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October 13, 2015 | 30th Tishrei 5776

Dark thoughts

Galilee Diary #259
November 13, 2005
Marc J. Rosenstein

Reconciliation without restorative justice is merely a salve for the consciences of the privileged.
-Stephen Martin, report to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Exactly five years ago, in the wake of the riots by the Arab citizens of Israel in the Galilee and elsewhere, I wrote an email to friends about my reaction to the events. I described how I had moved from a sense of disillusionment and fear to a realization of the depth and seriousness of the challenge facing us in helping the Arab minority (nearly 20%) find its place in the Jewish state.

That email led Rabbi Katzew to suggest I write a regular “Galilee Diary” on my reactions to life here “beyond the headlines,” which in turn led to a format in which each entry is based on a reference to a text; many of these entries are now sent out as the Wednesday content of “Ten Minutes of Torah.” Occasionally I get feedback from readers, which I enjoy. One comment that I have received more than once is that my views often seem to have a “dark” tinge to them. While I make an effort to vary the content of the Diary, to include a wide range of both bright and dark images of Israel, I have to admit that I gravitate toward criticism, out of an idealistic and utopian vision which I cannot seem to shake off. In other words, I am often struck by the dissonance between Israel as I believe it should be and Israel as it is, and, I suppose, I hope that by writing about this dissonance I can make a small contribution toward remedying it. At the same time, I tend deliberately to reign in my criticism, as the audience is not Israelis, but North American Jews, for whom an airing of Israel’s dirty laundry is neither edifying nor useful.

Having said all that, I feel I need to make a comment on the current situation, five years after my first volley:

As I write this, we are into the third week of headlines about violent rioting and arson by young Moslem men in France and other European countries. I sense that the reaction of many Jews in Israel and elsewhere is one of satisfaction: “see, now the Europeans will get a taste of the Arab culture of violence, after all their years of siding with the Palestinians…” Just like some Israelis said after 9/11, “Now the Americans will understand what we have been talking about, regarding Moslem terror.” Blaming the ills of the world on Islamic fundamentalism, Arab culture, and faith-based terror is appealing because it rids us of any responsibility and places us in the comfortable position of helpless victims. However, it does not offer any way out, or any productive course of action we can take. Therefore, it seems to me that once we finish lamenting the unchangeable evil that besets us on all sides, we ought to stop and look inward, and see if there is anything that we can do to improve the situation.

It is my observation (backed by research) that the Arab citizens of Israel are subject to political and economic discrimination, to deliberate, formal policies as well as informal customs that deny them access to resources and opportunities, to power and dignity and quality of life. Many Jews argue that the fact that some Israeli Arabs identify with the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, that they are anti-Zionists, that they even sympathize with terror, justifies this treatment – if they want to enjoy equality in the Zionist state, then they will have to wait until they are all Zionists. I cannot find the morality in that argument, nor can I find its utilitarianism. It seems to me obvious that unless there is an acceptance by the Jewish majority of its democratic, humanitarian, practical-political - Jewish - obligation to make serious efforts toward social justice and toward integration of the Arabs into the social and economic fabric of the state, then we can start counting down to the next explosion. After the riots of 2000, much hand-wringing took place, but now it appears that it was actually hand-washing; virtually nothing has changed. It is comforting to be able to blame the Global Forces of Darkness, but not helpful. If this is our state, then we are responsible for it; and if we don’t take responsibility for it, then it won’t be ours.

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