Love thy neighbour: a grassroots solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict

In Judaism one of the most important commandments dictated by the Torah is to “love thy neighbour”, and I believe that by properly observing this mitzvah the chances for finding a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict will be significantly improved.

In Israel unless neighbouring Jews and Arabs can learn to at least respect – if not love each other – then peace will never be reached. The vicious cycle of tit-for-tat violence on both sides is doomed to continue unless both parties can begin to see each other less as faceless enemies, but as human beings. See humans with a life. See farmers who are financially ruined as their crops are separated from their homes by the West Bank Barrier, not just as Palestinians. See them as parents whose sons and daughters were murdered when a terrorist detonated a suicide device in a downtown Jerusalem pizzeria, not just Jews. How can this change? And can it change? As of now, I would say that no. The situation at large cannot, but on a grassroots level it can – and should.

Indeed, if we are to have peace then the basic human barriers between Jews and Arabs must be broken down. Whilst kayaking down the River Jordan in the summer of 2011, I found myself in a boat with half a dozen dark-skinned teenagers. I assumed from their accented Hebrew that they were Mizrahi Jews (of Middle Eastern extraction), yet when they switched to Arabic it became clear that I was not sitting with my Abrahamic brothers: but rather cousins. They were Druze Arabs, and although the perceived “barriers” of ethnicity, language and nationality were at first intimidating; I realised how unimportant they were. They asked me what music I liked: if classic gangsta rappers were to my taste. I answered that no, they weren’t and then asked the same question to my friends. And indeed friends we had become within those few minutes. I like Arabic music, so I asked which artists they liked. They did not know the first few, but when I mentioned Nancy Ajram – a beautiful Lebanese singer – their eyes lit up. Obviously they liked her in more than one way! It transpired that we even had two of the same favourite songs: Habibi El Nour El Ain and Linda Linda which much to everyone’s amusement we sung together. In Arabic. For the few minutes we were together we were friends and then after that last bend in the river, we went our separate ways.

From then on, those Druze were no longer just Arabs who lived in the north of the country but people like me. People who I would happily invite into my home for a meal or go into town with to see a film or play. Although my experience was fleeting and limited, it was truly life changing. Real change comes at a grassroots level, and perhaps if more people had similar experiences to mine from both sides of the ethnic divide then they would see their opposites as not adversaries, but equals and peace could be that much closer.

About the Author
Daniel J. Levy is a graduate of the University of Leeds and Oxford, where his academic research primarily focused on Iranian proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. He is the Founding Director and Lead Consultant of the Ortakoy Security Group, and has contributed editorial pieces to The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and Israel Policy Exchange. In his free time, he enjoys reading, running, and cooking. He can be followed on Twitter @danielhalevy.