Here is how Israel can truly create a shared Jewish-Arab society- opinion

The challenge to Israel, as a democracy, is to create a genuinely shared society, and the best places to develop the shared society concept are in the mixed Arab-Jewish cities.

 JEWS AND ARABS protest together in Lod with signs that read ‘Together against violence’ and ‘Refusing to be enemies,’ following a night of rioting by Arab residents in the city, in May. (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
JEWS AND ARABS protest together in Lod with signs that read ‘Together against violence’ and ‘Refusing to be enemies,’ following a night of rioting by Arab residents in the city, in May.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

I am a long-time veteran protester. I have participated in hundreds of demonstrations from the time that I was 13 years old (I am now 65).

Demonstrating is a basic civil right in a democratic society. When I was young and lived in the US, I demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. I also demonstrated for civil and human rights in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.

After immigrating to Israel in 1978, I began demonstrating for equality within Israel and against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

There were many other demonstrations along the way against unnecessary and unwarranted wars, demonstrations for the rights of migrant workers, asylum-seekers, and many environmental justice causes. In Israel, there are always many good reasons to demonstrate and always civil society groups of dedicated citizens prepared to take up the cause and organize. 

I have to admit, I don’t like to demonstrate. I usually end up feeling frustrated after a demonstration. In the face of injustice, demonstrating, for me, is simply not enough. That is why I have always been an activist, a social and political entrepreneur. I have always tried to be constructive and to design courses of action for changing reality and having a real impact. Israel is a country where citizens’ initiative is welcomed and it is usually feasible to find support for good ideas and strategic plans. Once an issue is properly identified and the problems defined, the next step is to design actions that can be implemented.

 Women Wage Peace marching  (credit: WOMEN WAGE PEACE) Women Wage Peace marching (credit: WOMEN WAGE PEACE)

Sometimes the issues are taken up by the government and real change can occur quickly. Often the government needs to be lobbied by different public interest groups of citizens. Sometimes think tanks and research centers design plans and present new ideas and strategies. For about three decades I worked on the side of designing strategies and trying to influence government decisions through a think tank that I founded and co-directed.

My modus operandi was almost always to engage directly with decision-makers and those who influence decision-makers. Once decision-makers and influencers of decision-makers are part of the process of designing strategies for change, it is much easier to have real impact.

The eruption of violence within the country’s mixed Jewish-Arab cities this past May pointed to the years of neglect of the social, economic and political needs of Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

The wide gaps that still exist between Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian citizens even after more than 70 years may finally be addressed by the Bennett-Lapid government. But the fundamental issue will not be addressed by this government.

As long as Israel defines itself in a way that excludes its Palestinian citizens as full and equal members of the society and continues to apply laws and policies that provide the Jewish population of the country with supremacy, there can be no real equality. Israel has a Jewish majority of 78%; the Palestinian citizens of Israel are only about 22% of the population. 

Israel defines itself as the Jewish nation-state, but it must also be the state of all of its citizens and the passage of the Nation-State Law in 2018 moved Israel further away from enabling its Palestinian citizens from feeling an integral part of the country.

That feeling is further re-enforced by statements by members of Knesset that David Ben-Gurion did not complete the task of forcing all of the Arabs out of the country in 1948. The very fact that a statement like that can be made in the Knesset without stirring up hundreds of thousands of Israelis to take to the streets is a very worrying reality of our society.

One of the slogans that has resonated quite a bit in demonstrations over the past years is: Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies. I wish that was a true reflection of the reality of Israel in 2021. It is not, but it needs to be true.

The challenge to Israel, as a democracy, is to create a genuinely shared society. The best places to develop the shared society concept are in the mixed cities of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Lod, Ramle, Haifa, and Acre. There are several new cities that are rapidly becoming mixed cities such as Nof Hagalil (Upper Nazareth) and Karmiel.

The only genuinely mixed community in Israel is Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam – a community that since the early 1980s was founded and developed on the basis of equal numbers of Jewish and Palestinian families. As Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam has grown and expanded over the years, the number of applicants of both Jews and Palestinians have increased, and even with new building taking place, there are hundreds of Israelis who would like to live there and simply cannot because of a lack of space and housing. 

I believe that if there was good quality affordable housing available in the mixed cities, both for long-term rental and for sale, in buildings that have a strategy for truly integrated residency for Jewish and Palestinian citizens in the same buildings, that there would be many people who would consciously decide to live there.

Just as Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam created a model for a shared community based on equality, I believe it is possible to create small islands of that model around the country. Ideally creating more whole communities like Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam in the Galilee and the Little Triangle should be advanced as well. For now, I am working with several entrepreneurs and planners to develop integrated housing projects in some of the mixed cities.

I was in Acre recently to meet with some real estate developers. I learned that many of the buildings in the “Mandate” neighborhood are integrated already – a natural development over years. But in much of the new buildings in other parts of the city, I was told you will find whole buildings of Jews and others nearby of Palestinian-Israelis.

The developers in Acre are anxious to work with me in developing some large-scale housing projects that will be integrated by choice. In Haifa I also found two building projects that I also hope to develop as integrated housing. This is my answer to “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” 

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. He is now directing The Holy Land Investment Bond.