A few bright spots amid the storm clouds

Alongside new threats, the past year has brought some positive changes that must be nurtured.

Syrian girl in Israeli hospital 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Syrian girl in Israeli hospital 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As the new year begins this week, Israel has plenty of reasons to worry. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to let the storm clouds obscure some of the past year’s encouraging developments.
First, our enemies are more disunited than ever before. With Hezbollah seeking to arrest Hamas operatives in Lebanon and al-Qaida threatening to attack Hezbollah, with Sunni jihadists battling Hezbollah in Syria and Egyptians who oppose the peace with Israel nevertheless backing their army’s crackdown on arms smuggling to Gaza, terrorists groups are less able to target Israel. 
Second, an Israeli field hospital on the Golan Heights has thus far treated hundreds of wounded Syrians, either on site or by transferring them to regular Israeli hospitals. Some patients say they wouldn’t dare tell anyone where they’ve been, but others are obviously talking, because Syrians keep bringing their wounded to the border. Word has evidently gotten out that the hated Zionist enemy, whom Syrians have been taught to view as evil incarnate, can be trusted to provide first-class medical care.
Since all those patients have friends and relatives, Israel touches dozens of Syrian lives with every person it treats. And some of those people are now questioning the anti-Israel propaganda they have heard all their lives. In a country of 21 million people, this is obviously a drop in the bucket, but big changes always start small. And a real change in ordinary Syrians’ hearts and minds would do more to promote peace than all the peace talks ever held.
Third, the Syrian bloodbath has persuaded some of Israel’s own minorities to rethink their attitude toward the Jewish state. So far, the change is confined to two groups on the margins of Israel’s Arab community: Golan Heights Druze and Arab Christians. Nevertheless, both have hitherto aligned solidly with the mainstream Israeli Arab leadership, which decries Israel as a “racist,” “fascist,” “apartheid” state and consistently supports Israel’s enemies.
Since Syria’s uprising began, the number of Golan Druze seeking Israeli citizenship has risen dramatically. As one new citizen explained, “In Syria there is mass murder, and if [the Druze are] under Syrian control they would likely be turned into the victims of these atrocities. People see murdered children and refugees fleeing to Jordan and Turkey, lacking everything, and ask themselves: Where do I want to raise my children. The answer is clear – in Israel and not Syria.”
Moreover, the number of Christian Arabs serving in the IDF (even though most still don’t serve), and pro-Israel Arab Christians recently launched their own political party. “We feel secure in the state of Israel,” explained Father Gabriel Nadaf, the pro-Israel camp’s spiritual patron – whereas in Iraq, Syria and now Egypt, their co-religionists are being slaughtered.
Finally, here’s a positive development completely unrelated to Syria: moderate haredim have at long last started challenging their community’s extremists.
After extremists stoned buses in Beit Shemesh last month, for instance, the moderate haredi Tov party plastered the city with posters offering a rare mea culpa.
“The time has come to say enough,” the posters said. “[The extremists] controlled the public thoroughfares and we were quiet. They insulted and embarrassed people in buses and we were quiet.... They brought a bad name to our town and desecrated God’s name, and we were quiet.... The time has come to stop the bullying and show responsibility for our city [and] to show responsibility for our community.”
Granted, Tov is the moderate fringe of the haredi community: it represents the so-called “new haredim,” who work and even serve in the army, whereas the mainstream advocates full-time Torah study for everyone. But as Tov activists noted, many mainstream haredim also loathe the thugs; the problem is that the thugs have cowed them into silence. Thus by breaking the fear barrier, Tov may persuade other haredim to speak out, too.
Almost simultaneously, a leading haredi journal, Mishpacha, published three columns by regular columnist Jonathan Rosenblum (who also writes for The Jerusalem Post) that used different angles to make the same point: mainstream haredim can’t just complain that “non-haredim hate us”; they need to change some of the behavior that generates this hatred – such as hurling insults at non-haredi opponents (“Nazis,” “Amalek”) and refusing to condemn the extremists’ thuggish behavior. Those articles wouldn’t have been published had Rosenblum and his editors not been convinced that leading haredi rabbis supported this message. 
Even more noteworthy was last month’s denunciation of another group of haredi thugs by two of the haredi world’s leading rabbis, Chaim Kanievsky and Nissim Karelitz. The extremist Atra Kadisha group had been rioting to prevent construction at a Beit Shemesh site that it claimed contained ancient Jewish graves, although several leading Haredi rabbis had ruled otherwise. After the extremists criticized that ruling, Haredi neighborhoods were plastered with posters in which Kanievsky and Karelitz decried the “worthless people” who “opened their mouths against one of the great Torah sages of our generation.”
Granted, Atra Kadisha’s riots were hurting the haredi community itself: The construction was meant to alleviate the community’s own desperate housing shortage, and Haredi couples who had bought the as-yet unbuilt apartments suffered significant financial losses from the two-year delay Atra Kadisha caused. But in truth, haredi thugs always hurt their own community: Fear of having extremists like the Beit Shemesh rioters move in, for instance, has led many secular Israelis to fight to keep haredim out of their neighborhoods. If opinion leaders in the haredi community are finally starting to recognize this fact and fight back, that’s good news for all Israelis.
Some of the above developments, like the Hezbollah-Hamas rift, are completely beyond Israel’s control. But others, like the shift in attitudes toward Israel among some Israeli Arabs and the moderate haredi revolt against haredi extremists, depend greatly on the government’s response. They could spread if the government has the wisdom to nurture this progress, but could easily be reversed if it doesn’t.
So for our national New Year’s resolution, I’d like to propose this: Amid coping with all the looming threats, let’s not forget to also make good use of these precious opportunities.