Last night I joined a group of Israeli Jews affiliated with the Tag Meir Forum who paid a solidarity visit to Nadwa Abu Ghosh and her family at the community center in the Israeli Arab town of Abu Ghosh, just west of Jerusalem. Nadwa miraculously survived an attempt one day last week of Israeli Jewish extremists to beat her and her children up for no other reason that she is Muslim (that ought to sound familiar to Jews!).
She spoke to us briefly and sincerely last night. She said that she was recognized simply because she was wearing a hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering for a religious Muslim woman. Fortunately, according to her testimony and that of a friend of hers who was in the car with her and two of her three daughters one night last week, she had good reflexes and was able to quickly drive away from the rambunctious mob of Jewish extremists who attempted to attack her in her car in the Malchah neighborhood of Jerusalem, after a soccer game between Betar Jerusalem and the Arab team from the Israeli Arab town of Sahknin.
This attack followed a noisy soccer game in Jerusalem during which Jewish soccer fans spent much of the time chanting anti-Arab songs and slogans rather than paying attention to the game. It is not the first time that Jewish extremists have attacked innocent Arabs just for kicks after a soccer game in Jerusalem. It is unfortunately a recurring phenomenon that the police know about but do not do much to stop it or to apprehend the culprits. Yesterday, however, it was announced on Israeli radio that the people who have done this have been arrested by the police, so perhaps law enforcement is beginning to take these hate crimes seriously.
Why do these hate crimes continue to happen in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel?
There are a few answers to this question.
- Firstly, law enforcement has been lax in dealing with this, so that extremists feel that it is acceptable, almost “normative” behavior these days that they can easily get away with in our society. And law enforcement, even when it does work, takes a long time, if ever, to prove in court that the culprits actually committed the crimes of which they are accused.
- Secondly, more and more young Jews are educated towards hatred of others in their schools, homes, youth movements and at the soccer matches. Xenophobia is a growing phenomenon in certain parts of Jewish society in Israel. While it is not new, it is increasing in intensity and in popularity, especially among Jewish extremists in some well-known yeshivahs and settlements in Israel and the West Bank. So far, very little has been done to arrest and stop so-called “religious” Jewish educators who are inciting to hatred all the time, but apparently are not violating any laws.
- Thirdly, more and more of our Jewish politicians—who are vying for support every day among growing numbers of Jewish extremists — are not only engaging in hate talk all the time, but inciting others to do so. They seem to think that it is the “cool” or the correct thing to do, when in fact their acts and their statements are often immoral and extremely contrary to Jewish values, as far as I and most of my colleagues in the Tag Meir Forum are concerned.
The solidarity visit of the Tag Meir Forum last night in Abu Ghosh was another attempt to alter the public discourse and to present the genuine humanistic values of Judaism to our Arab neighbors rather than the extremist versions which dominate the news. From the reactions of the people in Abu Ghosh, our visit was meaningful and important to them.
We were welcomed by the mayor of the town, Mr. Issa Jaber, who is a long-time colleague and friend and a veteran educator in the field of Coexistence Education in Israel. He told us that he was very glad that we came to make this solidarity visit since “we don’t want to let the extremists win. We all have to combat this kind of phenomenon of extremism—it is our responsibility.”
According to Dr. Gadi Gvaryahu, the chairman of the Tag Meir Forum, which includes 51 Jewish and interreligious organizations in Israeli society, “we came here to Abu Ghosh to build support for groups in Israel who seek to live in peaceful coexistence with each other.”
As someone who has been an active member of the Tag Meir Forum in recent years, I recognize that this coalition represents mainstream Jewish thinking and behavior in Israel, and we want our Arab neighbors to know this. Together, we must consistently raise our voices of peace and sanity, to marginalize the extremists.
At the end of the visit, Nadwa Abu Ghosh spoke to us about her traumatic experience in a meaningful and personal way. Despite this attack on her and her friend and her children, she will continue to teach the values of coexistence and shared citizenship at the Jewish-Arab bi-lingual school in the community of Neve Shalom/Wahat Al Salaam, near Ramlah, and she will continue to send her children to the bi-lingual bi-cultural school in Jerusalem, which is operated by the Hand in Hand organization. She will not give up. Rather, she will continue to teach humanistic values in her educational work every day.
We can learn from her model. We should not give up either. We should not allow ourselves to fall prey to cynicism, despair and apathy, which are rampant in our society in recent years. Rather, we must continue to speak out and educate for mutual respect, recognizing always our common humanity and our common destiny in this land.