The fragile year of coexistence

Statistics are already telling us that a majority of young Jews do not believe in equal rights for Arabs or in democracy for all.

December 19, 2016 20:46
4 minute read.

AN ISRAELI ARAB casts her vote at a polling station inside a church in the northern village of Reina on March 17, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A miracle has happened here. In complete contrast to our surrounding environment, which has been splintering and disintegrating at a dizzying rate, we live on an island of coexistence. Twenty percent of Israel’s population cannot identify with the national anthem, the flag and its Star of David, or their passport with their menorahs. And yet, with everything going on here – wars and intifadas, the sharp shift to the Right among the Jewish public, years of discriminatory budget allocations, and lack of law enforcement or investment in infrastructure, to name just a few – one-fifth of the population makes a choice, every day, to try once again to belong. To play by the rules. To be part of society rather than oppose it. Here and there, on the sidelines, we see more extremist elements that seek a separate form of national self-determination, but the majority limit themselves to struggling for equal rights and equality of opportunity.

Evidently our leadership does not believe in miracles, or else takes them for granted. The trend that we first saw on Election Day, when vast numbers of Arabs shifted their political allegiance, continued this year with the appearance by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his captive cronies on Dizengoff Street in the aftermath of Nasha’at Melhem’s killing spree. Even before all the details had emerged, while the investigation was still in its earliest stages, the prime minister was already talking about a state within a state, about “us and them.” Fanning the flames rather than restoring calm at a time when the public’s blood was boiling. As if the entire Arab population were guilty. The concept of a handful of lunatics or a single madman – that concept is apparently reserved only for Jews.

The following morning, throughout hospitals, universities, call centers, pharmacies stores and offices, Jews and Arabs went about their work, side by side, as if nothing had happened. This miracle is a stubborn one. It remains stubborn in the face of a leadership that swindles voters at the expense of budgetary allocations meant to bridge social gaps, a leadership that makes headlines at the expense of Arab theater productions and poets for the sake of votes and political support. And just for good measure it even floats the pointless “Muezzin Law”( a new bill restricting the noise of the mosques ) as a trigger for the massive wildfires with which we closed this year.

This November yet again, as the flames of the wave of fires have not yet been extinguished, Netanyahu is already, once more, speaking about terrorism, incitement and provocation, this time from the command post in Haifa. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri is already revoking citizenship, and a senior Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) official is talking about weapons of mass destruction. And once more, an entire population group has to prove that this is not who they are. That this is not everyone but, if anything, a small handful of individuals – and even that has not yet been proved.

And once again the following morning, they wake up and uphold coexistence, trying to share life together side by side. Against all odds and despite Middle Eastern karma. Admittedly, the Arab Israeli representatives to the Knesset also challenged the miracle this year when they boycotted the funeral of Shimon Peres, and MK Haneen Zoabi provides countless examples of provocation for those who seek them. But overshadowing all of that reverberate the clear words of Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List-dominated parties in the Knesset, in Hebrew and Arabic, as he addressed the Israeli media and Al-Jazeera with Haifa ablaze around him: “Why would we want to burn our own land?” he asked. “We live here together, and certainly so in Haifa.” If there were a poster for coexistence, indeed the mixed city of Haifa would be it. For now. Because words have power and politicians, not to mention the prime minister, have a responsibility.

Statistics are already telling us that a majority of young Jews do not believe in equal rights for Arabs or in democracy for all. And on the other side, the younger generation of Arabs feel that Israel is democratic toward Jews and Jewish toward Arabs. They’re beginning to doubt the advantages of playing by the rules and following the path of coexistence. What has taken years to build can be destroyed in an instant. And it seems that this year a special effort was made to sabotage one of the most wondrous things we have here: the fact that despite everything, we succeed in living together. Against the evil winds of the region, against a leadership that plays with fire. Against the efforts of extremists on both sides to destroy any hope for a better future. This year has been especially challenging. Sadly, next year does not bode well. What a waste.

The author is Channel 2’s chief correspondent and anchor of the Saturday evening news, Israel’s most watched news program. @danawt.

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