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Igniting incitement

Allegations that Arabs purposely set the fires raging across Israel are unfounded and highly inflammatory

So you say “even non-experts understand that the fires are the result of arson? Maybe or maybe not. But you certainly don’t need to be much of an expert to incite, ignite and inflame hatred between people. In Arabic, this is called “seeking a funeral to mourn at”.  In “This is how the arsonist’s terror will fade away,” Ron Ben-Yishai dances on the ruins of burned houses and forests in order to further scare the Jews who live in this place, as if they don’t already have enough reasons to be afraid.

Following an unfortunate and irresponsible tweet by Minister Naftali Bennett — “the only ones capable of setting the land on fire are people to whom it doesn’t belong” — fearful Israelis cranked up their hatred to a level that will soon extinguish every remaining shred of sanity here.

Indeed, the words of the distinguished reporter and arson expert extraordinaire encouraged even more second- and third-rate politicians to do what they are best at: incite and whip up the atmosphere in the public arena, rather than unify and reassure the citizens, if only to a small degree.

Ben Yishai quotes official sources in saying that the fire at my own village, Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom, was almost certainly an unfortunate accident, but in the next breath he declares that it served as an inspiration to others to start a wave of terror by fire!

In truth, Ben Yishai was right, there was inspiration. Having passed a freezing night in the fields together, I feel that our community could teach this country’s leadership a thing or two about humane behavior in times of crisis.

Cohesion and unity in the face of fire is not so surprising in our village – the first and only Jewish-Arab village in the Middle East or the world. It is what makes us really feel that forty years of living together through wars, intifada, crises, military “campaigns” and lots of pain, has been worthwhile. They have been years of valuable investment in people rather than stones; investment in one another, rather than in fences and barriers.

That which opened our hearts, while we waited below in the fields, was the ring of protection placed around our village: the fire and rescue forces who fought to safeguard our life’s project, on this hilltop surrounded by fires that raged on every side. Meanwhile, in a show of good neighborliness, Kibbutz Nachshon, nearby Bekoa and Tal Shahar, opened their gates to us. At six in the morning they took in these evacuated Arab and Jewish men, women and children and offered them a warm and cozy place, without first checking the identity papers that most of us had anyway left behind in our homes.

If you, Mr. Education Minister, are looking for ‘inspiration’, as the ardent journalist phrased it, we invite you to join the Arab and Jewish families who send their children to our bilingual school. On the day after the fire, the pupils and teachers got together and cleaned up the grounds of their school, which, for more than 30 years, has admitted about 220 children annually to study together.

The attempt to sabotage the humanity of Arabs and Jews who live in this common space, in order to survive politically, is a highly dangerous experiment that places in jeopardy the lives of both Jewish and Arab citizens. This is truly playing with fire. If a scorched forest takes years to rehabilitate, the work required to rehabilitation human relationships is far more difficult and painful.

If anyone thinks that there is even one Arab citizen who wants to maliciously burn a forest, a house or a tree, in a way that is “organized and coordinated” as the writer claimed, across the different points of the country where fires have broken out, he is simply paranoid – scared not of fire but of human beings.

Arab villages burned across northern Israel and we never heard a single MK accusing hateful Jews of burning Umm al-Fahm or the towns of Bil’in or Majd al-Krum or Sakhnin or dear Haifa. We have been hearing all along in the news about fires in the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, not just in Jewish towns in specific areas where the wind blows from a specific direction, as Ben-Yishai says.

Ahalan wa-sahlan — welcome to to the Middle East, dear Jews! This east wind affects all of us, in case you hadn’t noticed. Instead of struggling together against the fire, the leadership you have chosen is busy explaining how much your Arab neighbors hate and want to burn you. I do not need to mention here the actual burning of a boy from Shuafat or an entire family in Duma, or how settlers burn the olive trees of Palestinians with frightening regularity. And if there really are people who go out and commit arson, in response to incitement from any direction, they, rather than an entire national group, deserve to be accused and prosecuted.

Although it is difficult and almost impossible to imagine that the troika of Bennett, Liberman and Netanyahu will lead us to a better and calmer place, I urge you, dear readers, for the health of your minds and your sanity, not to listen to voices of malice, or be carried off in the cold dry wind. This ill wind carries within it an unquenchable fire that eventually leads to hell. Look around and see that people, irrespective of religion, race and gender, are afraid of the fire and any other natural disaster, just like you. And it is best to learn how to survive it together, or else we will burn together.

Samah Salaime was born in the northern town of Tur’an located between Haifa and Tiberius. She grew up there and later attended Hebrew University where she received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Social Work. In 2013 – 2014, she was a fellow at the prestigious Mandel School for Educational Leadership. In 2015, Samah became the chairperson of Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam’s Association of Non-profit Educational Institutions, which oversees the community’s School for Peace, Primary School and Pluralistic Spiritual Community Center.Samah is a social worker, community activist, feminist and the founder of AWC -Arab Women in the Center, an NGO which seeks to promote the status of women in the cities of Ramla, Lod and Jaffa, and to combat gender-based violence against women, particularly in Arab society. She moved to Neve Shalom/ Wahat al-Salam in 2000.

About the Author
Samah Salaime was born in the northern town of Tur’an located between Haifa and Tiberius. She grew up there and later attended Hebrew University where she received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Social Work. In 2013 - 2014, she was a fellow at the prestigious Mandel School for Educational Leadership. In 2015, Samah became the chairperson of Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam’s Association of Non-profit Educational Institutions, which oversees the community’s School for Peace, Primary School and Pluralistic Spiritual Community Center.Samah is a social worker, community activist, feminist and the founder of AWC -Arab Women in the Center, an NGO which seeks to promote the status of women in the cities of Ramla, Lod and Jaffa, and to combat gender-based violence against women, particularly in Arab society. She moved to Neve Shalom/ Wahat al-Salam in 2000.
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