A good question for both Jews and Arabs in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem
By Jonathan Feldstein
In case you missed it, just over a week ago Israel suffered back- to-back terror attacks during Shabbat (the Sabbath) leaving seven dead and several more injured, some seriously. I was grateful for the many friends reaching out from all over the world, anxiously enquiring how we were. This has happened before, so my response was to write a series of updates of “How We Are”.
Palestinian Arab terror in Israel is not unique, and in the past year it’s been on the increase. However, there was something particularly disturbing about these recent attacks. Part of the reason that terror attacks like these can take place is that Jerusalem is a mixed Jewish/Arab city, roughly two thirds and one third respectively. Jews and Arabs interact widely with virtually no impediments. It’s the norm to see Jews and Arabs shopping together, working together, on public transit, in the hospitals as patients and medical personnel, and much more. So an Arab in a Jewish neighborhood is not new, and rarely suspicious.
Of course, all this debunks the lie of Israel practicing Apartheid against Arabs, but that matters little to Israel bashers when it’s Jews being attacked and killed!
For a few days at least, the attacks were an explosive topic of conversation. Terror attacks don’t take place every day. The norm is the intermingling of Arabs and Jews more than a terror attack, though the threat of an attack exists all the time. Nevertheless, these shook up many Israeli Jews maybe because:
– they took place on Shabbat, the day of rest or
– of the relatively high number of casualties or
– the bigger attack took place outside a synagogue or
– one of the Arab terrorists was just 13!
And then again, maybe because for months now, there’s been a steady wave of terror attacks leaving dozens of Israelis dead and wounded, and each one takes its toll and tension is compounded.
In addition to being in the news in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the attacks were the inescapable subject of many individual conversations.
Of course, there is the grief for an among the families of the victims, that played out on national media in ways that were very personal and heart wrenching. And then there immediately followed the inevitable exchanges of conversations, discussions and questioning between friends and colleagues. In speaking with one friend who works in a setting where many Arab and Jews work together, there was a sense of tremendous stress. My friend didn’t know whether her Arab colleagues were celebrating the deaths, or whether any of them might be the next terrorist to attack, either at her place of work or somewhere else. A colleague who noted that her demeanor was not her normal friendly engaging self, asked if she was okay. She opened up candidly. They discussed their mutual stress and concerns. What is noteworthy is that my friend is an Israeli Jew, and her colleague who expressed concern is a Palestinian Arab.
Another friend expressed tremendous tension in her academic setting which also has a demographic mix of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. On any average day, it was not uncommon for her to engage in intense conversations with her Arab colleagues; sometimes leading to understanding, while other times to prickly friction. But this was no ordinary day!
On the day immediately following the terrorist attacks, my friend reported that there was very little interaction between the Arabs and Jews. The Arabs largely kept to themselves speaking in Arabic rather than engaging their Jewish peers. The same was true with the Jews who were fearful and even angry that terrorist attacks take place at all, much less are celebrated with candy and cake being distributed in Arab communities.
Probably thousands of conversations like this took place with the undertone from an Israeli side that incidents like these make us feel unsafe even around Arab colleagues and peers with whom we interact regularly. In the news the same week, an Israeli Jewish woman reportedly protested being put in a maternity ward room with an Israeli Arab woman. Tension is thick.
Two days after the attack, I was pulling into a gas station to fill up my car. Ahead of me was a brand-new Mercedes E200 convertible. Stunning. It also had green and white Palestinian Authority license plates. At the pump, I commented to its owner, whose name I leant was Mohammed that he had a beautiful car. He smiled proudly. I asked him how much it cost. Also with pride he responded:
That’s about $90,000.
I posted this interaction with a picture of the car on my social media, noting that despite the myth used to blame Israel for an array of suffering of Palestinian Arabs, not all Palestinian Arabs are poor refugees. This attracted a range of comments from calling Mohammed a terrorist (after all, where else would he get the money), and calling me out for playing on anti-Arab stereotypes. I pushed back, sorry that anyone would read that into my comments, but that in this case, I tried to poke a hole in some of the misperceptions that people have about Israelis and their relations Palestinian Arabs.
Often, when people have biases, they cannot consider anyone else’s position. That’s too bad. I also noted that it was too bad that my critics missed the human moment of me engaging Mohammed and his proud response. It’s easy to overlook and disregard the part about the Orthodox Jewish Israeli “settler” initiating a civil human conversation with a Palestinian Arab over his prized motor vehicle.
My conversation also debunks the misperception that there’s apartheid here; that Jews and Arabs don’t and can’t get along and that we dehumanize them. Someone unaware, or unwilling to be honest, would be surprised at the frequency of civil interaction and basic human respect and decency that really is the rule even where I live in the Judean mountains.
Despite the very real tension that people were naturally feeling in the wake of the Shabbat terror attacks that left Jews dead and injured, the personal engagement as I encountered, continues. How are we? It’s complicated.
About the writer:
Jonathan Feldstein - President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.
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