I, Too, Was Scared of Arabs — and They’re Afraid of Us

Security group plays on Israeli fears by pasting up billboards that try to persuade the public why it should support withdrawal from occupied territory.

A billboard campaign that plugs the two-state solution by playing up demographic fears
Gil Cohen-Magen

The left wing has lambasted the generals’ campaign dubbed Commanders for Israel’s Security, in which they’ve posted billboards around the country in Arabic simulating a Palestinian add saying “Soon we’ll be the majority” and web clips online calling to separate from the Palestinians, but are in fact trying to persuade Israelis to withdraw from occupied land.

The campaign ignores one simple, painful fact – that a considerable part of the nation is afraid of Arabs. Yes, yes, scared to death. I myself was scared of Arabs for years, and grew up in a family that was scared of Arabs, which didn’t prevent them from telling stories about their countries of origin, where they were treated like family in their Arab neighbors’ homes and vice versa.

Many words can be wasted on discussing how it’s possible that a considerable part of us doesn’t understand that we, the Israeli side, are immeasurably stronger than they are. It took me years to understand that, and even when I spoke to an Arab for the first time in my life (after I turned 30) I felt fear, no less.

Even Arabic script, like the language, horrified me. I always felt jealousy mingled with suspicion of people who weren’t afraid of Arabs – what do they know that I don’t?

In conflict, a conflict-management specialist once told me, each side is convinced that it’s the right one and also – and each side is also convinced the other side knows it, and is only pretending to be  right.

At a certain stage, after I’d already met Arabs, I realized what my colleagues in the left already knew – that they too are scared to death of us, and they also have a narrative.

Every attempt to bring both sides to a hugging reconciliation workshop is bound to fail. It won’t happen, there will be no love here. The Israelis will be afraid and hate the Palestinians, and the Palestinians will be scared and hate the Israelis.

It is possible and advisable to fight it, but not now, not while terrorism is raging and not when Palestinians meet Israelis mainly at checkpoints.

The Israeli right understood it long ago and is using this fear to amass political power.

Thus the public fell captive to the no-partner and “if they give – they’ll get” paradigms and slogans that are intended solely to leave the Israelis’ fate in the hands of Palestinian leaders, who are supposed to recognize us or stop the incitement videos, whatever comes first.

The Commanders for Israel’s Security group has also realized that emotion leads to action more than any convoluted explanation, maps or demographic calculations, and that if a large part of the public is afraid of Arabs now, what will happen when they become a majority?

Because that’s the part the right isn’t telling the public. It lets the public live under the delusion that in the end the Arabs will despair. But they won’t despair, and when you think of the possible solutions to the situation, there’s no bad solution or good solution, as Uri Avnery says, but one solution, which is to divide the land into two states.

There’s no point in aspiring to a utopian peace, but – at least in the first generation of the agreement – only for calm. That’s a lot, for both us and them, no matter whether it’s called separation, a diplomatic agreement or consensual divorce.

So if the commanders’ campaign starts a move toward a diplomatic agreement, it’s commendable. According to the soft right’s recent discourse on social networks people are beginning to understand that this issue cannot be delayed. We’re here and they’re over there.

Whoever comes out against the campaign must ask themselves why the outrage, is it over the content or the style? Because ultimately there aren’t too many ways to explain that continued occupation of the territories spells the end of the Jewish state.

After all, what is the left talking about two states for two peoples for, if not to preserve Israel as a home for the Jewish people?