At the height of the painful clashes between Arabs and Jews last week, thousands of Arab and Jewish citizens, including public figures, participated in joint activities held by civil society organizations in Israeli cities and beyond. What is special about these events is that they are taking place even “while the cannons roar,” concurrently with the riots and the assaults, particularly in the country’s mixed Jewish-Arab communities. This fact is a cause for hope. In the past, only a small number of these activities happened at the same time as the hostilities, with most of them occurring only after tensions subsided.
And so, despite the shock and frustration that have gripped Israelis in the face of these terrible events, it seems that all is not lost. We can view these activities as the first seeds of a shared life based on equality and mutual respect. The ability to live together, after all, is tested not only during times of calm, but mainly in tense times.
Contributing to this development is the strengthening of the position of Arabs in all areas of the economy and in public service, together with the activity of civil society organizations, which for years have been preparing the ground for a shared society. The results of their Sisyphean work are now visible: Even in a state of emergency that is almost without precedent, this shared living space, as it were, is not dissolving.
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We must remember that just a few months ago, Arab-Jewish medical teams around the country battled the coronavirus pandemic together, in an important milestone for our shared society. It is not by chance that the calls against violence and for cooperation are voiced by these teams.
Against the background of incitement attempts by some politicians, community leaders and media outlets, the initiatives by local and national Arab and Jewish political leaders to open a dialogue and quell the flames stand out.
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There is no denying the deep disagreements within Israeli society, nor the fact that the events in Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have a direct effect on the social fabric of both Arab and Jewish communities, but there is no substitute for genuine dialogue. It is the only way to dispel the tension, hostility and suspicion in the atmosphere.
Arabs and Jews, especially in the mixed cities, live side by side, sharing apartment buildings and neighborhoods. The past several days have shown both populations how dangerous and depressing it is to live in an atmosphere of fear and distrust. That is why every initiative, every joint activity that can bring people closer, on the level of the neighborhood, the street and the public space, has great value. When the prime minister chooses to accuse one community of crime and violence, salvation must come from below, from the ground itself.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.