Why Jews and Arabs must not give up on each other
Op-ed: If we blindly follow the voices of fear and hate coming from both nationalities that share this land, our lives will become hell on earth. A shared life, the common interest of the vast majority of Israeli citizens, is the only thing that can ensure the security the Jewish society yearns for and the equality the Arab society longs for.
Those who provoke conflict by telling the Jews that the Arabs are our enemies, seeking ill for us and taking every opportunity to do us harm, do not know the reality on the ground. They incite and lie. The truth is that 85 percent of Israel's Arab citizens aspire to be Israelis who live here in a shared and egalitarian society with the Jewish majority. Those who incite the Arabs, telling them that the Jews are privileged racists who seek segregation and preservation of the inherent discrimination against the Arab minority, are also lying. The reality is that the vast majority of Jews in Israel want democracy, in a country that places equal value on all human life.
The reality is that separation is fed by fear of the other and not the desire to preserve privileges and racist perceptions. True, there are Jews like that, but they are on the fringe of the extreme right and not at the heart of Jewish society. The common interest of the vast majority of the citizens of Israel is a shared life, which is the only thing that can ensure the security the Jewish society yearns for and the equality the Arab society yearns for. Therefore, those who submit to the feelings of fear and hatred act contrary to the interest and true will of the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens.
Following recent events, Jews and Arabs have turned to us from the southern triangle to the Jezreel Valley. People who want to discuss the difficulties and strengthen the ability of both sides to preserve their common life in times like these of tremendous security tension, fear and mutual hatred. They asked me what could be done about it.
In the short term, two things must be done. The first is to isolate the extremists from the two societies, Jewish and Arab, and not to allow them to use fear to advance the agenda of hatred, which works against the common interest. The second thing is to actually increase the friction between the two nationalities: Through meetings and discourse, joint community events, sports, culture, and recreation in the shared public spaces like malls and parks, wherever we are together and can continue to demonstrate to each other our ability to live in a common society and to work through our differences.
In the long run, we need to change the way we act as a country, through education for coexistence, minority participation in government apparatus, equitable allocation of land and resources, acquisition of each other’s national language and the creation of networks of community and municipal partnerships.
I generally open meetings between Jews and Arabs with a famous Albert Einstein quote: “Open your eyes, your heart, your hands, and avoid the poison your forebears so greedily sucked in from history. Then will all the earth be your fatherland, and all your work and effort spread forth blessings.” This sounds to me like a much better idea than all the metal detectors in the world.
Yaniv Sagee is the CEO of the Center for a Shared Society at Givat Haviva.