Over the past few months I have been thinking a lot about the beating of Tommy Hasson, a resident of Daliat al-Karmel who was assaulted in Jerusalem for speaking Arabic. No one, let alone a citizen of the state of Israel, should ever be the object of such thuggery. Even those antagonistic to the state are entitled to their opinions.
Yet Tommy wasn’t antagonistic. In fact, he had just finished his IDF service shortly before his beating. This unfortunate episode highlighted for me that discrimination against Arabs is not only morally problematic, it can be self defeating. This became particularly poignant on a recent drive through Tommy’s home town. Below, I share my perspective from that drive and a few other experiences that have made me realise how much is at stake when Jews see Arabs only as enemies.
Its Israel’s memorial day. The streets are filled with the blue and white of Israeli flags. At the monument to fallen soldiers, a maintenance crew is sweeping and cleaning in preparation for the ceremony that will surely take place there later that day. There are pictures on display of locals meeting with Israel’s pantheon of military heroes and political elite.
The scene before my eyes would be unremarkable, were I to see it in a Jewish city, town or settlement. But I am not in Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv, or Hoshaya, or Degania. I am in the Druze village of Daliat al-Karmel.
I have been to Ein Yizrael, where the Israelites camped before Saul’s last battle against the Philistines. I now want to see the spring across the valley in the village of Shunem where the Philistines camped. There is a tradition going al the way back to the 4th century that the village that is now called Sulam is the Biblical Shunem. I often drive right by Sulam on my way to Afula. On a whim, I decide to drive into the village. I look for some sign of the spot I am looking for but can’t find it. Though I sense no hostility from the Arab villagers I see, I get nervous and I drive out of the village.
In the nearby Jewish community of Merchavia, I find a local and ask him if there are good relations with people in Sulam. The man looks almost shocked that I would ask such a question. Sulam is populated by the Zoabi tribe — don’t I know about the Zoabis?!? I sheepishly admit that I don’t. He tells me about the tribe’s close connection with the Zionists during the mandate and their decision to break ranks with Arab opposition to the establishment of the state. Of course there are good relations with the village he tells me. It turns out that there are frequent visits of Ultra-Orthodox Jews to the spring. They believe its waters have supernatural powers.
As we drove toward Tuba Zangaria, I wondered how its population would react to a Jewish presence on the cusp of the destruction of their house of worship. At this time of pain, would they be able to distinguish between those who burned their mosque ostensibly in the name of God and those who saw it as a desecration of God’s name? At such a time, what would Israeli Arabs be thinking about their Jewish neighbors?
I quickly learned that one of their emotions was confusion. Soon after our arrival, a representative of the town shared with us Tuba Zangaria’s history of support for Israel. He reminded us that Tuba Zangaria sends young men to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. He told us that the residents proudly named their local sports complex after assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He shared with us how in the midst of the intifada, the town chose to avoid participation in acts of defiance against the state that other Israeli Arabs organized. He recalled that in the waning days of the British Mandate, even before the state of Israel was officially established, Tuba’s inhabitants were willing to fight on behalf of Zionist forces. So many in the town were perplexed; why, of all places, was Tuba Zungaria chosen as a target?
In the seventeen hundreds, a group of Jews moved to the town of Shefaram and of course, they built a synagogue. There continued to be a Jewish community in Shefaram until the 1920’s. When the last of the Jews left Shefaram, they entrusted the key to the door the synagogue with a local Moslem Arab family. I recently visited the schul and learnt that to this day, those wishing to enter the synagogue can call the Jafri family and they will gladly open the synagogue up to visitors. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this sacred building’s history is its most recent renovation. In 2014, local Arab youth and leadership took on a project of restoration of the building as a response to the “price tag” acts of arson against Moslem houses of worship.
Our whole Yeshiva goes to Akko to meet with religious leaders from the various non-Jewish faith communities in the north. The Imam of the Mosque is warm and welcoming. He seems truly sincere in his desire for co-existence. I look him up on the internet and indeed find that he has done some impressive things in Akko. Months later, I see what I believe is a familiar face in the newspaper. It is the same Imam. He was photographed while paying a shiva call to the victims of the Har Nof synagogue murders…
We live in a very difficult neighbourhood. I don’t have any illusions about our need to defend ourselves. Yet I believe that hate and prejudice won’t make us stronger or keep us safer, but they just might push away some friends in a time and place where they are hard to come by.