"`Tis an ill wind that blows nobody good." An ill wind is blowing over our land. It is not good for Israel, and it is not good for the Palestinians. It is not good for the Jews, and it is not good for the Arabs. One hates to think where it is likely to take us.
Our prime minister has announced that "by 2005 there will not be a single Jew in the Gaza Strip." That must have sent a shiver down the spines of Jews throughout the world, unless their feelings have been so numbed by all the talk of disengagement and separation coming out of Jerusalem, that this outrageous statement did not remind them of similar statements made many years ago in another period of Jewish history.
A recent poll tells us that 64 percent of Israel's Jewish citizens believe that the government should encourage Israel's Arab citizens to leave the country. That should have sent a shiver down the spines not only of Israel's Arab citizens, but of its Jewish citizens as well, unless they have become so used to hearing former minister Avigdor Lieberman's outrageous statements about the need to get rid of Israel's Arab citizens that the idea of "getting rid" of some of our citizens has come to seem quite natural and proper. From this distorted point of view the solution to our problems seems so simple: complete the building of the fence, remove the Jews living on the other side of the fence, then get rid of the Arabs living on our side of the fence, and there you have it - a "democratic Jewish state," all Jewish.
Have we lost hold of our senses? Have we thrown overboard the values that are at the foundation of the democratic State of Israel, in which we take such pride? It is time to wake up and remind ourselves of the norms of modern Western democracies and the dangers inherent in straying from them.
No doubt, the Palestinian suicide bombers and the hundreds of victims they have claimed are the major cause of this aberration that has taken hold of so many of Israel's Jewish citizens. Gone are the dreams of living together in peace with the Palestinians, of establishing good neighborly relations - just get these people out of our hair. Call it separation, disengagement, unilateral withdrawal, it all adds up to one thing: We don't want to have anything to do with the Palestinians, and we want them out of our sight.
Ehud Barak pioneered this school of thought. "They are there, and we are here," he said. It is not such a big step from there to calling for the Israeli government to encourage the emigration of Israel's Arab citizens.
This ill wind is likely to be blowing over our land for some time to come. How do we make sure that our ideals and values don't get blown away by it? How do we anchor ourselves to the land, in principles that we believe in?
First, we must abandon the conception that all territory that is not, or will not be, under Israeli sovereignty must be cleared of any Jews living there. That may be consistent with the doctrine of radical Islamists, and reminiscent of anti-Semitic rhetoric, but cannot be justified on the ground of principles of morality accepted in democratic societies. Of course, Jews will be able to live in territories that are not under Israeli sovereignty only within the framework of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and not based on unilateral disengagement. This is another reason why unilateral disengagement will only lead us away from the aim of a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians.
And secondly, it is just at this time of tension with the Palestinians that we must bring Israel's Arab citizens closer to Israel, and work at integrating them into the fabric of Israeli society. This is equally true of the Arab residents of Jerusalem, if it is really our intention to keep Jerusalem united.
The battle against terrorism goes on, billions are being spent on the fence, but the challenge of integrating Israel's Arab citizens into Israeli society continues to be neglected. All the rhetoric heard on this subject from government ministers is nothing but kalam fadi, empty words. In the long run this is a challenge no smaller than defeating terrorism.
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