The pandemic’s social impact on Israeli Arabs

We are still very much in the throes of Corona and who knows when we will come out of this situation, when we will be able to safely say that Corona is behind us. The impact of the Corona virus is felt in so many realms of our lives, first and foremost we feel the impact in the health and economic sectors, but the social impact has been tremendous as well.

Ironically, it has taken this invisible enemy, the Coronavirus, also known as COVID19, to unite the various sectors of Israeli society. The national struggle in Israel against the deadly enemy has succeeded in doing what we have not: It has brought Israeli-Arabs closer to society at large, it has brought about a feeling of belonging to the country and has lead to a new spirit in Israeli society as a whole. Corona has smacked us across the face into the realization that our destinies are shared.

To be sure, the integration process already began before the advent of the Corona virus. In a recent 2020 poll put out by the Jewish People Policy Institute in April, indicates that this process was already underway. 74% of those asked identified themselves as Israeli-Arabs or Israelis, while only 7% of those polled identified as Palestinian. Compare those numbers to last years poll, in which 53% of those asked identified as Israeli Arabs or Israelis.

There is no doubt that since the advent of the Coronavirus in Israel, Israeli-Arabs feel more integrated and connected to the country than ever before. On the eve of Israeli Independence Day this year, the Israel Democracy Institute published a survey in which people were asked, “to what degree do you feel a part of the State of Israel and its problems?” In the Arab sector the results show that about 77% answered that they feel “very much connected” to the country or “very connected.” These answers exhibit the highest feelings of connection and integration in the decade, whereas between 2014-2019 the number of Israeli Arabs expressing feelings of integration was between 35%-62%.

In the battle against Corona, Israeli-Arabs were not missing from the warfront. In hospitals, Magen David Adom, and numerous organizations, Israeli-Arabs combated the virus. They worked and volunteered alongside their Jewish compatriots against the Corona virus, which does not differentiate between religion or nationality. There are many videos online from the intense Corona weeks that give expression to this cooperation. In one social media video that went around we witness an Arab nurse in a hospital helping a sick elderly Jewish person put on his tefillin; in another a Muslim Arab volunteer, face wrapped in a hijab, was helping out in a day care for holocaust survivors. During the fast of Ramadan she prepared a BBQ for the residents living there for Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence day.

There are many lessons on an individual level that one can learn from the Corona virus days, but there are also lessons that Israeli society must cull, social lessons. Despite the fact that Israeli society is comprised of a wide mosaic of people, from diverse backgrounds, and despite many differences, complexities and challenges which we face as a society, we are all human, we are all Israelis and we all live here facing the same threats. We need one another in order to build civic resilience.

Medical experts already cautioned us that Corona is very contagious, but it seems to me that what is even more ‘contagious’ is the virus’s ability to bring us all together, to overcome our many differences.

For the moment it appears that the Corona virus is here to stay, at least for another while, and the victims of it are many: over 300 people who lost their lives and loved ones, over 30 people in critical situation in the hospitals, hundreds of thousands still unemployed, and the many businesses that have collapsed and have closed their doors. But there is one positive thing that has come to fruition, something that decades and leaders have been unable to do, and that is bring Israeli-Arabs to integrate and participate in Israeli society as never before, to bring them to feel themselves to be an integral part of Israeli society. Now it is incumbent upon us as a society, it is the responsibility of us all, to ensure that this continues well after the Corona days, to a time when the virus is recorded as a chapter in history.

About the Author
Yoseph Haddad is a social activist and director of "BeYachad -- Aravim Zeh la-Zeh," an organization that works to connect the Arab sector to Israeli society.
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