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Last Friday at about noon on the Ayalon Freeway, a semitrailer hit from behind the taxi in which I was riding. From the force of the blow, the taxi careened into a 180-degree turn, finally coming to a stop parallel to the protective wall, with its nose facing the opposite direction. How we were not hurt remains a mystery.
An ambulance came and the police arrived and stopped the traffic. As I emerged unharmed from the taxi, the drivers all around gazed at me in amazement, as if I had just landed from Mars. The driver of the semitrailer ran up to us in a panic and inquired, "Are you all right?"
Those few words were enough to reveal that he was an Arab, at which point the taxi driver burst out at him in anger, "You stupid, stinking Arab! You wanted to kill us!" The Arab driver did not respond.
The shock of the accident was replaced by my sense of being appalled at the attitude of the taxi driver. I suddenly realized that beneath all the scholarly debates that we hold in the media, Knesset and academia about Jewish-Israeli relations seethes a crude and hate-filled popular discourse. If a Parisian taxi driver were to yell "Dirty Jew!" at another driver, we would read about it in the papers.
THE DEMAND coming from Arab-sector leaders to change the character of Israel, from a Jewish state to a "state of all its citizens," is a transparent attempt to void Zionism of its meaning. This is not just a symbolic matter, restricted to changing the flag and national anthem.
When they talk about returning to the lands of the villages destroyed in the War of Independence (upon which cities and kibbutzim were built), they are demanding the "right of return" inside the state.
They aim to abolish the Law of Return which brought millions of Jews to Israel. They seek to create national autonomy for the Arab population - a state within a state.
It won't work. Because if we relinquish the very essence of Israel as a Jewish state, then there is no point in living here. On the other hand, we must not ignore the Arabs' justified demands - for equality in municipal taxes, a higher proportion of Arab employment in the public sector, the release of land for construction, recognition of Arab culture as an important component of Israel's cultural mosaic.
True, most Israeli Arabs are not enamored with Israel; true, some among them collaborate with the terrorists; true, the Arab public representatives often incite against Israel; true, the attempts to reach a covenant of understanding (such as the one launched by the Israel Democracy Institute) have failed.
But it is also true that the Arab community, as a whole, demonstrates admirable loyalty to the state. Perhaps they do so because it is in their economic interest. Maybe they prefer Israeli democracy to the Arab regimes. But if we take into account the virulent hostility that prevails between Israel and the Arab world, the inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric of fanatical Islamists, the suffering of the Palestinians, we cannot but admire the behavior of Israeli Arabs as a whole. Let us just imagine what our lives would be like if Israel's Arabs, with all the resources at their disposal, with their mastery of Hebrew and their familiarity with life in Israel, joined in the intifada. Our lives would become hell.
Therefore, we must - for both our sake and theirs - listen to the Arab voice and be attentive to their just needs so that the temptation to use violence does not overcome their respect for the law.
Neither relinquishment of Zionism nor taking my taxi driver's "stinking Arabs" approach is the answer. What we need is a wise and delicate balance between the majority and the minority fated to live together for many years to come.
The writer is a former Knesset member.