Galilee Diary: Peace talk V - Living with the other

June 23, 2009

by Marc Rosenstein
(Originally published in
Galilee Diary and Ten Minutes of Torah)

tmt-bug.jpgWhen she saw that [Joseph] had left [his garment] in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to her servants and said to them, "Look, he had to bring us a Hebrew to dally with us! This one came to lie with me; but I screamed loud. And when he heard me screaming at the top of my voice, he left his garment with me and got away and fled outside."
-Genesis 39:13-15

In Jew Suess, the infamous Nazi propaganda feature film, a central plot element is the cruel sexual exploitation of the virgin Aryan Dorothea by the conniving Jew Suess.

When I was a teenager, the real estate developer and social activist Morris Milgram tried to build an explicitly integrated development in our area. My parents were supportive. Their friends' comment was "that's because you don't have daughters."

When I make the mistake of mentioning Arabs in any context in the course of a bet midrash with high school students in Karmiel, I hear a loud litany of complaints about how Arab boys come to Karmiel to stroll the mall and harass Jewish girls with looks and comments.

There is, it seems, something viscerally frightening about the Other, whoever he happens to be - a fear that begets visceral hatred and has, over the centuries, led to violence in varied settings. I will leave the explanations to the Freudians. What is important is that the image of the Arab as fundamentally different, as a threat to our culture and even to our personal safety, is, I think, an important factor in determining the way we live together (or don't). Surveys show that a clear majority of Israeli Jews would not agree to live in an apartment building together with Arabs. There is presently a case awaiting hearing in the Supreme Court, in which a middle class Arab family was rejected when it sought to build a home in a Jewish community here in the Galilee. The main platform plank of the opposition parties in the last Karmiel municipal election was "keep the Arabs out of Karmiel." They carried the city council. The Jews' objections are not based on our enmity with Arab states or on fears of violence or terrorism; it is pretty clear that they are based on less rational considerations.

I am sure that there are plenty of Israeli Arabs who have negative and threatening images of Jews in their heads. They, however, happen to be the minority, so they don't really have the opportunity to translate their fears into actions.

So what is to be done? It seems that there is no easy solution - especially in view of the issues expounded in the previous three Galilee Diary entries; all four factors are intertwined (defining a Jewish democracy; the conflicting historical narrative; the cultural divide; and simple fear/hatred of the Other). Where do we start? Forced residential integration? Integrated education? Voluntary shared cultural programs? Changing the curriculum of the schools (the separate schools)? Public propaganda? Agreeing on a constitution? Developing a new generation and a new style of leaders? Legal challenges to discrimination? Giving up and giving in to the voices of "transfer?" Either we can be paralyzed by the vicious cycle of challenges, each of which seems a precondition for solving the next - or we can each choose a place to stand and reach for whatever lever we can to move the world. The trends in Jewish and Arab society, as they surface in depressing survey results every few months, make it clear that just waiting for the problem to solve itself is not a viable option. And if we don't move towards solving it, what kind of a future can we envision here?

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While we recognize that the deep conflict between Israelis and Palestinians will not be resolved over the summer, we believe that come the fall, college campuses must once again be safe for all students - and this includes Jewish students living their Jewish commitments openly and proudly.