THE TOWN of Abu Ghosh on the road to Jerusalem..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Deep inside the Israeli-Arab village of Abu Gosh, Youssef’s father, Suheir, stood in the mourning tent wearing a white shirt with an Israeli flag on the shoulder, with a picture of Youssef, and the words “hero of Israel.”
Surrounded by fellow Muslims and many Jews, Suheir didn’t cry, but rather spoke passionately. “My son, who was killed by a terrorist [while] protecting the Jewish town of Har Adar, is a hero and he died fighting for the right side: Israel. In this ongoing conflict, Israel is the side which stands for justice and is constantly seeking peace. I am proud of my son for giving up his life to ensure the terrorist didn’t enter that village and kill more people,” he said.
As I looked around the tent, dozens of Israeli-Arab Muslim citizens nodded their heads fervently in agreement about the terrorist murder of Youssef “Yossi” Ottman last week. Youssef was a security guard shot dead by an armed Palestinian worker he knew who was seeking to enter Har Adar.
I was speechless. And the truth is, slightly embarrassed. It was the same emotion I felt at the mourning tent of Solomon Gabaria, an Ethiopian-Israeli Border Police officer who was killed in the same terrorist attack as Youssef.
It is also the same feeling I experience every time I visit a Druse Israeli village.
We expect Israel’s minorities to put their children on the front lines to protect all of us, to be dedicated Zionists, and to contribute to society – but how fairly do we contribute to their well-being? Not long ago I was in a Druse village where the half-paved streets were lined with army vehicles and police cars.
“Those are the cars of the people who live here,” Safwan, a Druse Israeli who was taking me around, explained. “The Druse community made the decision to be part of mandatory Israeli Army enlistment, and almost every single youth enlists. In fact, almost all of them choose to have army careers as well,” he said proudly.
“Just put a checkpoint at the entry to this Druse town, and you can call it an army base,” he joked Suddenly I remembered the story I heard of Salim Shufi, a Druse soldier and hero of Israel who saved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s life.
Job training for Ethiopian immigrants; delivering ambulances to Israeli Arab communities; meeting basic needs in Beduin villages; providing scholarships for Israeli Druse; giving Ramadan food vouchers to needy Israeli Arabs – the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has dozens of projects focused on showing, in critical ways, that Israel’s minorities are not alone, or abandoned.
But too often, it feels like we’re doing this alone.
When I drive down the dirt roads of a Druse village, with men in IDF uniform lining the streets, my heart cries about the injustice.
When I visit Ethiopian communities and see their dilapidated and neglected apartments and few available social services, I shake with anger at the injustice.
And when I go to shiva house after shiva house of these diverse, heroic Israeli families, who paid the ultimate price to protect our collective Jewish homeland – and have no regrets – I just pray that it will serve as a wake-up call for us all, and bring these communities a little closer to the justice they deserve.
How can we go to the mourning tent of Solomon and Youssef’s families, and not pledge to do everything we can to strengthen and give their communities what they need to succeed in Israel? I don’t regard the demand for fair treatment for all of the citizens of Israel as a political statement, but rather a moral obligation.
For our border neighbors and enemies, let us continue to fervently seek peace while defending ourselves as necessary. But for our own – our brothers and sisters who hold the same ID card as I and serve in the army just as my children will – let us not ever be so divided that we turn a blind eye to their suffering.