President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday proposed a road map to the establishment of trust between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israeli Jews and Arabs, which includes absolving the latter from singing the national anthem.
Rivlin was speaking at Givat Haviva-Center for a Shared Society, where he clarified his conviction that if Israelis and Palestinians do not acknowledge their basic and primary feelings of fear and intimidation of one another, such fears will never be overcome.
“Fear will overcome us, if only because it is sadly more palpable than hope,” said Rivlin, who also related to similar mistrust that exists between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs.
The tragedy is that Jews and Arabs are in conflict over the same piece of territory, Rivlin said, adding that he’d recently met an Arab child and a Jewish child and had asked each of them to draw a map of their country. The maps were so similar they were almost identical, the president recounted.
This reminded Rivlin of words once spoken by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in relation to his Israeli counterpart, Yehuda Amichai.
“He is a challenge for me, for he writes of the same place. He wants to use the view, the history, for personal advantage, using my ruined identity. So between us there is a contest: Who is the owner of this land’s language? Who loves it more? Who better writes about it?” Darwish said.
“These words – sharp, aching, and painful – express, perhaps in the most penetrating manner, the complicated feelings that exist between us, Jews and Arabs, the zerosum game between identities, between national stories,” the president said. “My independence is your catastrophe.
You build your identity which negates mine, and I build my identity which negates yours.
This basic and formative experience stands at the very core of the Israel-Palestinian conflict – which has long since turned into a tragedy.
“And we should say honestly: the conflict between us, while it exists between the State of Israel and our neighbors the Palestinians, it exists, to our sorrow, to a different extent and in a different way, also within the State of Israel, between its citizens, between the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. To recognize this, as painful as it may be, is I believe essential, if we truly seek to establish understanding, trust and a partnership between us,” he said.
Rivlin recalled that his father, Prof. Yosef Yoel Rivlin, who translated the Koran, wanted to establish a “Koran Quiz” for the Muslim community, similar to the annual Bible Quiz for the Jewish community.
“He knew and understood that cooperation between us cannot be established with the blurring of identities.
Our pride, as Jews and Palestinians, is in the honor and the importance we attribute to the chain of generations, the spiritual inheritance we have from our forefathers, and our connection to our land. We will not be able to, nor would we want to, give up on it.
“Any attempt to achieve change by way of demands or expectations by one side of the other to relinquish their identity is destined to fail. Not just because it is immoral, but because it is also ineffective,” the president said.
The Jewish public in Israel must internalize and recognize that the Arab public is not an eclectic collection of individuals, just as it is not required to cede its past and heritage, Rivlin said.
“The Jewish public must acknowledge that the Arab public is part and parcel of this land – a public shaped by a collective cultural identity.
To the same extent, and regardless of threats or fear, the Palestinian consciousness and history must never be defined as an opposition or resistance to Zionism or the Jewish people.
“When we seek confidence- building measures between Jews and Arabs, we must work to nurture the positive identities of each side, and, from within these identities, reach out to the other’s culture and narrative.
Such outreach is first and foremost found in language.
The Hebrew language must be learned to perfection by the Arab population, but the time has come for the Arabic language to be learned by the Jewish population. Language leads from the ear to the heart,” he said.
Courageous steps must be taken in order to narrow the huge gaps in budgets and infrastructure between Arab and Jewish communities, said Rivlin, who insisted that there must be equal access to resources, employment and economic opportunities, all of which he said are a basic condition for trust.
Unafraid of stoking the fires of controversy, Rivlin said that there should not be an expectation on behalf of the Jewish public that the Arab public sing Israel’s national anthem “with glistening eyes.” However, he added, there is a just and understandable expectation that the Arab population accept the rules of democracy and citizenship, and that they will play a meaningful role for the benefit of Israeli society in general.
“The Jewish public in Israel expects and will continue to expect to hear clear condemnation from the Arab community of those within its midst who continue to align themselves with the worst of Israel’s enemies and those who seek to undermine Israel’s very right to exist,” the president said.
Similarly, he added, “The Jewish public expects and will continue to expect from the Arab public a sense of solidarity and mutual responsibility as exhibited by the undertaking of public and community service and concern for the public well-being.”