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September 1, 2015 | 17th Elul 5775

Three Years Later

September 21, 2003
Marc Rosenstein

I made aliyah , directly to the Galilee, in 1990; in 1992 I began to work full time in the Shorashim seminar center, "Makom ba-Galil." A major part our activity throughout the 90's was to arrange encounters between Jewish tour groups – mainly teenagers, including NFTY – and Israeli Arab teens living in our area. I gave the same introductory lecture, sometimes three times in a day, on how despite the nagging question of the place of the Arabs in the Jewish state, and despite the cultural divide, and despite the distrust and discrimination, we in the Galilee, Jews and Arabs, had made the decision that we might as well make the best of living together. Since no one was planning on leaving – or on forcing the other to leave – we might as well try to make democracy work here, and bring about social amelioration and progress using the tools of civil society.

Then, on Rosh HaShanah of 2000, the intifada that had broken out in the West Bank and Gaza spread to the Galilee. Tires were burned, roads were closed, rocks were thrown, windshields were smashed – and then bullets were fired. Standing on my front porch, watching the JNF forest burning next to the village across the valley, I was, for a few moments, struck by doubts and even fear. Could it be that my introductory lecture, repeated year after year, had been based on naivete, or stupidity, or self-delusion? When quiet returned, in a few days, 12 Israeli Arabs and a Palestinian were dead, and it seemed that the whole fabric of what we had always called "coexistence" had been badly torn. It took a few weeks for all the broken glass to be repaired, but the doubts, fear, and anger linger still for many people. It was my first response to those events, sent out as an email letter to friends, that gave Rabbi Katzew the idea to invite me to begin writing this diary. It is interesting today to examine where we stand, three years later.

  1. For many Jews, the "message" of those events was that indeed, we had been naïve. The enmity between Jews and Arabs here is organic. There are two national identities, two national liberation movements, two peoples, claiming the same land. The idea of stable, peaceful coexistence is a delusion.
  2. For others, including me, the events were a wakeup call: it is too easy for the majority to overlook or minimize injustice, basking in the warmth of coexistence – ignoring the longstanding and deep seated grievances of the minority. Langston Hughes' classic poem "Raisin in the Sun" asked: "What happens to a dream deferred?... Does it explode?" The questions referred to in my lecture – the place of the Arabs in the Jewish State, the interrelated problems of discrimination and security – can no longer be deferred: they must be addressed or they will explode.
  3. A flurry of voluntary activity, mostly local and small-scale, was stimulated by the events: dialogue groups, " sukkot shalom ," joint projects in various areas. Many of these efforts continue, some have even become institutionalized.
  4. The government commission of inquiry into the violence published its report a few weeks ago. No surprises. Shortly after the events, the government released an analysis agreeing that the investment in infrastructure, education, etc. in the Arab sector had lagged behind parity, and proposed allocating a billion dollars to be spent over several years. Today, three years later, none has been spent.

I believe that our success as a Jewish state will be measured in large part by how we treat the strangers among us. I believe we are failing that test, and will pay the price sooner or later.


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