Israel’s Jews and Arabs Must Overcome Mutual Fear

Meet Rawnak Natour, Co-Executive Director of NIF grantee Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality. Recently, we spoke to Rawnak about the current upsurge in violence in Israel. Sikkuy and other social change organisations in the NIF family have been working to amplify voices calling for calming the situation and shared society for Jews and Palestinian Israelis. “Both Jews and Arabs in Israel are living in fear,” she says, “and the way to deal with this is for each side to learn about and become acquainted with the way the other side sees the world.”

Natour lives in Haifa’s Hadar neighbourhood. Earlier this week she decided to take her children out to eat and looked on Google for an interesting restaurant. She found a restaurant in Haifa’s Wadi Nisnas quarter with recommendations heaping praise on it. “I phoned to reserve a place because I thought that with so much praise the restaurant would for sure be full. But they said on the phone, don’t bother with reservations just turn up. The place was completely empty except for a couple of tourists. This shows how much the Israeli public, both Jews and Arabs, have been living in fear these past couple of weeks. I’ve got Arab friends that are scared to go out into the street and speak in public in Arabic on their cellular phone.”

Sikkuy, which promotes equality between Palestinian and Jewish Israelis, has offices in Haifa and Jerusalem. The past few weeks have posed major challenges to Sikkuy’s staff with respect to everything regarding coexistence and encouraging joint living “We are working hard in order to generate different voices to those being heard in the Israeli media,” she explains. “Voice that call for calm and cooperation, and which bring different peoples closer together. We are undertaking a massive amount of media activities on social media, stressing positive acts for joint living throughout Israel. At the same time we are working on both a legal and a political level against the trend of Arab employees being fired, which has grown considerably in recent weeks. We are also continuing to promote joint living projects that we began working on before the latest madness such as bringing the Arab language into the public arena and developing joint Arab-Jewish businesses.”

Because of the major fear that exists between Jews and Arabs in Israel in these crazy days, how is it possible to persuade people to cooperate?

There are three ways of countering the fear. We must explain the point of view of each side to the other because there is a major gap between Arabs that see themselves abandoned and suffering huge incitement from the authorities to the point that you can go out into the street and someone will decide that you are a terrorist and who knows how it will end with Jews who are scared of terror attacks, which of course I condemn.

The second thing is to insist on creating a joint Arab-Jewish voice and to demonstrate that these voices already exist, and that there is a desire to live in peace on both sides.
The third thing is to hold encounters and dialogues and to speak to each other and not only about each other.

On top of all this we must say the most important thing, which is that the government has to take responsibility and get matters under control, which is the job of leadership. It must stop inciting and call on the public to calm down. Calling on people to walk the streets with guns, for example, only strengthens the fear.

Many Jews don’t understand why secular Muslim Palestinians, let alone Christians, are upset by the provocation by the right on the Temple Mount.” But they are not religious at all,” they say. Can you explain this?

The Al Aksa mosque is a national symbol for all Arabs, even Christian Arabs, and you don’t need to be religious to feel that Al Aksa is your national symbol. What is happening with Al Aksa is the straw that has broken the camel’s back and in Palestinian awareness it connects up with the awful employment, housing and economic situation in East Jerusalem and the daily oppression and humiliation by the settlers and security forces. So after 48 years of occupation, the situation has blown up around the harm to a national symbol.

Another mystery for many Jews is the connection between Palestinians in Israel and in the territories, Jerusalem and Gaza. Jews must understand that all of us are one people and we have relatives in Gaza, in Jerusalem and in the territories and everything that happens there touches us all on a personal level. It is not possible to ignore this connection

October 2015