Israeli Arabs, Stop Whining

Should we despair? Get real. The ones who really are in deep trouble are members of the right, especially the extreme right in this country.

Saja Abu Fanni
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Israeli Arabs in Nazareth protesting the IDF operation in Gaza on July 21, 2014.
Israeli Arabs in Nazareth protesting the IDF operation in Gaza on July 21, 2014.Credit: Gil Eliyahu
Saja Abu Fanni

During quieter times, at a forum involving some good people, Arabs and Jews, there was a discussion about the future of Arab-Jewish relations. One Arab intellectual declared defiantly that he is sick and tired of the situation here. He said that his sons would study abroad and stay there too. When he repeated this mantra, I asked him: Why are you threatening the good people who are sitting here? Go and threaten Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. They’ll even give out knafeh (a popular Arab pastry) in honor of your "patriotic" choice.

At the time his words were a single drop of rain. Now, in the shadow of the harsh events in this country, the drop has become a rainstorm. So, welcome, my friends, to the circus of complaints and broken hearts. One is sick and tired of the situation, the second can’t take it anymore, and the third also wants to be taken to some faraway place. Meanwhile, on the other hand, the tears of the neighborhood’s finest are already making up for the shortage of water due to the drought this year.

But since when has the life of the Arab citizen been a bed of roses? Saeed, hero of Emile Habibi’s book “The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist,” says his life in Israel was saved thanks to a donkey that was killed when serving as a barrier between him and people shooting at him while he was crossing the border. A flash of a shot separated life and death, and a flash of luck, or misfortune, separated the possibility of remaining here and that of becoming a refugee.

Really, what are you referring to, my good friends, when you say “you’re sick and tired”? After all, every Arab home that was built here is a story of struggle, every road that was paved, every kindergarten that was opened, every acre that was liberated – all involved heroism. Since when have we had the privilege of despair here?

After all, despair itself has despaired of our steadfastness. Incidentally, life abroad is not what it used to be either; the market is no longer so great. Europe and America are already suffering from isolationism and counter-isolationism. The victims are all the foreigners there, including Arabs and Jews.

But above all I don’t understand the mantra that “in their eyes an Arab remains an Arab.” What were you thinking – that an Arab would become an Ashkenazi Jew? The Arab remains an Arab, and the Jew remains a Jew.

I grew up on the value of Jewish-Arab brotherhood, which even in these difficult times is dear to me. But I have never thought that I had to deprecate myself before a Jew, or vice versa. I saw the beauty and richness of a shared society, between za’atar (wild hyssop) and gefilte fish, with the gefilte fish not deprecating itself before the za’atar, or vice versa.

Anyone who planned to disparage himself and to sever himself from his own society – let him be disappointed. Anyone who wants to become part of Jewish society – he will live with an ambiguous identity. You have to understand that one culture is not better than another.

My mother of blessed memory met her own French Riviera when she visited the marketplaces of Jenin and Nablus and Al-Quds. That’s where she found herself.

The easiest thing is to despair. Your conscience remains clear, and the idea of leaving assumes a respectable ideological aura. But what about the Arab who is fired from his job, or is even physically harmed because of his origin? And even worse, what about the Jewish democrat who is ostracized even by his friends? The Arab at least lives in a supportive society.

Are we the ones who should despair? Get real. After all, the ones in deep trouble are members of the right, and especially the extreme right in this country. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is like a child who plays with a doll made of glue – each blow leads to another entanglement.

This is our time to come and present the alternative, for the good of our two peoples.

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