An act of self-destruction

The torched mosque in Beduin village of Tuba-Zangariyya is not something that I, or anyone concerned about future of Israel, should ever forget.

Surveying the damage to the Tuba-Zangariyya mosque DONT USE (photo credit: MATI MILSTEIN)
Surveying the damage to the Tuba-Zangariyya mosque DONT USE
(photo credit: MATI MILSTEIN)
The torched mosque in the Beduin village of Tuba-Zangariyya, in northern Israel, is not something that I, or anyone concerned about the future of Israel, should ever forget.
The mosque was torched in the early hours of October 3 – according to all accounts – by a group of Jewish fanatics. it was apparently another outrage in a so-called “price-tag” campaign of escalating terrorism, routinely directed at Palestinians in the West Bank, but now also towards Arab citizens, who make up some 20 percent of Israel’s 7.7 million citizens.
I visited the fire-bombed mosque as part of a diverse delegation of NGO representatives, working together on “Kulanana,” an ambitious new initiative to shape a better shared future for all citizens. While my colleagues and i represent a very broad spectrum of Israeli opinion, this despicable hate crime galvanized us together. after all, it is hard to imagine a more direct attack on the three interlocking themes underpinning our collaboration: the importance of “citizenship,”, respect for the “diversity” that characterizes Israeli society and the moral and pragmatic importance of “fairness” for the benefit of all citizens, and the State of Israel..
We were graciously hosted by the imam and other community leaders. The Jews in the delegation, secular and religious, immigrant and veteran, brought with us a deep sense of revulsion, shame and responsibility. The Arab delegation members brought with them a mixture of outrage, fear and overly generous appreciation for the solidarity of Jewish-Israeli friends and colleagues. Together, we brought with us a unified message of human, religious and civic solidarity – and some new prayer-books for the community.
I am a Jewish-Israeli Zionist, who moved to Israel over 30 years ago and I am an educator for shared citizenship, working to build a more cohesive shared future for citizens of all backgrounds. For me, the visit, which took place just after Yom Kippur, was as emotionally painful as it was professionally exasperating.
Standing in the blackened, acrid-smelling prayer hall, with its broken ceramics and shattered glass, and above all the charred piles of prayer-books, I felt as though a burning spike was being driven through my Jewish soul. While I know that no historical parallels can be made, the scene took my Jewish memory and conscience to the very darkest of Jewish moments, to that night in 1938 – Kristallnacht – when the synagogues of Europe burned with the fuel of blind hatred toward everything Jewish.
Sitting with our hosts outside the mosque, sipping soft drinks and bitter coffee (a symbol of mourning), we all had opportunity to speak. I took my turn to reflect that the attack had assuredly not been directed specifically at Tuba-Zangariyya. In my view, I told our hosts, the perpetrators certainly hate all things Muslim and indeed all who think and live differently from themselves, including me.
My natural sense of human, Jewish, Israeli moral outrage is matched only by my exasperation at the sheer self-destructiveness of the act, and my belief that it – and other atrocities that I know are still to come – have, to some extent, been encouraged by racist voices within Israel’s government and by certain extremist rabbis.
In 14 years of intensive work and through my relationships with many hundreds of Arab citizens of Israel, I have become convinced that together, Jewish and Arab citizens can shape a decent shared future. However, this demands and deserves a far greater effort of understanding by much of the state’s 80 percent Jewish majority – and all who care about Israel – not to mention some enlightened Jewish self-interest.
For all the current difficulty, I and many others working on these critical issues remain confident that the human, cultural and civic aspirations of Israel’s Arab citizens can and must be constructively accommodated by the Jewish majority and government. The human, social, political, economic, regional and international benefits for Israel are as patently great as the existential cost of largely self-inflicted failure.
While, certainly, a successful shared future for Jewish and Arab citizens will become much easier once regional accommodation is secured and mutual fears retreat, this task – as successive governments have acknowledged – cannot be put on hold.
Looking at the charred Koran on my desk – presented to me by the imam as witness to blind hatred – I can only determine to redouble my efforts and hope that the mosque-burners will inadvertently catalyze the kind of change that Rabbi Jacob Rothschild – a prominent Jewish voice of the American civil-rights movement – attributed to the white supremacists who bombed the Temple on Peachtree Street Atlanta, almost 53 years ago to the day of the mosque burning:
“This despicable act has made brighter the flame of courage and renewed in splendour the fires of determination and dedication. It has reached the hearts of men everywhere and roused the conscience of a people united in righteousness. All of us together shall rear from the rubble of devastation a city and a land in which all men are truly brothers and none shall make them afraid.” 
Mike Prashker is founder and director of Merchavim – The Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel and initiator of Kulanana.