Arab-Israelis, Jews coexist despite conflict
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.
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.”