Arab-Israelis, Jews coexist despite conflict

Sunday 24/07/2016
Arab woman painting a henna design on the arm of an Israeli Jewish woman at the Women of the Earth Festival, Baqa el-Gharbiya, Israel, in March 2016. (Photo credit: Noreen Sadik)

Taybeh, Israel - They may be enemies on the battlefield, in politi­cians’ speeches or on TV talk shows but Arab citi­zens of Israel and Jews have been living together for cen­turies.

Both communities have long managed to overcome hate and suspicion propagated by politi­cians or imposed by politics to live together in peace, with some forg­ing strong, lasting friendships.

Arabs can complain of Israeli dis­crimination against them. Chris­tian and Muslim Arabs do tend to hold less important jobs than Israelis, are barred from top secu­rity and political posts and often deprived of perks offered to Jewish families, such as maternity leave and benefits for children.

Although Arabs make-up 20.8% of Israel’s population of 8 million, less than 7% of Israel’s budget is allocated for districts with pre­dominantly Arab populations. Arab members of Israel’s parliament usually have little say in Israeli policy.

On the social level, however, many Arab residents of Israel and Jews have often befriended each other despite years of wars and violence.

Hanan Abu Mokh, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and Arava Gerzon Raz, an Israeli Jew, live 15 minutes apart. Both are housewives and mothers. And both have a desire for peace.

Abu Mokh, with Gerzon Raz’s en­couragement, turned her farm into a place of learning about Palestin­ian heritage and where women can acquire empowerment skills.

Gerzon Raz is a manager of a so­cial network, a blogger and an ac­tivist.

For four months they worked closely together and in March, on International Women’s Day, they hosted 750 Arab and Jewish wom­en all wishing to better understand their neighbours and all wanting peace.

“To bring Arab and Jewish wom­en together to speak about peace is wrong when we have a hundred other things to talk about,” Gerzon Raz explained, downplaying the significance of the gathering.

Jewish-born Miriam has lived in Taybeh, Israel, for 44 years. At the age of 15, she met an Arab Muslim man and the two started to date.

“My family was angry when they found out and disowned me when I refused to end the relationship,” she said. Two years later, she con­verted to Islam and the couple mar­ried.

“I quickly became accepted in my new community. The people are very warm. I learned Arabic and my knowledge of Islam grew,” she said.

She began fasting and praying and further immersed herself in her new religion. Just a few years ago, she performed the pilgrimage in Mecca, fulfilling one of Islam’s five pillars.

Miriam has five children and sev­en grandchildren but in this family, where religion plays a large role, she said she is relieved that her children married Muslims.

“Islam is a religion that I am comfortable with,” she explained. “I have no regrets about converting or about living in an Arab city.

“It’s home.”

Another story of enduring friend­ships began before 1948 when the state of Israel came into being and centres on a Jewish police commis­sioner, his son and an Arab man from Taybeh and a friend of his.

Today, the families attend each other’s weddings and funerals and celebrate together on religious hol­idays. There is no fear of going to each other’s town, no intimidation by the differences in culture and re­ligion or by political divisions.

Salwa, 74 and the widow of Arab man’s son, said: “We have had many Jewish friends over the years.

“Put politics aside, we are all the same. These families have been with us through good and bad. We attend each other’s important oc­casions, and they attend ours. The worst moments of my life were when my husband and son passed away. They were here for us.”

Ayala, a Jewish housewife and peace activist, said: “Peace will come from the people, not the politicians. We need the peace that they have no intention of working to achieve.”