Last week, a friend who volunteers teaching English to kids in an Arab village near Karmiel mentioned an informal survey he’d done among the kids he teaches. He asked them, hypothetically, who they wouldn’t want living in their village.
He listed a whole bunch of different types of people: Arab Christians, Americans, religious and non-religious Jews.
It turned out that the main group of people that the kids didn’t want coming to live in their village was religious Jews.
Because, according to the kids, religious Jews hate Arabs more.
In other words: not because they hate us, but because they believe we hate them.
I was astonished, but actually this makes sense. They probably figure that the people who are most passionate about the religion are also the most passionate Zionists. And thus, the most passionate Arab-haters.
To me, being a religious Jew is totally about Israel. But it is not at all about hatred.
I always figured that when I made aliyah, I’d understand the situation here a lot more clearly. You know, being actually present on the ground, as opposed to being way off in North America.
That’s about as accurate as a flea expecting to understand a dog’s life just because it lives on the dog’s back.
There’s no way.
I mean, that dog is running around, catching frisbees, cuddling with its owners, napping, eating, dreaming, rolling in the mud. And there’s that flea: hanging on for dear life, hoping it will be right side up at the end of the day.
If anything, seeing the situation on the ground makes it even more complex and confusing. Instead of thinking about “Arabs” as a whole, you have to think about individuals. The 80-something Arab Muslim I met last week who lives in Haifa and speaks better Hebrew than most Jewish Israelis. His best friend is a Jew and they go to all of each other’s simchas. And then there’s the guy who stabbed a young Israeli soldier who was sleeping next to him on a bus. I wonder if he’s ever had a Jewish friend.
Let me clarify one thing: when I’m talking about Arabs here, I’m not talking about Gazans or anyone else living under the Palestinian authority. Just about folks with Israeli citizenship, who live in Israel just like me, and who happen to be Arab.
Do we hate Arabs because they stand in the way of creating a truly Jewish state? Because they kill our kids? Because they refuse to sing our national anthem in the Knesset, since it speaks of the Jews’ two-thousand year longing to return to our homeland? Because they haggle with us relentlessly on the way to the Kosel?
Yup, I’m just a flea here, hanging on for dear life. And it turns out I don’t have any more answers than I did back in Canada.
I suspect many religious Jews, especially olim, deal with this situation by not looking at it.
And some deal with it by hating, because hating is easier than understanding.
But if you hate, where do you draw the line? Do you hate the Arab cabbie who blasts some kind of shouty Arabic sermon over his cab’s speakers? The doctor who works in the neighbourhood’s health clinic on Shabbat so a Jew doesn’t have to? The kid who brings you your (kosher) nuggets at McDonald’s? The bus driver who chats obliviously on the phone as he plummets down the hill from Tzfat?
(Yes, it’s true; almost all of my encounters with Arabs in this country have been as a customer and not as a friend or neighbour.)
And then, too, how much of what we feel as hatred is actually fear? Fear that we’ll be the ones the next terrorist drives a car into, or throws stones at, or stabs while we sleep on an Egged intercity bus.
When I mentioned this to my 20-year-old son, he said it made perfect sense. But then he thought about it and qualified: religious Jews outside of Israel might hate Arabs more, simply because they know more about the situation here and feel more strongly about Israel.
But here in Israel, I think the hatred is spread out pretty well equally. And to me, at least, it doesn’t seem to have much connection with how religious or how Zionist a person is. There are religious people and Zionists who can envision ultimately sharing “their” Israel, and others who can’t.
Arabs are all around us. I believe this is a good thing. A friend of mine used to grow a few flowers in her garden, but hated bees or insects of any kinds. Earthworms, too. And I’d tell her, “You wouldn’t want to live in a world without bees in it.” And earthworms. None of those flowers would exist without them.
This is their country, too.
In the picture at the top of this post, by the way, both the soldier and the kid are Arabs. And I have that soldier to thank, in some way, for keeping me alive here in my Holy Land.
I suspect most of Israel’s Arab citizens are just fleas like we are, clinging desperately to the hairs that keep their lives stable and hoping not to get too splattered in mud.
Did you start reading this thinking I had all the answers? I don’t, though there are plenty of blogs out there that think they do, if that’s what you’re looking for.
I just know that I don’t want to be a person who hates. My Judaism includes other nations, including the descendants of Ishmael. I want to live peacefully and defend others’ right to do the same.
Does your Israel include Arabs??? Let me know in the comments.
A few books I’ve read recently on this topic that might or might not be helpful:
- I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity
- The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide
- Catch the Jew! (read my full review here)
- Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me (graphic novel)
- Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City (graphic novel)
- How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (graphic novel)
Tzivia / צִיבְיָה
[photo credit: Israel Defense Forces via Wikimedia]