The flurry of activity that followed the violent clashes in the Galilee in October of 2000 has led, it seems, to very little change. Of the Jews of the Galilee, a handful, perhaps at most a few hundred, have gotten involved in organizations and projects that seek to improve the treatment of the Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of Israel, and/or to bring about dialogue and cooperation between Jewish and Arab citizens. Many people are afraid and/or angry and see the problem of the Arabs in Israel as a challenge for the police and the army. Some are confused. Some figure that if we have returned to a situation of calm, then things must be OK. As so often happens here, many people allow themselves to become so preoccuppied by the frustrating and frightening confrontation with the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza that they simply refuse to relate to the difficult domestic issues that are festering all around them.
Our own response here at Makom ba-Galil to the October events was to seek to expand and intensify the types of programs we have always done, projects that give Jews and Arabs opportunities to learn about and from each other, trying to cut away stereotypes and fears and create a civil society which, however we end up defining the Jewish state, is free from discrimination and injustice. We succeeded in maintaining our program for dialogue between American Jews and Galilean Arabs, though on a limited scale, as the number of visitors is obviously much reduced. We joined forces with the community center in an Arab village to try to start some new endeavors: a Jewish-Arab circus training program; a traveling multicultural resource center; a Jewish-Arab womens theater group; a joint study group for Jewish and Arab tour guides - and tours on controversial topics for Jews and Arabs; a coooperative environmental art park; etc. Some of these have found some funding and are up and running; others are still looking either for funds or for participants.
The other day we met with representatives of a major agency that supports programs for social change. Their comments on our projects highlighted a question with which we ourselves have been struggling. They said that dialogue projects may have value, but that the urgent need now is for public, political and legal action to attain for the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel equal rights and their fair share of public resources. Dialogue falls in the category of just talking, while the real need is for school budgets and training programs and legal aid and integration of institutions, corporations, and government offices.
One the one hand, this position touches a nerve, because I myself have sometimes felt that we are just fiddling while Rome burns down around us - that it is somehow pathetic to be fostering dialogue when the injustices suffered by one party to the conversation, at the hands of the other, are so glaring. On the other hand, which comes first, the injustice or the fear and hatred that stand behind it? Justice demands that the treatment of the Arabs of Israel be addressed urgently - as Martin Luther King Jr. said, you cant pass a law to make a man love me, but you can pass a law to prevent him from kicking me. And yet, it we dont address the fears and prejudices that permeate the society, how can we ever really make that society just?
Many if not most Jewish Israelis see their Arab fellow-citizens as enemies. Unless that perception changes, they are unlikely to vote for a government that seeks fair treatment for all citizens, and those Jews who indeed fight for justice will remain an embattled minority, seen by many as almost traitors. And how can the perception be changed? with great difficulty, by means of large scale educational efforts, formal and informal, designed to get the parties to the conflict to listen to each others stories, to accept each other as human beings and as fellow citizens of a democracy. Education for peace may be slow and frustrating, and the results not always obvious; but how can we afford to relent from it?