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September 1, 2017 10:55 am

Jews and Arabs Must Not Give up on Each Other

avatar by Yaniv Sagee

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Twitter.

Recent events at the Temple Mount and elsewhere have caused enormous tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel. This is not surprising, and it is easiest for Israelis and Palestinians to give up on each other in this situation.

Unfortunately, that is also the most dangerous option for our lives here. If we blindly follow the voices of fear and hate coming from both of the nationalities that share this land, our lives will become hell on earth. This is the security and social nightmare incarnate.

Those who provoke conflict by telling the Jews that the Arabs are our enemies — who seek ill for us and take every opportunity to do us harm — do not know the reality on the ground. They incite and lie. The truth is that 85% of Israel’s Arab citizens aspire to be Israelis who live here in a shared and egalitarian society with the Jewish majority.

Those who incite the Arabs — telling them that the Jews are privileged racists who seek segregation and preservation of the inherent discrimination against the Arab minority — are also lying. The reality is that the vast majority of Jews in Israel want democracy, and that Israel is a country that places equal value on all human life.

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The separation between Israelis and Palestinians is fed by fear of the other, and not the desire to preserve privileges and racist perceptions. True, there are Jews like that, but they are on the fringe of the extreme right-wing, and not at the heart of Jewish society. The common interest of the vast majority of the citizens of Israel is a shared life, which is the only thing that can ensure the security that Jewish society yearns for, and the equality that Arab society yearns for. Those who submit to feelings of fear and hatred act contrary to the interests — and true will — of the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens.

Following recent events, Jews and Arabs have asked me how both sides can act in these times of tremendous security tension, fear and mutual hatred.

In the short term, two things must be done.

The first is to isolate the extremists from the two societies — Jewish and Arab — and not allow them to use fear to advance their agenda of hatred. The second is to actually increase the friction between the two nationalities: through meetings and discourse, joint community events, sports, culture, and recreation in shared public spaces like malls and parks — wherever we can continue to demonstrate to each other our ability to live in a common society and to work through our differences.

In the long run, we need to change the way that we act as a country, through education for coexistence, minority participation in government apparatus, equitable allocation of land and resources, acquisition of each other’s national language and the creation of networks of community and municipal partnerships.

I generally open meetings between Jews and Arabs with a famous quote of Albert Einstein’s: “Open your eyes, your heart, your hands, and avoid the poison your forebears so greedily sucked in from history. Then will all the earth be your fatherland, and all your work and effort spread forth blessings.”

This sounds to me like a much better idea than all the metal detectors in the world.

Yaniv Sagee is the CEO of the Center for a Shared Society at Givat Haviva.

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