Healing the rift

Effectively segregated, Arabs and Jews are much more likely to generate and perpetuate stereotypes about the other.

A wall at a  bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem reads "death to Arabs." (photo credit: ISRAEL FIRE AND RESUCE SERVICES)
A wall at a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem reads "death to Arabs."
What can be done to help heal the Arab-Jewish rift? This question has become more pressing as tensions have peaked in recent days.
“Death to Arabs,” “You can’t coexist with cancer” and “Enough with assimilation” were some of the derogatory graffiti spray-painted on the walls of Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem Saturday night. The school, located in the capital’s Patt neighborhood, was apparently targeted because it encourages coexistence by bringing Jewish and Arab students together to study and socialize. In one of the classrooms, Arabic and Hebrew books were piled high and set on fire.
By the time firefighters reached the scene, the classroom was badly scorched.
Shortly afterward, in what was seen as a reaction to the attack on the Jerusalem school, the Orthodox Tel Aviv International Synagogue was defaced.
“In a place where a Jewish state bill will be legislated, books will be burned,” read the warning spray-painted on the outer wall of the house of prayer, which paraphrased a saying by Heinrich Heine.
In yet another incident, a teacher in a school in Ashkelon reportedly sent a hateful WhatsApp message to students that denigrated Arabs.
“At this time it is important to recall,” the teacher reportedly wrote, “that there are also good Arabs and they are here.” He then posted a picture of a Muslim cemetery.
A student who issued a complaint about the teacher was punished, according to friends of the student.
These incidents and others – such as the posting on Facebook of photoshopped pictures of President Reuven Rivlin, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni and other opponents of “Jewish state” bills in Nazi SS uniforms – are all symptoms of the tremendous rift that exists in Israeli society surrounding the issue of the integration of the Arab population.
Israeli society is remarkably balkanized, with rifts not just between Jews and Arabs but also among different Jewish groups. From the earliest age, schoolchildren are segregated by separate school systems. Haredi, modern Orthodox, secular and Arab populations rarely come into contact with one another. And too many of our towns are planned along the same secular-religious, Arab-Jewish divides. The ultimate melting pot, the IDF, does not include the Arab and haredi populations.
Effectively segregated, Arabs and Jews are much more likely to generate and perpetuate stereotypes about the other.
While it is unrealistic to expect more schools like the Max Rayne Hand in Hand school to be established, perhaps more can be done – at least in state-run schools – to bring together Arabs and Jews for joint cultural programs.
But we must be honest with ourselves. The chasm that exists between the Arab and Jewish populations in Israel cannot easily be bridged. And this is not solely a function of segregation. Rather, segregation itself is the result of radically different perceptions of political, national and religious identities.
On the Jewish side, many – particularly the religious – are fearful of foreign influences.
According to a survey titled “Still Playing By the Rules: Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel 2012” conducted by Haifa University sociologist Sammy Smooha under the auspices of the Israel Democracy Institute, Arabs reject some of the most basic tenets of Israeli Jewish consensus.
Almost 65 percent of Arab respondents to the survey said they were unwilling to have their leaders unequivocally condemn violence perpetrated by Arabs against Jews; almost 80% said they were unwilling to consider Israel their country or support it in the event of a conflict with a Palestinian state; over 70% refused to stop seeing Israelis as foreign colonizers who stole the country’s lands from the Arabs; over 65% said they refused to do some form of national service; just under 65% refused to accept Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; and over 70% said they would not stop fighting to change the Jewish-Zionist character of the state.
Of course, defense of the basic rights of Israel’s Arabs should not be made conditional upon them becoming Zionists or performing national service. And projects such as the Max Rayne Hand in Hand schools should be encouraged as bulwarks against bigotry, while those who attack the school should be prosecuted.
Still, we must admit that the gaps that exist between the Arab and Jewish populations are huge and difficult, if not impossible to bridge, though we should not stop trying to heal the rift.