Gilad Perez

Arab Israelis about conflict: ‘I just want peace’

Restaurant in the city center of Jaffa during the war with Hamas. October 8, 2023 (Gilad Perez)
Restaurant in the city center of Jaffa during the war with Hamas. October 8, 2023 (Gilad Perez)

Mohammed Baker (40) is one of the few on the streets this Sunday afternoon in Jaffa, the Arab port town next to Tel Aviv. Together with his mother, he is having lunch in an abandoned restaurant. The war has meant that stores and restaurants remain closed or appear extinct. “We don’t work, the children don’t go to school, everything is closed. This cannot go on,” he says.

The war is well felt on the streets and in the air. Police are present in large numbers, and helicopters fly back and forth to southern Israel. Even at Jaffa’s ordinarily busy traffic circle are two heavily armed police officers. One of them explains that they are patrolling because Muslims and Jews live together in Jaffa, and that can create a tense situation in times of war.

Tensions between Arab and Jewish Israelis have not been reported so far. However, Arab residents, accounting for one-fifth of Israel’s population, are known to face discrimination, and some feel affinity with their brothers and sisters in Gaza and the West Bank. For example, Arabs in Jaffa celebrated last year when rockets flew into Tel Aviv from the Gaza Strip.

A year before that, Jaffa woke up in ruins, full of broken storefronts and car windows. The riots during another conflict between Hamas and Israel surprisingly reached the southern part of the Tel Aviv metropolis. 

A survey published by the Israel Defense and Security Forum and conducted among 260 members of the Israeli-Arab community shows a deep divide between Israel and its Arab minority. Only a quarter of those surveyed last year supported a sovereign Jewish state. 

Not good for either side

Baker does not applaud the violence, saying he even fears the rockets from Gaza. While at the same time, some of his family lives in the heavily populated strip. ”My family there is also terrified if Israel relaunches airstrikes. They have no electricity, no shelter, and hardly any money to live on. Sometimes, I send them money so they have something to eat.”

According to Baker, who follows the conflict through both Israeli and Arab channels, this flare-up has no immediate current cause. “Hamas does not want Israel to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. That is why they are launching the attack now.”

Baker believes in a two-state solution and points especially to the new ultra-right-wing government as the cause of thwarting this ideal. “With figures like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich (both living in the occupied West Bank) in the government, this solution seems further away than ever.”

Silence in the streets

Bashar (56) sits hunched over on a bench before his restaurant. The restaurant is empty, which he attributes to the situation with Hamas and Israel. All Bashar wants is peace between the two groups. “The conflict has to stop.” The oldest bakery in Jaffa, the famous Aboelafya, has been deserted since Saturday, says employee Zado (34). 

On the hill overlooking Tel Aviv, it is striking how deserted the ordinarily busy city is on the beaches and streets. Islamic prayers from the mosque in Jaffa, located next to a synagogue, are therefore all the more heard. After reporting on the war, Egyptian journalist packed their belongings.

Baker and his mother finished their lunch and returned home, hoping that everyday life would return and the family in Gaza would stay safe.

About the Author
As a freelance journalist in Tel Aviv, Gilad closely follows developments in Israel and the Palestinian territories. He does this for the Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad and various other outlets. He attaches great importance to journalistic concepts such as independence and objectivity.
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