Living Together in Israel…The Nicest Place in the World

In her November 12, 2014 Times of Israel blog “More about Dahlia – and Lubna,” Melanie Takefman called on the Israeli media to take the lead in writing tributes to the Palestinian victims of violence, as well as Israeli victims, recognizing the other side’s humanity by telling “their personal stories, the details that make them human,” and acknowledging the human loss on the Palestinian side because “each civilian casualty there, too, has a name and a face and dreams and a profession. Each casualty, there too, is a grave loss to society.”

Since then, the ongoing politically motivated violence has escalated and ties between Jews and Arabs in Israel are being further strained. However, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in the wake of the recent horrific terrorist attack and loss of life at Kehillat Bnei Torah Synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem: “We should not discriminate against an entire public because of a small minority that is violent and militant.”

I would add to Ms. Takefman’s call that we need to recognize, not only the casualties, but also the large majority of Arab-Israelis – neighbors, friends, colleagues at work and at school – for whom Israel is also home. Each of these too has a name and a face and dreams and a profession. And each may also become an innocent target of an indiscriminate terrorist attack.

In my previous Times of Israel blogs, I shared brief excerpts of the stories of some of these ordinary people – Christian, Muslim, and Druze – who were shopping, riding in buses, studying at college, or sitting in their living rooms – and suddenly found themselves and/or their loved ones victims of suicide bombings in 2002 or a rocket attacks in 2006. In addition to the personal stories of Sonia Dibeh and the Hassan Family, I now include those of Roza (a pseudonym) and the Khouri Family – and some of the details that make them human.

Sonia Dibeh, a twenty-nine-year-old Muslim woman who was born and lives in Jerusalem, was shopping on Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem on January 27, 2002 when a suicide bomber exploded outside the store. As a Muslim woman, she was afraid of two things: “of the terrorist attack itself and of the Jewish people in the store who knew that I was an Arab…the only Arab person there.”

Although telling her story is very difficult, “it is good to remember that something happened, to remember how I used to be and how I am now with my life.” She decided that “I can’t die. I should continue. I can’t live with anger and depression. So I continued with my life. I have more patience. I take the time to do things in a normal way.” As a social worker, she advises other traumatized people “that there are difficult things in life and that we should get through them and we should continue.”

Since opening in 1925, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has a long history of promoting cooperation and coexistence between Jews and Arabs. On Thursday, July 31, 2002, the peaceful environment was shattered by violence when a bomb packed with shrapnel exploded among Arab and Jewish students having lunch in the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria on the Mount Scopus campus. Nine people – four Israelis and five foreign nationals – were killed and eighty-five injured.

One of the survivors, Roza, a Muslim woman, Jerusalem native, and student at Hebrew University, had experienced another suicide bombing on Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem five years earlier. “In the piguim (terrorist attacks), I felt like it was the end of the world. I always knew that there were piguim, but I always thought that it wouldn’t happen to me… In the first one I saw everything and in the second I was rounded up and arrested with all of the other Arabs in the area… When I remember it, I feel anger. It was not exactly traumatic because I had experience… Since then I understand what the Palestinians experience, and what I see on television I experienced myself.” Roza is perplexed about her feelings.

Maysoun Hassan, nineteen, was a beautiful young woman – with blue eyes, red hair, and glasses. She was self-confident, talented, and a gifted student. She was special – the driving force in her home and in her own family. On August 4, 2002, Maysoun was killed and her sister Jihan was injured and traumatized in the suicide bombing of Egged bus no. 361 at Meron Junction near Safed, as they were on their way to college and then to shop for Jihan’s forthcoming marriage.

Their father, Amin Hassan, was the director of the Israel Olive Board and the head of a well-known Druze family from Sajur. He knew that he had to be strong for his family and was helped by his Druze faith and fate after Maysoun’s death – the first Druze woman to be killed in a terrorist attack,

After the attack, Amin felt he had two options: either he could allow his bereavement to control him or he could utilize his loss to do something positive. So he decided to honor his daughter by dedicating his life to advancing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, speaking out about reform and tolerance between people until his untimely death on October 9, 2008.

The north of Israel was hit hard by rocket attacks from Lebanon during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah/Lebanon War. On August 6, 2006, a rocket struck and collapsed a residential building in the mostly Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas in Haifa and set it ablaze. Trapped inside were thirty-eight-year-old Nabila Khouri and her parents, Mounir and Fahima – a Christian Arab family and life-long residents of Israel – reflecting the diversity of Haifa’s residents.

Although the Khouris describe their survival as “a miracle,” Nabila now sees life differently. “Before the attack we had thought we were safe. When you are in your home, you think it is a protected place where nothing can harm you. And surprisingly it occurred in our home, so now home is the more dangerous place for me.”

She also sees people differently. “There are bad people and good people, but most people are a combination. As human beings, we have the negative and the positive in our hearts. So why do we use the negative? It’s nicer to use the positive.” Looking forward, she hopes that “the whole world would be white, people would love each other, and there would be peace. In this war there was no difference between people – Arabs, Jews, Christians – the blood of all was involved together. So, we should stop focusing on differences and live together in Israel, the nicest place in the world.”

Let us hope and pray with Nabila and her parents, Sonia, Roza, and the Hassan Family for such a world of peace and that we all – Arab Israeli and Jewish Israeli – may live together in Israel, the nicest place in the world!

About the Author
Zieva Dauber Konvisser, PhD, is a Fellow of the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University. Her research focuses on the human impact of traumatic events, such as terrorism, genocide, war, and wrongful conviction. She served on the National Commission on American Jewish Women and is currently on the international board of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma and the advisory board of Strength to Strength. She is the author of "Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing" (Gefen, 2014). The book can be ordered here:
Related Topics
Related Posts