There is good news and other news on the issue of peace and harmony between Jews and Arabs within Israel.
Note "within Israel." This is not primarily about the Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but of simple decency and accommodation between Jews and Arabs on the streets, in neighborhoods, stores, workplaces, football fields, and other places within Israel.
First the bad news. A group of Jewish extremists, already targeted by security forces for their activities in the West Bank, are going from business to business in Jerusalem in order to identify those employing Arabs, and urging Jews to stay away. http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/right-wing-group-mapping-jerusalem-businesses-that-employ-arabs-1.396686
The good news is that the Acco football team, poor and representing a small city, defeated a well-financed team from Tel Aviv. Acco is a mixed city, largely middle- and working-class, with about 70 percent of the population Jews and close to 30 percent Arabs. The football team has only one Arab player, but the fans are a mixture of Jews and Arabs. Football fans elsewhere are noted for occasional racist outbursts, but those of Acco seem to get along. In our recent visit to the Old City of Acco we found Jewish merchants conducting business in their shops alongside the more prevelant Arab shops. That contrasts with the Old City of Jerusalem where the populations live and conduct business in their separate quarters, and where there is no shortage of tension.
Acco has had its problems. When an Arab resident drove through a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur in 2008, the offense and response set off several days of violence.
The situation of general accommodation, along with quick degeneration and then a return to normalcy sums up much of inter-communal tensions involving Jews and others over a long history.
Something similar to this note could be written about relations between Muslim and Christian Arabs of Israel, or between either of those communities and the Druze or Beduin.
Despite tensions, Jews and Arabs can aspire to reaching a condition of tolerance if not actual harmony. Jews and Arabs are destined to live close to one another in this small place, and have shown that they can benefit from what each can bring to economic, cultural, and personal relationships.
It would be wrong to delude ourselves into expecting that ethnic and religious co-existence is easy to achieve. A major barrier is aggressive Islam, curently widespread in the region, with its encouragement that Palestinians and Israeli Arabs (or Palestinian citizens of Israel) turn back the clock to an idealized time when Jews were a small and passive minority in a region that was properly Muslim. Associated with this is Arab terror, Palestinian and Israeli-Arab adherence to claims of suffering at the hands of the Jews, multi-generational families with the status of refugees with unresolved rights, insisting on a monopoly of justice on their side of a conflict that has been ongoing for a century or more. On the Jewish side, disturbance comes from a minority having some clout in Israeli politics, with religious and political passions about the Land of Israel, assured of a monopoly of justice on their side, and a profound distrust of anything Arab.
There is enough mutual suspicion to provoke violence in a locale or more widely whenever a spark occurs.
Meanwhile, the two communities generally tolerate one another, each with complaints about the other, but with considerable interaction and some genuine friendships. There is a tiny number of closer relationships, and from them a few cases of love and marriage.
Neve Shalom is a small community with Arab and Jewish families mid-way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, mixed Arabic and Hebrew schooling, and programs of education meant to spread the benefits of accommodation. http://nswas.org/ Middle- and high schools throughout Israel arrange meetings between classes from Arab and Jewish schools. These aspire to discuss problems and achieve what is politically correct, but in some cases create a feeling that the effort is artificial, with students learning to play the roles expected of them.
Jewish history illustrates time and again tense co-existence with Gentiles interrupted by violence, with stories of some Gentiles protecting Jews during the troubles, and some turning against those who had thought of them as friends.
A late cousin spoke rarely of years during her childhood in the Netherlands sheltered in the home of a Christian while her brother and parents went to their deaths in Eastern Europe. Years later, at one of her visits with the woman who risked her life and those of family members in order to protect a Jewish child, the woman let loose with an anti-Semitic remark prompted by our cousin using the telephone without previously asking permission.
One of my left-wing faculty friends is known for his persistent efforts in behalf of a Palestinian state. He once acknowledged that his initial reaction to news of a terrorist attack is an intense desire to kill an Arab.
There is no Paradise on the horizon for those concerned to assure harmony between Jews and Arabs within Israel, or to achieve the goal of two states living at peace alongside one another. The goals are laudable, but seemingly beyond reach. The prospect of two-states is complicated by the tough internal politics of two competing communities, plus the complications added by many actors in international politics, each pursuing their own interests.
The simpler goal of decent human relations also feels the strains of international politics, as well as the baggage that each person has acquired over the years. Those who ponder what they may do to improve things on a personal level might aspire at the least to the Golden Rule of policymaking: Don't make things worse.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at November 21, 2011 05:38 AM