I had planned to write a post about the situation of Israeli Arabs during these difficult times. However, when I saw that my friend Yael Treidel, a peace activist and a bereaved sister, had posted a beautiful text on this subject on Facebook, I knew that her words were perfect. I asked for her permission to translate it into English and share it here, and she kindly agreed. Here is Yael’s message:
“How are you?” I asked an Arab friend this evening.
“Okay,” she replied, but the sigh that accompanied that word told a different story.
“How are you holding up?”
“As always in times like this, we keep our heads down, maintain a low profile, and wait for it to be over.”
But it seems that this time things are deteriorating rapidly. “Standing Together”, an organization for Jewish and Arab Israelis, received hundreds of reports from Arab citizens who were suspended, fired, or received threats just because they dared to express pain and compassion toward Gazan citizens.
Yesterday, the Police Commissioner, Kobi Shabtai, prohibited anti-war demonstrations with these words: “Whoever wants to be a citizen of Israel is welcome. Anyone who wants to sympathize with Gaza is welcome. I will just put him on a bus to Gaza right now.” The police chief completely aligned himself with his nationalist and racist minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, the minister of Internal Security, with total disregard for the law, democracy, and freedom of expression.
Let’s not get confused: the Arab citizens of Israel are in pain, they are afraid, and they are in danger, just like the Jews. Arab civilians were killed in Hamas attacks, and some were kidnapped as well. Arab citizens risked their lives to save Jews from Hamas. They open their homes, volunteer, prepare and send food to soldiers and evacuees from the battlefields of hell.
At the same time, the people on the other side of the fence, those whom our politicians and many media people want to “erase” and “eliminate,” are part of their nation. Some Israeli Arabs have families in Gaza, and they see the pictures and are also pained by the killing of innocent people on the other side. Like me and other Jews, for them too, the killing of children, elderly women, and infants, of any nationality, is tragic, painful, and difficult.
But in Israel right now, they are not allowed to express their pain. They have to remain silent, as speaking out may cost them their jobs, lead to questioning by authorities, or even result in threats. McCarthyism is in full swing here.
So, I promised my friend that I would convey her message, and I say it again here: I am deeply pained and saddened by the killing of civilians in Gaza. I want to emphasize the obvious: this pain does not replace or diminish the profound grief we feel for our own losses, including our friends and acquaintances, and the persistent anxiety about those who were kidnapped, whom I can’t stop thinking about.
Compassion can, and should, transcend political borders. It is certainly not a crime. Let’s be kind to our neighbors, who are equally worried and saddened, even if they speak Arabic. As we navigate through this crisis, let’s emerge kinder to one another, even though our leadership keeps on inciting even now.
We can’t bring back the dead, but we can demand that the government brings back the captives now, before it’s too late. Let’s ensure that from this terrible crisis, something new will emerge, giving us all a better future.