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Day 152 of the war: The Haifa conference

My photo of Gur Elroy's greetings at the beginning of the conference
My photo of Gur Elroy's greetings at the beginning of the conference

Yesterday, I attended the Haifa Conference on Arab Politics and Society at the University of Haifa. The topic of the conference, at this point in time, seemed especially significant to me. The conference was sponsored  by Ha’aretz Newspaper, The New Israel Fund, and The Israel Democracy Institute. The mere existence of such a conference during these challenging times filled me with hope, although I knew it would not be an easy experience.

It was the first time I attended a conference in which most of the speakers, including the panelists, were Israeli Arabs. It was evident that the conference planners took the task of finding the right speakers very seriously. The majority of the speakers were young or youngish, as it is their responsibility to work towards changes in their community, in particular, and in Israeli society in general.

When the conference finally started, following the opening remarks, a speaker in the first panel, Attorney Abir Bachar, referred to the earlier segment of the greetings, specifically addressing the sentiment expressed by Gur Elroy, the Rector of Haifa University. Elroy spoke about the ongoing efforts to overcome challenges arising from October 7th. Bachar referred to it as a delirium. This set the tone: it was evident that Israeli Arabs, who are attempting to keep a low profile to endure these horrible “worst of times,” are no longer willing to remain silent. The conference compelled the audience, including those tuning in online from home, to confront challenging words such as “genocide,” “racism,” “oppression,” and “Apartheid” from fellow Israeli citizens. It urged everyone to pay attention to the detailed accounts of the atrocities in Gaza, broadening the narrative beyond the focus on the October 7th massacre prevalent in the Israeli media in Hebrew.

There were two crucial takeaways from the conference that I’d like to emphasize: First, there is no excuse for Arab citizens not to vote. While acknowledging that there are valid reasons they may feel hesitant to be part of Israeli society, at this moment, we don’t have the luxury to explore them. Instead, it is imperative that all of us, without exception, exercise our right to vote to instigate meaningful change. Although it may sound like a simple task, somehow it remains undone.

The brief discussion by Professor Asad Ghannem also prompted me to reflect. He addressed the necessity of returning to Ottoman Palestine and expressed his disdain for the idea of a two-state solution. In this regard, I sensed that in aspiring to achieve ultimate justice at some distant point in the future, the professor is willing to sacrifice the present and the near future of his people. I felt that his theories are too detached from reality, besides the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist many years ago.

In conclusion, I am grateful for the opportunity to listen to speakers we don’t typically hear. I look forward to seeing more individuals and hearing the voices of members of Arab society in mainstream media; it is high time.

About the Author
I hold a PhD in English Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, specializing in writing about issues related to women, literature, culture, and society. Having lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994), I bring a diverse perspective to my work. As a widow, in March 2016, I initiated a support and growth-oriented Facebook group for widows named "Widows Move On." The group has now grown to over 2000 members, providing a valuable space for mutual support and understanding.
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