By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

A complex relationship

 


It isn’t easy summarizing the relationships between Jews and Arabs in Israel, or extending that to Israeli Jews and Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza.

Animosity is more apparent than accommodation in most summaries of Israeli and Palestinian history. Yet accommodation has been more apparent than bloodshed.

There has been violence, but never of the magnitude shown by what Muslims have recently been doing to one another in Syria, Iraq, Libya, or Yemen.

The Second Intifada, from 2000 to about 2005, took 1,100 Israeli and perhaps 5,000 Palestinian lives, with some 10 percent of Palestinian deaths caused by fighting among Palestinians. Israel’s 2014 operation in Gaza came when the occasional drizzle of rockets became a storm. It took the lives of some 2,200 Palestinians, 66 Israeli soldiers, and seven Israeli civilians.

Those tragedies spread over five or 14 years amount to a few weeks or less in Syria’s civil war.

Among the measures of accommodation are some 100,000 West Bank Palestinians working legally in Israel or Israeli enterprises in the West Bank, and several thousand more who sneak over the borders and work illegally.

There has been an increase of Israeli Arab Christians volunteering for the IDF. An Arab sociologist finds that large numbers of Israeli Arabs, perhaps a majority, feel comfortable enough in the society that they’d be willing to fight for it.


That seems odd in comparison to the animosity usually expressed by Arab Members of the Knesset. But it is difficult for a Jew to understand all of what happens over the cultural borders  between us and them.

The nearby neighborhoods of Isaweea, Shuafat, and Beit Hanina are troublespots for us and their residents. Individual Arabs fear to go out of their homes in the evening, due to gunshots among feuding neighbors. Jews are advised to stay away  Part of Shuafat has been walled off, with a heavily guarded gate monitoring exit and entrance, and there have been police alongside Isaweea since the onset of the mini-Intifada a year ago. We’ve learned to distinguish sounds of gun fire from celebrations with fireworks, and there are occasional sounds of a police helicopter or an unmanned aircraft circling between Isaweea and Shuafat. However, individuals from those neighborhoods work in the shops of French Hill, deliver goods to our homes, work to repair or refurbish our apartments,  

The nearby unit of the Hadassah Hospital-Mount Scopus serves Arabs as well as Jews who live nearby, or come for specialized services that the hospital offers. The staff is also a mixture of ethnicity, with Jews served by Arab physicians or nurses alongside Arabs being served by Jews.


Those who are attracted to the fashion of BDS don’t bother to compare the situation of Israeli Arabs or Palestinians (West Bank or Gaza) to relevant populations elsewhere. Should they bother, they’d find that Israeli Arabs do not score below ethnic/racial minorities in other western societies. 

Compared to African Americans or Hispanics in the US, Israeli Arabs do better or less well on various measures of economic, social, or political equality compared to the majorities. Especially notable is the finding that Israeli Arabs outscore American Whites on important measures of health, and far outscore African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. 

The Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza provide separate pictures, with those of the West Bank significantly better off. However, neither scores significantly different on measures of economics, health, personal safety or the quality of government than many countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia. 

Recent news has been of the Palestinians in the West Bank cancelling municipal elections due to the likely victory of opposition Hamas. Reports from Gaza, where there thre are no elections scheduled, is that Fatah is leading in polls. The picture in both parts of Palestine is a prevailing condition of opposing whichever Palestinian party is controlling things, but not having an electoral opportunity to do anything about the it.

Rather than trying to beat up on Israel for imagined repressions, individuals concerned about humane measures of individual freedom and opportunity would be wiser to deal with issues closure to home involving ethnic and racial minorities in the US and Western Europe.

Americans who fancy that Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza endure an intolerable situation might think a bit more about Mexico. It appears to be more wracked by violence than either Palestinian area. And while Mexico is ostensibly more independent than anything called Palestine, with a full panoply of diplomatic connections along with air and sea ports that the Palestinian lack, the greater misery and lack of security endured by many Mexicans derives more clearly from Americans’ appetites for drugs than any problems of the Palestinians results from the fantasies about Israeli repression.

There’s tension aplenty between Israeli Jews and Arabs, and significantly more between Israelis and the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. It is not all one picture, however. Israeli Jews and Arabs work, study, and live alongside one another in numerous settings, even though most cluster in ethnically homogeneous towns or neighborhoods. 

Recently we’ve seen Israeli Arab elites quarreling among themselves about what was the appropriate response to the death of Shimon Peres, alongside Jews who quarrel as to whether Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues ought to have been received more warmly, or not at all, at Peres’ funeral. 

Details of security along the borders, Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas, and Israeli settlements on land claimed by Palestine are frequent topics of international condemnation. Going beyond the proclamations that garner majorities in several UN forums are the details of deals offered by Israel and rejected by Palestinians. 

Fairness in politics--both domestic and international--is an elusive topic. 

It does seem that the condemnations of Israel and efforts at boycotts are disproportionate, suggesting classic themes of anti-Semitism more than any fair assessments of political or economic realities.

There are some who insist that Israel deserves criticism, with some of them despairing of anything similar directed against more severe violations elsewhere. Either countries of the Third World are beyond the reach of reason, or the United States is too powerful for any outsiders to meddle in the plights of African Americans, Hispanics, or Native Americans. As long as small and vulnerable Israel aspires to keep its membership in the club of the wealthiest and most civilized, it is open to pressure of those aspiring to make things better, somewhere.

What’s fair is up for grabs, dispute, and comments.

Irashark@gmail.com

 

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