Rescuing peace in Israel
During tense religious times in Jerusalem, Israeli Arab leaders step up for peace, challenging the views of Israeli Jews.
Peacemaking is hard work in Israel, especially during the rare times when Passover and Ramadan are celebrated at the same time. This year’s overlap of religious calendars did create some lethal tensions between Jews and Muslims over access for worship at their holiest sites in Jerusalem. Yet the real story is why tensions didn’t erupt into a deadly war like the one during last year’s Ramadan.
One reason is that the Israeli military hit hard last year against Hamas, the Islamist rulers in Gaza who had backed violent protests in Jerusalem and fired rockets in Israel. Another is that Israel has had a remarkably diverse government for 10 months, one that includes the first Arab party to be an active member of a ruling coalition. (A fifth of Israeli citizens are Arab.) In the wider Middle East, the 2020 Abraham Accords led to more Arab states recognizing Israel. That was a breakthrough in Jewish-Muslim understanding.
One overlooked reason is that more Arab leaders in Israel are offering alternatives in their communities to the popular hate over Israel’s crackdowns on violent Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
One leading Arab politician, Mansour Abbas, worked behind the scenes in recent days to prevent chaos at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, an area known to Jews as the Temple Mount. He is a prominent member of the ruling coalition and head of the United Arab List party, also known by its acronym Ra’am. In a recent speech, he explained why he works for the good of all Israelis and why most Israeli Arabs are against what he called terrorist attacks by a minority of Israeli Arabs:
“It is inconceivable for someone to come and decide that he is taking the lives of innocent people – this must be a basic value rule that has nothing to do with anything else. Secondly, there is a citizenship contract between us of living together – such acts violate the contract.”
Another example is Samir Mahameed, mayor of Umm al-Fahm, Israel’s largest all-Muslim city. Last Friday, he peacefully stopped young men who were blocking roads and destroying property in protest over police actions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“I’m in favor of legitimate and nonviolent protest,” the mayor told the Haaretz newspaper. “There is no place for a protest that violates public order.” A former principal of an elite high school for Arab students, he says he strives for a kind of leadership that listens with respect.
Such motives and actions stand out because only 56% of Israeli Jews believe that the majority of Arab citizens oppose violence carried out against Jews, according to a March survey by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s aChord Center. The survey found that 98% of Arab citizens of Israel actually do oppose acts of violence against Jews.
Changing the perceptions of Arabs and Jews toward each other in Israeli democracy takes more than speeches. Actions aimed at calming fears and raising up shared ideals can reduce violence. They also notably reflect the spirit of inclusivity in both Ramadan and Passover.