to be careful. If they found themselves walking in front of an Arab, it would be wise to pause, and let the Arab get in front of them.
Our own neighborhood is integrated, with Arab students renting apartments, and a few Arab families buying apartments. Not everyone is happy, but I have not heard of any incidents.
It is not always obvious who is a Jew and who is an Arab. Complexion, clothes, language, and accent in Hebrew provide imperfect clues. Arabs killed an Arab who was jogging not far from my home. The organization that claimed responsibility granted the victim status as a martyr when it learned about the error. The Christian family of the victim, closely identified with the Palestinian national cause, declined the honor.
A Jewish friend noted that "half the people in this locker room are Arabs." I agreed, but noted that some of the Arabs were Jews. Among those likely to be chatting in Arabic are Jews from Baghdad, Cairo, or Morocco.
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Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325