The Good Mayor and the Trouble-Makers

Yesterday, Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint Arab List, was giving a live television interview on one of the main streets of Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab city in the north of the country. The mayor of Nazareth, Ali Salam, drove by and shouted at him “Get out of here. We don’t want you here. You have ruined the town. Jews used to come here every Saturday to shop. Now they don’t come here anymore. Our economy is dropping because of you”.

True enough, many Jews were accustomed to flock to Nazareth on shabbat when stores in their home communities were closed. There were cordial relations between shopkeepers and the shoppers, between the Jews and the Arabs of Nazareth. Since the troubles began in Jerusalem and spread into other towns and cities, Israeli Jews have avoided Arab shops. And mayor Salam is very concerned.

In an interview, Nour Mahagneh, a resident of the large Arab city of Umm-el-Fahem, deplored the situation. “No one is happy with the situation. We want peace….” He recalled a time when Jews, Christians and Muslims ate together, socialized together, lived side by side, and he dreams that one day that time will return.

Ayman Odeh and his partner, Hanin Zouabi, the most influential member of the Joint Arab List and a very vocal member of our Knesset, have called for a civil uprising against Israel.

In response to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s appeal for calm, Zouabi shouted at him. “We are Palestinians before we are citizens. We are Palestinians before Israelis… this kind of huge tension between our citizenship, nationality and identity is a tension we did not choose, it is a tension the Jewish State imposed upon us…”

The Palestinian or Israeli Arabs are not totally wrong. Our flag is not their flag. Our national anthem is not theirs. Our language, religion and culture is not theirs. Our four thousand year history is not theirs.

So why do they continue to live among us, to reap the benefits of our National Insurance Service, of our national health service, of our universities, of the freedoms they have here and could never have in any Arab country?

Whenever I happen to hear one of our Arab citizens complain, I always respond by telling them if they are not happy being our citizens, they can freely cross the border into the West Bank and live as Palestinians under the Palestinian Authority or they can cross the Allenby Bridge into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan which is 77 percent of historic Palestine, separated in 1922 by Winston Churchill’s government during Britain’s mandate in Palestine. We, the Jews, were left with only 23 percent.

Usually I get no response, only smirks. But sometimes one will say, “this is my land; my grandfather built the home I live in; my father was born in that home; I and my seven brothers and sisters were born in that home; I live in that home on my land with my wife and my children. The trees were planted by my grandfather. It is my land, my home. Why should I leave?”

Why indeed? If we had more Ali Salams of Nazareth and fewer Hanin Zouabis, I think that peace among us could be just around the corner.

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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