I recently paid a visit to a friend of mine who resides in an Arab town near my own. To be upfront, it has become somewhat intimidating for Jewish Israelis to enter Arab towns in the current climate. The October 7, 2023, massacre by Hamas happened and we are at war. I’m located in the northern part of the country, and we frequently hear explosions in the distance. So far, both my town and my friend’s town have remained relatively calm, although the tension is palpable.
My friend and I had exchanged a few phone calls during this time, with the typical “How are you?” and “Is your family okay?” questions. His response was, “Personally, we’re okay, Alhamdulillah. We hope to see you soon.”
After reading several articles detailing the challenges that Arabs in Israel are currently facing (see for example, here, in Hebrew), I decided it was time to visit my friend. I comprehend the need for vigilance to ensure that nobody collaborates with the enemy, in this case, Hamas, given the ongoing state of war. However, what remains unclear to me is how harassing professionals like medical doctors, lecturers at colleges, stand-up artists, and others over some social network posts, some of which are quite old, aids in the war effort or furthers Israel’s goals for the post-conflict period.
My friendship with him and his family has endured for many years, even in the face of numerous events that could have strained it. For instance, I recall the May 2021 “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” which saw serious riots within Israel between Arabs and Jews (see here). That was a terrible situation which reminded me of the very violent events of October 2000. During one of those days, I was returning home from work and got stopped by the police due to violent protests on the road. I tried to find an alternative route, but that too was blocked. It took me several hours to reach home safely.
This time, despite initial concerns stemming from the rhetoric of some politicians (see this one, in Hebrew), it has been possible to maintain a degree of calm between Jews and Arabs within Israel. Hopefully, this restraint will persist without sparking violence between the communities. This serves the interests of all except for the enemy Hamas and, perhaps, for some radical factions within Israel.
In regions like the Galilee, there is traditionally significant interaction between Arab and Jewish communities, primarily for work and commerce. However, following October 7, both sides have reduced this interaction significantly, resulting in economic damage for both communities. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this situation will change until the military operations conclude, and even then, it may take some time for things to return to “normal.”
No group in Israel has suffered more than the people living on the Gaza Strip border, who went through a harrowing ordeal on that fateful Saturday. Their suffering persists as they now find themselves as refugees within their own country. It will take a considerable amount of time for them to return to their communities and homes. Ensuring the thriving of this region is not only their goal; it’s a goal that the entire Israeli society shares.
To this critical objective, we must add another one: strengthening the process of making Israel a more equitable society, offering the Arab population of Israel opportunities for full integration, participation, and contribution to the security and success of the nation.