Esor Ben-Sorek

Living in One Country with Two Names

“You call it Israel. I call it Palestine. Both of us are living in one small country that has two names.”

A comment from an Arab Israeli citizen who studies psychology at the Jewish Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv.

In a recent poll, I was told, some 400 Arab men and women between the ages 18-65 were interviewed by a poll-taker. Only one question was asked of them. “If there were to be a Palestinian state, would you want to move there and live there?”

Don’t jump out of your seat when you read the responses.

“Why do I have to move into a Palestinian state? This is my home here. We call it Palestine while you call it Israel. What gain would I have by changing the place where I was born and where I live?” (woman age 52).

“I dislike the racism here. I hate the prime minister for abusing us with his bitter and angry remarks. But the health benefits and educational benefits my children have here, we could not have the same in a new Palestinian state. I would like to visit there, but never to live there. My home is here in Haifa”. (man age 37).

In the student cafeteria in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the same question was put to a mixed group of young men and young women, some of them Christian Arabs and most of them Muslims.

The responses were loud and clear. Students who responded (about 11 of them, ages 18-23) were unanimous in their answer. Not a single one in the group would consider moving to a Palestinian state.

“We could not get the benefits there like the ones we can get here. And look at us. You see here in our group males and females sitting together, laughing together, holding hands, even sometimes kissing but don’t tell my parents. In a Palestinian state we would have to dress in Muslim style clothing. We could not paint our faces with cosmetics. Boys and girls could not hold hands together. To give up our rights and privileges that everyone gets in Israel just to live in Palestine because they say that we are Palestinians and should support our own country, we tell them, “Yes, we are Palestinians and we are citizens of Israel at the same time. The Jews don’t bother us and most of us have several Jewish friends.”

And so the answers, my dears, were good news to my ears. With that generation it will be easier to establish a more open society, not one of the Ottomans or British models, but of Jews and Arabs living and working together with respect for one another.

Responses by most of the older Arabs interviewed and who lived in the Galilee region and villages in the north were critical of the Israeli government and of Prime Minister Netanyahu whom they accuse of racism. I find that in that respect I agree with them. His remarks are too often negative when speaking of our Arab citizens. He mocks them at every opportunity. He degrades not only them but also himself.

Most Arab citizens in our country speak fluent Hebrew whereas most Israeli Jews cannot speak two words of Arabic. In the Knesset, the long and drawn-out words of the Hebrew-speaking lawmakers are relayed into the earphones of the Arabic-speaking members of our parliament for translation.

They are at all times firmly kept in the loop. They participate fully in Hebrew in their replies to the remarks made by Zionist Jews and they are, in general, more hospitable to us than we are to them.

We are Israeli Jews in the faith of Avraham. They are Israeli Palestinian Arabs in the faith of the same Ibrahim. As sacred as Jerusalem is for us, the Jewish citizens of Israel, equally true is the sanctity of Al Quds for the Arab citizens of our country.

We were meant by destiny to be neighbors… neighbors who demonstrate respect and tolerance one for the other.

We say shalom. They say salaam. Both words mean peace, wholeness. But the words are meaningless unless they are put into practice.

Let us never forget the wise words of one of our sages more than two thousand years ago.

“Lo midrash ha ikkar ela ha maasseh” It is not what one says that is most important. Rather, it is only what one does.”

Or as Americans are fond of saying “action speaks louder than words.”

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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