I spent the latter half of last week uneasy in my skin, under a cloud of blood and chaos, dazed by a feeling of collective guilt. Obviously, I oppose all the horrifying killings that had taken place in Israel over the previous week, but I found myself wondering how to interpret the fact that more and more Arabs saw a need to write, in both Arabic and Hebrew, on every possible platform, that they were sorry and ashamed, that this isn’t our way, that those acts don’t represent us.
At one point, I debated with myself whether I should also join the wave of denunciations. I wondered whether anyone would think my silence actually signified agreement. But something about this expectation to say the right thing in order to get a seal of approval as a “good Arab,” one who exemplifies the hope of a shared life that has not yet been lost, actually caused me to shy away from doing so.
To generalize crudely, Jews never feel the need to condemn acts committed in their name. Yet I’m supposed to denounce other people’s actions just because we’re both Arabs? Just so that I won’t be suspected of supporting those actions?
I don’t think someone who condemns terrorism, crime and violence of any sort is necessarily a “good Arab” in the Israeli sense of the term. But that’s how Jews see it. That’s what makes an Arab “good” – in addition, of course, to being a doctor or nurse on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus.
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As a rule, there’s something ridiculous about these demands for condemnation. Jews demand that the Arabs and their elected representatives issue denunciations, but at the same time, they’ll say they “don’t believe a word that comes out of their mouths” and think they are “hypocrites who will tell you anything to continue getting social security payments” – not to mention that “they say one thing in Hebrew and another in Arabic.” In short, you can’t win.
In any event, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such wall-to-wall condemnations from the country’s Arab citizens – elected officials, famous people, soccer players, doctors, nurses, public-sector and private-sector workers. It was really the whole spectrum.
And indeed, faced with those shocking, difficult sights, it’s hard to remain indifferent. These are human beings who were killed before our eyes, and Arabs themselves are afraid and panicking. They are also the victims of these killing sprees.
But the entire community is also terrified of the inevitable labeling, generalizations, collective threats and instant public verdicts that generally follow such events.
And there’s also one thought that gives me no rest: When a Palestinian dies, Jews assume that it’s because he did something wrong first. But when a Jew dies, it’s just because he was a Jew.
The fact that hundreds of Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army over the past year – most of them unarmed civilians, some of them teens or children – didn’t shock Israelis’ moral conscience. This slaughter gets almost no media coverage, certainly not in the mainstream Israeli media. The lives of these Palestinians, who are shot like ducks at a shooting range, are invisible, worthless.
So before you ask Arabs to issue condemnations, be honest and ask yourselves this: Are Arab lives equally valuable to you? Do you truly denounce the killing of Palestinians and the other crimes against them that are perpetrated in your name? And in general, how many times in your life have you been blamed for another Jew’s actions just because you were both Jews?