Give peace a chance!

Creating a state that demonstrates to the world what a society looks like in which every human being is treated as a creation of God, in His image, will be a fulfillment of a lofty mission.

Richard Lakin (photo credit: COURTESY OF FAMILY)
Richard Lakin
(photo credit: COURTESY OF FAMILY)
Standing over Richard Lakin’s freshly dug grave in the hills of Jerusalem right outside my hometown of Beit Shemesh this week, I felt angry.
As his wife, daughter, and granddaughter sobbed and wailed with grief, I was overwhelmed with the sense that we are not doing enough. We are not doing enough to protect our citizens, we are not doing enough to root out and punish terrorists before they kill innocent Israelis and, at the same time, we are doing too much to appease the other side.
But then I caught myself. I thought about the words that Richard’s granddaughter shared just moments before as she eulogized her beloved grandfather. She said that despite her emotions regarding the brutal manner in which Lakin was snatched from her, she knows that her grandfather, who marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, would not want her to harbor any hatred, and that she will strive to follow the path that he preached – of loving others, of coexistence, tolerance and kindness. If that is what the granddaughter of a beloved grandfather who was shot and stabbed to death while simply riding a city bus in Jerusalem could say, I certainly needed to find a way to temper my anger and channel my emotions more productively.
The 20th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin has inspired a wave of television and radio programs dealing with Rabin’s legacy. Many experts and pundits are asking and answering the question: “What if?” Statements are made beginning with, “If only Yitzhak had lived, then....” These types of questions and statements trouble me because they distract us from what we must truly learn from his assassination and what we can actually do now to improve our situation.
I am a member of a centrist party that believes that the Palestinians are not ready for peace with Israel.
If a “moderate” Palestinian educator was not able to utter the words, “I condemn Palestinians murdering innocent Jews” on live television when I challenged him to do so on i24 News, the Palestinian side is clearly not ready for peace.
Instead, we believe firmly that we must separate from the Palestinians and take control over our own destiny in order to preserve the Jewish state.
Unfortunately, we have permitted our problem with the Palestinians to have an impact on who we are, as Jews, within Israel. We have allowed it to create friction between Jews and those Israeli Arabs who want to live side-byside with Jews as productive and committed citizens of the State of Israel. We have allowed it to generate strife between Jews who subscribe to a more right-wing ideology and Jews who identify with the Left. Rabin was killed as a result of hatred from within, and the lesson from his assassination is not that we should focus on achieving peace with those who remain committed to our destruction, but, rather, to pursue peace within our own country and among our own people.
I am saddened time and time again by the rhetoric I see online emanating from Jews on the extreme Right against anyone who dares to disagree with them, and I firmly believe that they are preventing the final redemption from occurring. On the other hand, I am shocked whenever anyone on the left assumes that a right-winger is violent and a murderer. Yet, given what is happening in our country at this time, I prefer to focus on the tension that exists between Jews and Arabs in Israel – especially in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks.
Lucy Aharish is a colleague and a friend. I was honored to be present to witness with pride as she lit a torch at last spring’s national ceremony for Independence Day and declared, as a Muslim, that she did so “to the glory of the State of Israel. Lucy told me this week that as she walks the streets of Israel in today’s environment, she sees how Jews look at her as a potential terrorist. She can feel it. Another colleague of mine at i24 News, a Sephardic Jew, said that he feels the same tension, since Jews assume, because of his Middle Eastern appearance, that he is an Arab. This shook me to the core. Where will this leave us when the current wave of terrorism ends? What does this mean for future coexistence between Jews and moderate Arabs in Israel? I would like to humbly suggest that our next step as a nation must be to give peace a chance – not between Israel and the Palestinians – but between Jews and the Israeli Arabs who want to live here as loyal, upstanding and contributing citizens.
Many of you might be thinking that Lucy is only one person, and that most Israeli Arabs are not like her. We witness the members of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset inciting the Arab street, both speaking and acting with extremism. We then make a leap and assume that this is the reality among the entire Israeli-Arab population – which, I remind you, makes up 20 percent of our country’s population. We can choose to focus on the loud and vocal extremists, or we can choose to take note of the growing moderate voices and proactively reach out to them and raise their voices to the fore.
Since the violence started a few weeks ago, Israeli Muslims held two rallies – one in Tel Aviv and one in Jerusalem. At the rally near Tel Aviv University, the attendees help up signs in Hebrew and Arabic that read: “I’m Muslim and I have no other country.” Another prominent sign declared: “We’re against violence, and anyone who supports violence doesn’t represent us, even if he’s an MK.” The young participants not only waved Israeli flags, but some also wrapped those flags around themselves. The rally in Jerusalem included Israeli Arabs from the Western Galilee, who traveled hours to make sure that their voices, seeking tolerance and coexistence, would be heard.
We, the Israeli Jews, must ask ourselves: Are we giving peace a chance in this realm? Are we reaching out to embrace these moderate voices in the Israeli-Arab community and helping them to be heard or are we lumping all Israeli Arabs into one big “them” while continuing to speak in broad terms of “us versus them?” If we would proactively reach out to them, we may discover that this nonbelligerent population is larger than we thought. We may also discover that they do, indeed, have real problems and needs within their villages, and by neglecting these issues we make them feel like second-class citizens.
It will be difficult. It will be a challenge. There is certainly no quick fix. However, this is a defining moment for us as we strive not just for a secure state, but for a Jewish state, that reflects Jewish values. Striving for coexistence requires boldness and courage.
There was a reason why King David prefaced the words “God will bless His nation with peace” by stating that “God gives His nation courage.” As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination and find ourselves fearing anyone who looks like an Arab as we walk down the street, I implore all of you to heed King David’s call and find the courage to reach out to our Israeli Arab neighbors and empower and embolden the voice of the quiet moderates.
We should all follow the example of Kobi Tzafrir, the manager of Hummus Bar in Netanya, who has publicly offered 50 percent off each plate of the chickpea paste for any table in which Jews and Arabs sit together. In the promotional material he declared that in his restaurant they don’t serve Arabs and they don’t serve Jews. “We have human beings! And really excellent Arab hummus. And great Jewish falafel!”
If all Jewish Israelis would learn from Tzafrir and from the words of the late Richard Lakin’s granddaughter, we would be well on our way toward properly using the gift that God has given us with our return to the Land of Israel to be a true light unto the nations. Creating a state that demonstrates to the world what a society looks like in which every human being is treated as a creation of God, in His image, will be a fulfillment of that lofty mission.
The time has come for all Israelis to unite around this message and give this type of peace a chance.
The writer was a member of the 19th Knesset and currently serves as the director of Anglo and Diaspora Affairs for the Yesh Atid party and as a political commentator for i24 News.