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Arabs and Jews: Destined, not doomed, to live together

The President of Israel affirms that Arabs are part and parcel of the country and says both sides must condemn violence
President Reuven Rivlin laying a wreath at Kafr Kassem Sunday, October 26 (photo credit: Courtesy/ President's spokesman)
President Reuven Rivlin laying a wreath at Kafr Kassem Sunday, October 26 (photo credit: Courtesy/ President's spokesman)

Dear friends, I have come here today, as a member of the Jewish People and as President of the State of Israel, to stand before you, the families of the slain and injured, to mourn and remember together with you.

The brutal killing in Kafr Qasim is an anomalous and sorrowful chapter in the history of the relations between Arabs and Jews living here.

The State of Israel has recognized the crime committed here. And has rightly and justly apologized for it. I too am here today to say that a terrible crime was done here. An illegal command, over which hangs a dark cloud, was given here. The same terrible dark cloud which was ignored by those who carried out the murder of innocents. The Supreme Court ruled explicitly, and in so doing expressed not only the legal nature of the State of Israel, but also of our true moral and ethical values. We must understand what occurred here. We must educate future generations, about this difficult chapter, and the lessons which we learn from it.

I am not the only representative of my family to have come here. The realization of the enormity of the act that took place here drew Avraham Shapira, my uncle, to this place in 1957. He, along with the honorable leaders of Kafr Qasim, worked on the establishment of a “sulha” [Arabic for resolution between peoples].

I know there is criticism, among even some of the people sitting here, regarding this sulha. There is no doubt that this sulha could not undo the spilling of innocent blood on the streets of this town.

And yet, it was a symbol of courage, to reach out a hand, and stop the cycle of bloodshed.

Friends, just as I have arrived here, in order to stand before the families whose loved ones’ lives were cut short, so I cannot stand here and not express the deepest concern that we are sensing today, with regards to violent terrorism, that has occurred over the past days, on the streets in eastern Jerusalem and indeed across the country.

On Wednesday night, I was present at the funeral of a newborn baby, just three months old, Chaya Zissel, who was cruelly murdered by an Arab terrorist, a resident of East Jerusalem. This abhorrent murder of a child shakes and disgusts all those who have a heart. This murderous act of terror marks another difficult moment in the painful history of the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy.

This is a tragedy in which we have lived and struggled for over 150 years, Jews and Arabs. A tragedy that has cast a dark and heavy shadow over all of us, first and foremost over the relations between Jews and Arabs in the State of Israel.

I have come here today, not despite the events in Jerusalem, but specifically against a background of the terror and violence occurring there. I have come here to state that which is clear, because today, when there are those who wish to sweep us all into a maelstrom of destruction and pain, even the obvious is important to state. I came here today, specifically during these difficult days to reach out my hand in the belief that your hands are outstretched to me and to the Israeli Jewish public in turn.

Friends, “I hereby swear, in my name and that of all our descendants, that we will never act against the principle of equal rights, and we will never try and force someone from our land.”

These are not my words, but the words of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the ‘Beitar’ movement. Words he spoke more than 80 years ago, and which I repeat here today.

The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish People, who returned to their land after two millennia of exile. This was its very purpose.

However, the State of Israel will also always be the homeland of the Arab population, which numbers more than one and a half million, and makes up more than twenty percent of the population of the country. The Arab population of the State of Israel is not a marginal group in Israeli society. We are talking about a population which is part and parcel of this land, a distinct population, with a shared national identity and culture, which will always be a fundamental component of Israeli society.

And so, even if none of us had sought it, we were destined to live side by side, together, with a shared fate. It is not only the land which we share. We share the same economy, the same welfare system, and a shared public space. We travel together on the same roads and highways, and play together in the same soccer stadiums.

Despite our futures being bound together, it seems we have yet to understand the significance of this. We have yet to take responsibility for shaping our shared path. Instead we allowed our relationship to be driven by fear, hatred, ignorance, and hostility. Just look where this hatred has led us. To cemeteries, to hospitals and to living in fear.

The time has come for us all to understand that when we allow violence and incitement to dictate our lives we are neglecting our responsibility to our own future, and to the lives of our children and grandchildren.

I am not naïve.

There is no point in denying or ignoring the reality of relations between the communities. Between the Jewish and Arab populations of the State of Israel, there remain the sentiments of a difficult past. We belong to two nations, whose dreams and aspirations, to a great extent contradict each other.

A sizable proportion of the Arab public, are not prepared to accept the idea that the State of Israel is the state of the Jewish People. To my deep sorrow, there remain those amongst the Israeli Arab population, who stamp on their citizenship, and continue still to join with the enemies of the State, to incite hatred, and to undermine any attempt to build trust between people.

On the other hand, I am aware that the establishment of the State of Israel was not the realization of a dream for the Arabs of this land. Many Israeli Arabs, forming part of the Palestinian people, feel the hurt and suffering of their brothers on the other side of the Green Line. Many of them experience not uncommon manifestations of racism and arrogance on the part of Jews.

But dear friends, despite all of this, despite the difficult and deep rooted hatred, I believe it is possible to establish trust and partnership between us, the Jews and Arabs of the State of Israel.

I believe this for the simple reason that, none of us, on either side, have any other choice. We are not doomed to live together, but we are destined to live together, or instead to fight one another until the end of time.

The Jewish and Arab communities cannot pretend that the other side does not exist; we cannot hope that the other side will disappear if we simply close the curtain. We have to find a path. This path it seems, will not be laid on the foundations of love, but it can and must be built with an objective perspective, and with mutual respect and commitment.

Accordingly, the Arab population of Israel must be brought to internalize and accept that State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish People. As long as there exists any aspiration to eradicate the Jews from this land, there will be no chance of building a true partnership.

Along with this, the Jewish public must understand, that the ambition of so many, to live alongside a Zionist Arab minority, which proudly sings the Hatikvah (national anthem), will not, and cannot be realized.

Within the framework of this mutual commitment, the State of Israel can and must demand from all its citizens, from all communities, the acceptance of the State’s sovereignty, its democratic values, and similarly, the removal of those who seek to undermine it.

Moreover my honored friends, me must state plainly: the Israeli Arab population has suffered for years from discrimination in budget allocation, education, infrastructure, and industrial and trade areas. This is another obstacle on the road to building trust between us, a barrier which we must overcome. Poverty and a sense of deprivation provide a breeding ground for nationalist and religious extremism, and we ourselves fan these flames when we do not insist upon the principle of equality between citizens of the State of Israel.

Along with all these issues, the most difficult and important challenge that lies before us is the need to deal with the suspicion, hatred and hostility between communities. Here there are no shortcuts. A lack of familiarity between the two sides, of each other’s language and culture, will always lead to misunderstanding. In order to begin to overcome this, we must meet. We must talk and listen to one another. In the harsh reality that prevails today, these things may seem impossible, but it is this harsh reality which proves we have no other option.

Establishing partnership between us is an existential need.

The relationship between the Arab and Jewish sectors, will have a decisive impact upon our future, the Israeli economy, and also I believe, the chances of reaching a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Friends, I have come here today to identify with your grief. As a Jew, I expect from my coreligionists, to take responsibility for our lives here, so as President of Israel, as your President, I also expect you to take that same responsibility. The Arab population in Israel and the Arab leaders in Israel must take a clear stand against violence and terrorism. All that live here, must today stand up and speak out against violence, against those who try to plunge us into the abyss.

And I must tell you, this voice is not being heard. Neither clearly nor strongly enough.

I want to tell you clearly. Your denunciation of Arab violence does not in any way weaken your civic struggle. Denouncing violence is not an expression of weakness, but of strength. It is possible to fight fiercely against violence, and still carry the flag of the struggle for social and cultural equality.

Those sitting here, and chief amongst them the Mayor, my honored friend Adel Badir, are proof of this. Mayors and local authority heads here with us today, with outstretched hands as good neighbors, are proof of this. The youth sitting here, students from schools in Kafr Qasim and Herzliya — they are proof of this. Specifically Kafr Qasim, the place where this tragic event occurred, has become over the years, a symbol of good neighborly relations, a symbol of cooperation, and proof that partnership between us is possible.

We must all be a part of the struggle against violence and extremism. This obligation falls upon each of us.

Honored friends, I believe that young men and women, Jews and Arabs, have a crucial role to play in our ability to look to the future.

I believe wholeheartedly that, if we truly understand that we have no other choice; if we take joint responsibility for our future, the relationship between us can be transformed from a cause of friction, into a source of strength. A symbol of the ability of Jews and Arabs, of all of us, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael, to learn to live together.

Bless you all.

The above is the full, translated text of a speech delivered in Kafr Qasim, Sunday 26th October, 2014 at a memorial ceremony marking the 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre.

About the Author
Reuven "Rubi" Rivlin is President of the State of Israel