Palestinians walk near an opening in Israel's security fence in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of A-tur.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As a seventh-generation Jerusalemite and the son of a famous Arabist who translated the Koran into Hebrew, President Reuven Rivlin is conscious of the inequality that exists between the Jewish and Arab sectors of the city.
At a meeting at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel on Wednesday, the eve of Ramadan, he met representatives of the kibbutz and of the nearby Arab neighborhood of Sur Bahir.
In wishing the Arabs well over Ramadan, Rivlin said he cherishes fond memories of the Arab greengrocer from Sur Bahir who often came to Rehavia, the neighborhood in which Rivlin was raised, to sell his produce. The greengrocer would speak Yiddish to Rehavia’s Jewish residents and they would answer him in Arabic.
The meeting was primarily an opportunity for journalist Eliezer Yaari, to promote his book Beyond the Dark Mountains.
Born in Jerusalem, Yaari is a former combat pilot, a former program director with the Israel Broadcasting Authority, where he still has a weekly current affairs corner on Reshet Bet, and he is a former director of the New Israel Fund, which supports many projects in the Arab sector.
Yet Yaari, like most people from west Jerusalem, had virtually no social contact with the people of east Jerusalem, until he had to undergo open-heart surgery.
While recovering, he did a lot of walking in and around the Arnona area where he lives, which is close to Sur Bahir. He wandered into the village quite by chance, and he began to talk to the residents, to photograph them, to learn of their past and of their hopes for the future, and what he learned prompted him to write his book.
Dr. Ramadan Dabesh, a peace activist who heads the Sur Bahir residents committee, told Rivlin: “If we are able to live in peace among ourselves and with our neighbors, we can face any challenge.”
The challenge that the people of Sur Bahir have been facing for years is the inequality of education and infrastructure in comparison with those of Jewish neighborhoods.
After listening to Dabesh, Rivlin said: “Jerusalem is one, but I cannot argue with the feeling that there is inequality in Jerusalem.”
Turning to Yaari, he said: “Your personal experience with openheart surgery led you on an inspirational journey of enlightenment.
Jerusalem is likewise in need of open-heart surgery and must embark on a painful, complicated yet vital journey to mend the rifts and reduce the gaps between its Jewish and Arab residents.”
He encouraged the residents to keep meeting and talking to one another, emphasizing that Yaari’s book is an example of the extent to which discussion is a significant factor in the beginnings of partnership.
While he understands it is almost impossible for Arabs to accept that the Jewish people needed to return to the land of their ancestors, because Jews have no other land to call there own, it is essential, he said, that an understanding be reached “that Arabs and Jews are living here together, and neither of us is going anywhere else.”
Rivlin commended Ramat Rahel for proving coexistence is possible. Not only are residents of Sur Bahir employed at Ramat Rahel, but they also participate in community events together with their Ramat Rahel neighbors.