Not all Israeli heroes wear Magen David necklaces or tzitzit. Jewish Israelis must never forget that when the ‘bat-signal’ beamed over southern Israeli skies, and trusted government security representatives failed to look up, Arab citizens didn’t shy away from the call of duty. Stories of heroism during the October 7th massacre help us all understand what really happened that dark day. Those stories remind us all that the beating heart of Israeli society is copious comradery which extends beyond religious and ideological affiliations.
The stories of Arab-Israelis heroes like Ismail Alkrenawi need to be known, first and foremost, by all Jewish-Israeli citizens. Arab citizens of Israel, who have often been the victims of racism and failed governmental policy, are proving to be just as Israeli as their fellow Jewish citizens. They serve alongside their Jewish-Israeli neighbors, they care for their injured Jewish-IDF comrades in hospitals, and they exemplify Israeli chutzpah as adequately as anyone. According to a recent survey, “70% of Arab citizens now express a sense of belonging to the State of Israel and a shared concern for its challenges.” This truth may mark a turning point in the Jewish-Arab-Israeli special relationship. The State should acknowledge and seize upon this significant shift in sentiment.
As difficult as it is to do, Israelis must plan and prepare for the ‘day after’ not only in Gaza, but in Israel as well. Capitalizing on the social cohesion that has temporarily subbed in for severe polarization, could be relatively short lived if policymakers and people don’t plan correctly. Post-war, there will be an opportunity to reshape Israel, and change the face of its leadership, moral fabric, and overall identity. This will only be possible if all segments of Israeli society are represented, understood, and participatory in this pivotal next chapter of the Israeli story. A long forgotten and misunderstood Arab-Israeli population will be crucial for this process.
Jewish-Israelis must know: Arab citizens of Israel are not a ‘third rail,’ they should be embraced as equal partners, and understood as the fellow heroes that they are during this perilous period. They must also know that the overwhelming majority of Arab citizens don’t sympathize with Hamas, don’t want Jewish Israeli citizens pushed into the sea, and don’t identify with any form of Gaza or West Bank related Palestinian leadership. By highlighting stories of Arab-Israeli heroism, hopefully Jewish-Israelis can begin to see their fellow citizens as partners, not pariahs.