וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אַבְרָ֜ם אֶל־ל֗וֹט אַל־נָ֨א תְהִ֤י מְרִיבָה֙ בֵּינִ֣י וּבֵינֶ֔יךָ …כִּֽי־אֲנָשִׁ֥ים אַחִ֖ים אֲנָֽחְנוּ׃
…فقال ابرام للوط لا تكن مخاصمة بيني وبينك …. لاننا نحن اخوان
‘Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me…
for we are kinsmen…’(Genesis 13:8)
While most of the news media and social media have focused on the conflict between Hamas in Gaza and Israel; unfortunately, that’s not the only front on which Israel is fighting.
The recent intra-city rioting between Arabs and Jews in “mixed cities” (where there are significant populations of both subgroups) has been extremely worrisome. There are those who have said that it is as dangerous and ominous as the rockets being shot from Gaza. While some of these cities (such as Lod and the Jaffa section of Tel Aviv) have seen sporadic confrontations between Jews and Arabs, in recent months and weeks, there has been major rioting – on and off – since Sunday, May 9th.
Sadly, there has been a lot of rock-throwing, destruction and even a few deaths. At least ten synagogues have been torched (though no mosques) and nearly 700 Jewish homes have been burned or damaged (much fewer Arab homes). While, by far, most of the rioting has been carried out by Arabs (the majority of whom are aged in their teens and 20’s), there have also been radical Jewish groups who have retaliated and vandalized Arab neighborhoods.
There has been a lot of criticism directed at the Israeli Police who have not been proactive (to say the least) in curbing the violence or in trying to prevent it. In the last few days the General Security Service (“Shin Bet”) has been brought in to try to augment the work of the police and Border Police.
This round of rioting has been particularly disturbing since cities like Haifa and Acco (Acre) have been bastions of coexistence between Jews and Arabs – both Muslim and Christian – for decades (see the picture below of Haifa with the symbols of the three religions). As a tour guide I have often walked tourists through Arab sections of Acco, Haifa and even Jaffa – without a worry about our safety. It saddens me to see the peaceful coexistence begin to unravel.
A Jewish colleague who lives in the Galilee wrote that he often goes into Arab towns and villages for services (shopping, medical care, etc.). He’s not so sure that he will be able to do so safely in the foreseeable future. On the TV last week we witnessed Jews in one of the aforementioned cities being escorted by the police from their homes to safety. This was a sight that no one dreamed of seeing in the Jewish State.
Nevertheless, there have been some positive developments: There have been some Arab Knesset (parliament) members, as well as local leaders, who have publicly implored the Arab rioters to desist. There have been peaceful demonstrations of Arabs and Jews who have pleaded for the violence to cease and to renew the productive coexistence and civil cooperation which prevailed up to just 9 days ago.
On the television there have been public service announcements showing Arab/Jewish work partners standing shoulder to shoulder (from factories to hospitals….), as well as local friends – Jews and Arabs – from the aforementioned cities who were sitting in each other’s yards speaking about how their lives are intertwined where they live. And, as I write (May 18th in the evening), there are reports that in Lod – which has been particularly violent – the rioting has abated significantly and there are public gatherings of Arabs and Jews happening right now in which the two groups are trying to renew their shared destinies.
Where will all this lead? No one knows for sure. There are some analysts who claim that we are seeing the beginning of a civil war, or at least a third Intifada (Arab uprising); others believe that once there is a ceasefire between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces that the civil unrest will begin to ebb. As one who believes strongly in coexistence, I pray that all Israeli citizens will come to their senses and will rebuild our common lives. May it be God’s will. בעזרת ה’ , إنشاء الله.
(I took the following photo of the roundabout at the bottom of the Bahai Gardens in Haifa, during the “Holiday of Holidays Festival” פסטיבל חג החגים – مهرجان عيد الأعياد which the city celebrates every December, involving all three Abrahamic religions)