People often ask me if I’m afraid to remain alone with my children at a time when my spouse is far from home, defending the borders of this country.
I live in Lod, a mixed Arab-Jewish town, and since the events of 2021 when riots erupted in Israel’s mixed cities, Lod has been suffering from post-trauma. But it is precisely from this place, from daily life shared by Jews and Arabs in the aftermath of those events, that I want to propose a new way of thinking about the shocking situation we find ourselves in today.
I do not fear being alone with my children in my home. I do not fear leaving home in the evening to run to the neighborhood bomb shelter. By contrast, six months after the events of May 2021, my daughters did not walk around the neighborhood on their own; they did not feel secure enough at the time to do so.
But this time feels different. And there is no doubt that one of the explanations for the sense of security in the city is the conduct of the police, in contrast to May 2021.
That said, I also cannot ignore the silence of Lod’s Arab residents. Are they confused? Do they feel helpless? Do they feel fear? Solidarity? Or is it a silence born of anger? I wanted to understand from my Arab friends and neighbors the meaning of their silence. Perhaps we should fear what is coming next. Or should we respect their silence and give it space?
These are not questions that can be left until the end of the war; they must be dealt with now. We are at a turning point. What we do and how we talk about the place of Israeli Arabs will determine whether we can continue to live together in the same state, let alone on the same street.
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What I discovered is that the silence and the quiet of my neighbors are born of shock, confusion, and pain. There’s a sense that it is better not to identify with either side. It is a choice not to instigate conflict.
The silence is also born of fear that the magnitude of the reaction to any minor incident may go beyond anything we have experienced in the past. It is an understanding that the lives of Israeli Arabs will be different in the future, as all of our lives will. The lack of response from my Arab neighbors is about much more than just keeping silent.
On a straightforward level, we Jewish and Arab residents of Lod have come together out of a clear shared interest. We will maintain the peace in our city using all the means at our disposal. We cannot replace the police or the municipality – but we are a necessary civil component of the city. We will not let our city burn again, even when we do not all agree on other matters.
On a deeper level, the understanding that this place is the only one that we all call home unreservedly has come into renewed focus. It means that no one is leaving. When I talked about this before October 7th, I defined it as the building of a partnership. As a strong, sovereign 75-year-old state we have the capacity to contain the complexities of the minority living among us and to build a shared destiny together.
What will this shared destiny look like now? Choosing one of two sides is a very painful position to be in. If the choice were clear and easy, it would have been decided long ago.
The State of Israel was established at the cost of great pain to the local population. Recognizing that pain is not to renounce the reasons for it. It is to understand the emotional baggage that is carried by those whom we ask to choose to be part of our collective.
More complicated, perhaps, is the situation for the Arab citizens of Israel who now have to choose sides. Israel is still a sovereign state that must make space for the minority. At the same time, we understand better than ever that Israel must fight for our survival. We cannot meet those who take a stand against us with outstretched arms – or we will cease to exist.
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Philosophers have written that identity is one of the ways we define our existence. Especially during a war for our existence in this land, we must recognize that when the Arab citizens of Israel choose a side, as we expect them to do, it involves their identity on an existential level. A person is not a machine to be reprogrammed as needed.
Arab, Israeli, Palestinian – are all these components reduced to whom one is for or against? Whom one wants to throw into the sea, or, in a harsh current turn of phrase, whom one is willing to burn alive? I want to argue that this is not the case.
To be an Arab-Israeli-Palestinian is to hold multiple identities and each one can have equal value. It can be the connection to family roots and enduring pain from the family’s expulsion from their land when the State of Israel was founded together with an understanding that one is a citizen of a Jewish and democratic state that will not disappear.
The Arab citizens of Israel must make a clear choice to be part of the State of Israel, not simply to feign their participation. The rules of the game have changed and they need to understand this as well.
And on the Jewish side, we need to give space to their experiences. When I make space and absorb my neighbor’s pain for her respected grandfather, the principal of a local school, who was expelled from Lod during the Dani Operation in 1948, I do not say to myself at that moment that it should not have happened. Rather, I acknowledge that I too would have preferred it if my grandfather, may he rest in peace, had not been held in Jordanian captivity during that time.
To give space means that when I talked with an Arab neighbor over the past few days about my own personal pain as a result of this war, I saw the tears in his eyes too, tears that I understand stem from his concern for his relatives in Gaza. Our pain is not the same, but we share the experience of pain at this time. Thus, I can demand that Gaza not remain the same Gaza, while at the same time recognize that the personal experiences of those whose relatives live there are far from easy.
A new direction for this shared destiny is needed, particularly now, because we have no other home. The responsibility for the future falls on all of us Israelis, Jew and Arab alike.