When I made aliyah way back in 1978, I joined a program called Interns for Peace (IfP) which was founded by the late Rabbi Bruce Cohen. IfP was established after the first Land Day on March 30, 1976. The Government of Israel had begun to implement a secret plan to Judaize the Galilee devised by Yisrael Koeneg who was the director of the Northern District of the Ministry of Interior. The plan included expropriating large tracts of land from Arab communities and building small lookout settlements (mitzpim) on the mountains rising above the Arab communities. The Arab leadership in Israel called for a day of strikes in protests and at the end of the day on March 30, 1976, six young Arabs had been killed by the police. The events of Land Day sent shock waves around the country and around the world. The plan was slightly modified but not really changed. Some of the shock waves created a surge of coexistence organizations. Interns for Peace was one of them. IfP brought young Jewish academics – mostly from the US – to live in Arab villages for two years, where they would engage in community work and develop programs of interaction with nearby Jewish communities. I was in the first group of Interns for Peace. We started with a six-month training program in Kibbutz Barkai. Following the six months, I went to live in Kafr Kara, a couple of kilometers away from the kibbutz. I was a graduate and an activist in the Zionist youth movement Young Judaea. I grew up with the strong belief that there was no contradiction between Israel being a Jewish state and a democracy. It believed it was possible in theory, but in practice it was not being applied, mostly because of the occupation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, which turned all of Israel’s Arab citizens into suspects of being loyal to the enemy and not to their country. As the late former Arab MK Abed el-Aziz Zouabi said “my country is at war with my people.”Kafr Kara is surrounded by agricultural land – large tracts of land being farmed by the nearby kibbutzim – including Barkai where I had lived for six months. I knew that the large cotton field and avocado plantation belonging to Barkai were on land, which prior to 1948, belonged to residents of Kafr Kara. Kafr Kara is more fortunate than many other Arab communities in Israel, because they have a relatively large amount of land. But after the end of the 1948 war, Israel expropriated most of the land of the remaining Arab villages and towns. THE EXPROPRIATION was done in the name of security because just a few months before Israel fought against the Arabs for its very existence. Every Arab town had a “security belt” around it which used to be privately-owned land by people from those communities. All of the Arab communities were placed under a very strict military government, lasting until 1966. Shortly after expropriating between 80-90% of the Arab communities’ land, the expropriated land was given to kibbutzim, moshavim, the Keren Kayemet and nearby Jewish towns. Very little of that land has been returned to the Arab communities despite the fact that they have increased in numbers from 156,000 people in 1949 to more than 1.5 million people today. When I completed my community service in Kafr Kara in 1981, I wrote to Prime Minister Menachem Begin to inquire why the State of Israel was devoting almost no effort to building bridges between Jewish and Arab citizens. I knew that Begin was a democrat. I knew that Begin believed in the ideology of Ze’ev Jabotinsky who wrote that Israel must be a democratic state for all of its citizens, even if it is also the nation-state of the Jewish people. Jabotinsky even wrote that Israel could have an Arab president. As a democrat and as someone who believed in the concept of a Jewish-democratic state, I appealed to Begin to ensure that the Government employ people and resources in advancing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The end result was that I was hired and became the first civil servant in Israel responsible for Jewish-Arab relations. I helped establish a department for democracy and coexistence in the Ministry of Education and I founded and directed the Institute for Education for Jewish Arab Coexistence. Since 1981, 39 years have passed and the idea that Israel can be Jewish and democratic seems further away than ever.The too many years of the Netanyahu regime has increased racism, hatred and fear against the Arab citizens of Israel. The past three election campaigns have increased the hate and have delegitimized the Arab community in Israel. The success of the Joint List in the last election is the response of the Arab community clearly stating: We are here to stay, we demand our rights and we will participate in the future of this country. Whatever government is formed in the coming days or weeks, it is an opportunity to open a new page in Jewish-Arab relations. It may be the last opportunity to prove that Israel can be the nation-state of the Jewish people and a democratic state for all of its citizens. That is the challenge to the leaders of Israel at this time.The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press.