The secret recipe for Arab-Israeli peace? Build libraries!

When we access culture, we can begin to de-stigmatize the other.

Books (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
It’s no secret that currently, relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel aren’t at their best. Tensions over Al-Aksa in Jerusalem seem to be intensifying; there’s at least one new stabbing each day, and the protests and riots that have rocked the country’s Arab sector over the past few weeks show no signs of abating.
Both anti-Jewish and anti-Arab incitement have flooded Facebook and Twitter feeds, with calls to attack, poison and stab. Everyone, but particularly Israel’s young people, seems to have been pulled into a toxic swirl of emotions: anger, hatred, vengeance.
The current bout of violence is the worst since the 2014 Gaza war, and many wonder if the third intifada has arrived. But despite it all, I refuse to believe this violence will consume us, or that the extremists will win.
I founded the AlManarah Association for Persons with Disabilities a decade ago. And as both a person with a visual disability and an Israeli Arab, I am constantly straddling community lines to promote my vision of an Israel that is accessible and inclusive of all individuals – regardless of ability.
Over AlManarah’s short history, we’ve collaborated with almost every kind of Israeli – Arab and Jewish, Muslim and Christian, the religious and the agnostic. Because for us, disability rights are human rights; and for those truly committed to human rights, there is no greater responsibility than community-building.
So what does community-building look like here in Israel? It looks like collaboration. It looks like cooperation, even when it’s inconvenient and even when it’s painful. The answer to the antipathy between Jews and Arabs in Israel is an increase in cultural dialogue, not a diminishment of it. We Israelis – all of us, regardless of where we come from or where we reside – must invest our energies in creating cultural and educational bridges between our communities. We must work to develop our full potential as a society, and to do away with the barriers that stand between us because of religion or politics.
Where can we start, you might ask. How do we possibly go about such a monumental task? Today, I’m asking you not to think big, but to think small.
Several years ago, AlManarah had a dream to create the world’s first accessible library for Arabic speakers who are print and visually disabled. Today, our International Library for the Print-Disabled has more than 3,000 titles in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
Though just beginning, this library is a wonderful example of the potential for ways in which our communities can cooperate for the collective good of Israel: Jews and Arabs, all united in pursuit of disability awareness and accessibility for all.
So what is my answer to the violence and hatred? Build libraries. Build them for Arabs and Jews, Christians and Muslims, the disabled and the non-disabled. Build them because when we foster learning and access literature, we are also accessing culture.
And when we access culture, we can begin to de-stigmatize the other.
Abbass Abbass is the founder and director of the AlManarah Association for Persons with Disabilities, a grassroots organization in Nazareth that seeks to empower, advocate for, and work alongside individuals with disabilities in Israel’s Arab communities. He is a social entrepreneur, leader, and passionate disability rights advocate. Abbass obtained a law degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and prior to founding AlManarah worked as a human rights lawyer in Israel.
Kate Moran is an American currently living in Israel and interning for AlManarah. She graduated from Emory University in May 2015 with a BA in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic.