Among our millions of readers world-wide is one Protestant pastor who very frequently shares a comment on many of my articles.
He is an American Episcopalian minister (the Yankee version of Church of England) who is puzzled by our Israeli democracy which he holds to be unkind to our non-Jewish citizens. He insists that we are apartheid-niks when it comes to relations with our Arab citizens.
Surprisingly, he neglects to criticize us for our treatment of Christian citizens. He needs a reminder that we don’t hang rebels on a cross. Not that we ever did. You cannot put the blame on Hamas or Hezbollah. It was the fault of Pontius Pilate.
To understand the meaning of apartheid (the Afrikaans word for “separation”) one has only to look at South Africa and Israel to see the differences.
In Israel, no Arab has to sit at the back of a bus. No Arab is forbidden to drink water from “Jews-only” marked fountains. No Arab is refused entry into restaurants, cafes, theatres, playgrounds, etc.
No Arab is denied entrance into any of Israel’s colleges, universities, law schools or medical schools.
Every Arab citizen has the right to vote. Arabs are members of our parliament (Knesset). Arabs are judges in our courts and even in the Supreme Court. Arabs are among the finest physicians in our hospitals.
The puzzled pastor should plan his visit to spend more time in Acre, Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberias, Safed and the more than 100 Arab villages from the north Galilee to Beersheba in the south, home to our Beduin population.
He should conduct a poll, asking every Muslim Arab he meets if the person would prefer to live in Jordan or another Muslim Arab country instead of Israel. He will be astounded to learn that perhaps not 100% would prefer living with Jews in Israel, but certainly 99% would happily assent to continue the good life they live here.
Poor puzzled pastor. If he is looking for a good sermon for Sunday preaching he might consider the cordial relations between the cousins born into the family of our common father, the patriarch Abraham/Ibrahim.
Jews may not have wanted contact with Samaritans long eons ago because the Samaritans did not go into forced Babylonian exile and they oppressed the Jews who were allowed to return to Israel thanks to the edict of the benevolent Persian king, Cyrus the great.
Likewise, the Jewish people, uprooted from their native land for 2000 years of exile, returned to the land of their fathers to redeem the land from its bareness, to till the soil and to plant trees, to drain the malaria-infested swamps and to rebuild the land with their Jewish sweat and brow.
In the meanwhile, the wealthy Arabs vacationed in the hills of Lebanon and the poor fellaheen (peasants) remained in a desert-like land being given a new birth by the Jewish pioneers since 1862.
Some of the finest doctors and specialists working in Israeli hospitals are renowned by and loved by their Jewish patients.
There is a Muslim Arab doctor, a gynecologist, Dr. Ahmed Tibi, who has served as an elected member of our Knesset for decades and who speaks a beautiful and mellifluous Hebrew in addition to his native Arabic. He is an anti-Zionist and a supporter of Palestinians outside of Israel. But he is treated with respect by his fellow members of the Knesset who totally disagree with his views and opinions.
To be patently honest, Israeli governments, past and present, have often ignored the needs of Arab towns and communities. Infrastructure in those towns is often lacking in government-funded repairs. Arab schools often lack some of the facilities which are prevalent in all Jewish schools.
Housing is a problem for many Arabs. In order to build a new home or to add more structures to a present home, the family must apply for a building permit. Such permits are frequently denied and when the Arab family builds or adds to a home, the army is sent in to demolish the illegally-built structure.
As difficult and as unfair as it may be, the Arab home-owner prefers his home to be in the Jewish State of Israel !
In the Biblical period there was one man among the twelve minor prophets who began his prophecy in Persia in the eighth month and second year of the reign of king Darius. His name was Zechariah and he, like the prophets before him, had visions. But his visions differed from those who preceded him.
While there is little mention of angels in earlier prophecy, the message of Zechariah is full of visions of angels and through them he preaches the word of God.
Zechariah urged the people to practice justice and mercy in order that God’s Kingdom could be established on earth.
In that manner of preaching he was a true follower of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah.
And his prophetic promise is one which we Jews read each Sabbath in our prayer-books:
“V’haya Adonai l’Melech al kol ha-aretz ba yom ha-hu yihiyeh Adonai echad u’shmo echad”…. And the Lord shall be King over all the earth—in that day the Lord shall be One and His Name One”.
Zechariah’s Episcopal puzzled pastor’s namesake should look at what the Jews have achieved. And then he must ask himself what have the Arabs achieved.
I am adding in my Hebrew prayers each day for a new vision of blinding light for the puzzled ones who walk the earth.
May that light be for a blessing. In Hebrew we say “im yirtzeh Hashem”. In Arabic we say “insh’ Allah” and in proper English we say “if God so wills it”.