Back in June, I published a series of blogs “Look how Israel treats the Palestinian Arabs” which can still be viewed here. This latest blog is about Israeli Arabs. In the first two parts I focused on news about Israeli Arabs in the work place, and their medical treatment. This third part features Israeli Arabs and Jews who are intent on making progress towards peaceful co-existence.
Arabs and Jews in Israel regularly work together to improve the environment. A shining example is Israeli Arab Dr Abu Hamed who is director of the Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, based at Kibbutz Ketura. Then back in August last year, Friends of the Earth Middle East won the “Intercultural Dialogue for Ecological Sustainability” award. The group consists Jordanian, Palestinian Arab, and Israeli environmentalists (Jews and Arabs) and seeks to advance “sustainable regional development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace in our region”. More recently, Jews, Muslims, and Christians from the Jerusalem-based Interfaith Centre for Sustainable Development established an Eco-forum to confront environmental degradation.
To help reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment, Israel is now a major producer of organic crops. Israeli organic farmers use owls, instead of poisons, to keep rodent pests under control. The only problem with this idea was that many Israeli Arabs used to believe that owls were bad luck and would kill them when they flew over their land. Educational seminars have since helped remove such superstitions and explain that owls are important assets. And to ensure safe farming for thousands of Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens, soldiers in Israel’s Engineering Corps recently finished clearing three minefields in the Arava (South) region.Using our bountiful agricultural produce, four Israeli chefs – a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian Arab and an Armenian have brought co-existence into the kitchen. Together they founded ‘Taste of Peace’ which promotes inter-faith understanding and respect through cooking.Then in May, Israeli-Arab Jawadat Ibrahim made the world’s biggest dish of humus. Ibrahim runs the Abu Ghosh restaurant and got into the Guinness Book of Records with a 4087 kg satellite dish of humus. Here he talks about his love of Israel and Jews.
There were countless events in the last 15 months that promoted good relations flourishing beween Arabs and Israelis in the Jewish State. The Peres Center for Peace marked International Day of Peace with activities at the Peres Peace House on Jaffa beach. It attracted hundreds of Israeli Jewish and Arab families, and was open to the general public, free of charge. In June, Israeli President Shimon Peres visited the Bedouin village of Hura in the Negev and was made an honorary sheikh - an Arabic term of respect reserved for village elders and religious leaders.
Religious respect for Muslim Arabs is always a priority for our leaders. Besides the usual ‘Ramadan karim’(good wishes) from the Prime Minister for Ramadan, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat fired the Ramadan cannon in 2010 and in 2011 to mark the end of a particular day’s fast. But were you aware that IDF soldiers in Judea and Samaria were given formal instructions not to eat, drink or smoke in front of fasting Muslims?We see co-existence really working when human lives are threatened. Unfortunately the Palestinian Authority still practices incitement that often spreads to Israeli Arabs. It certainly wasn’t good news for a little Arab boy when Arab rioters miss-threw a firebomb into his parents’ house. Luckily for him, an Israeli policeman was on hand to rescue him. Another tragedy has forced thousands of Sudanese Muslims to flee to the Jewish State in order to escape the brutality in their original country. Although these refugees do place a huge burden on tiny Israel, this moving film demonstrates vividly how many Sudanese families appreciate Israel’s provision of a safe haven.
In contrast to the PA and the Sudanese Janjaweed, I will conclude by giving some examples of how Israel educates its people to respect the stranger in our midst. Amal Elsana Alh''jooj and Vivian Silver are co-Executive Directors of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development. In June, they won the 2011 Goldberg IIE Prize for Peace in the Middle East. Also in June we welcomed Colombian pop singer and UN Goodwill Ambassador Shakira to Israel where she promoted her global education campaign with a stop at a joint Israeli-Arab school in Jerusalem.
But the final word has to go to to Hagit Damri, executive director of Beersheba’s Arabic-Hebrew bilingual Hagar School. It is really amazing that despite the rocket fire from neighbouring Gaza, Hagar is such a beacon of co-existence. Half of the children are Arab residents and half are Jews, even though in the classroom it’s almost impossible to tell who is who. Hagit Damri states the key phrase simply - ‘We are one community’.
Looking forward to sharing Part 4 of this series with you here next week.
Michael Ordman writes a weekly newsletter containing Good News stories about Israel.