First Person Israel
1/11/13 at 06:31 AM 4 Comments

Can't We All Just Get Along?

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Palestinian Arabs market their car wash in Hebrew, to Jewish Israelis, offering a good service and a respectable way to make a living.

The serenity of the white blanket of snow covering the slopes and valleys of the Judean mountains south of Jerusalem gives a feeling of calm, of kids having fun in the rare snow day, and that the outside world doesn’t matter. But there’s a lot more beneath the surface of the snow of these hills that is news worthy and is worth sharing.

I am reminded of a recent post I made on Facebook. The post, below, hit a nerve, attracting numerous "likes" and comments. Perhaps had it not been in the midst of a holiday season, and I had posted video, it'd have even gone viral.

So, I am driving home and an Arab woman is sitting in a car that’s clearly broken down three cars in front of me, blocking traffic at a light. From across the street, three armed and armored Israeli soldiers appear, a diversion from their foot patrol. I pass the broken down car, and in the rear view mirror see the soldiers approaching the car, apparently to help out. An Arab car, with three men make a right turn, heading north on the main road, on the opposite side from where the woman's car is stalled behind me. They pull over and get out, walking to the car and the soldiers. A few seconds later, the light changes to green and I make the left turn. Out of the rear view mirror, I see the three soldiers and three Arab men all running, together, pushing the woman's car through the intersection, out of the middle of traffic and the dangerous spot she was sitting on the main road.

One question: Where is CNN, the BBC, the NY Times, Al Jazeera and others when Jews and Arabs cooperate and coexist in quite a normal manner in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) which is the rule, not the exception?

People who care about Israel are starved for good news that's not only not only about the conflict, but that turns the premise of the conflict upside down: that Jews and Arabs can and do get along. What is newsworthy in and of itself is that this happens throughout Israel, and even in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), and is even commonplace.

The past week, Israel experienced a winter storm with heavy rains, flooding, and snow making getting around hazardous. It struck me that in a number of incidents Arabs were the victims and Jewish Israelis were the rescuers, as if it’s commonplace, because it is. In one incident, three Palestinian Arab men were killed and a fourth badly injured in a major car accident on their way home from Orthodox Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem.

In another incident, two Palestinian Arab women drowned as their car was caught in a flash flood, but the rescuers were Israeli Jews.

And in a large Arab Israeli town, fifteen people were rescued from the top of a building that had been flooded, with waters still rising and would have washed them away had the army not brought in helicopters to save the civilians.

These are noteworthy not because they are the exception to the rule, but because they are common place but not reported or understood outside Israel. Those with an anti Israel agenda will conveniently overlook these, and other incidents, where Arabs and Jews interact and fellowship freely; both Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs who are not Israeli citizens.

I could write endlessly about the non-reported instances of things that I have read or heard about, but documenting this is something best done from my personal experiences.

When building our house, our Palestinian Arab carpenter and I engaged in numerous dialogues about construction, but also about personal things. In one conversation I was surprised by, and he bemoaned, the fact that while conversant in Hebrew, Palestinians are not taught to read or write it, something that sets them back in the ability to work with Israelis. “It’s a problem, but not the biggest problem in our society,” he shared critical of his culture, candidly and trustingly.

In addition to the abundance of Palestinian Arabs who work in my community, just outside my community there are four Palestinian Arab businesses, advertising only in Hebrew, to attract Jewish Israeli customers. In the hardware store, two adjacent car washes, and in the auto body shop, Israeli Jews are made to feel welcome, and our business appreciated.

One day, the Palestinian Arab who works at the garage where we take our cars to get fixed helped my wife replace and find the best deal on new tires. When she came back the following week with a problem, he fixed them at no cost, and wished her safe driving.

Outside a main grocery store during Ramadan, I double parked as my wife ran in for a few things. While waiting, my kids and I started to talk about Ramadan, fasting, and what the Moslem customs of Ramadan are about. One of my kids asked from what age Moslem kids fast, so I rolled down the window and asked a man who engaged a lively conversation about Ramadan, through the car window, with me and my kids. When we finished, I wished him an easy fast and “Ramadan karim.”

In the same grocery store, I went to check out and one of the Palestinian Arab cashiers was helping me. As I paid, she spotted a picture of my kids in my wallet and that began a conversation about our kids, and dreams for their future. If she wished that her kids would grow up to be “martyrs” to kill my kids, she sure didn’t share that with me. But what she did share indicated that she wishes for her kids what I wish for mine, a life of peace and prosperity that’s not mutually exclusive to the well being of others.

And another story, relating to a child, another day in the same grocery store. While pushing my shopping cart through the aisles, I ran alongside a Palestinian Arab family also shopping. A little boy in the back of their cart saw a box of cereal (Fruity Pebbles as I recall), in my cart, and took it out and put it in his cart. He was speaking Arabic and I had no idea what he was saying, but he and his mother and I exchanged smiles. Had I already have paid for it, I’d have given him the cereal to take home, on me.

The truth is, if you look around Israeli malls, hospitals, cafes, universities, and many other places, you see this sort of interaction daily. This is only remarkable because it’s not reported and one would have you believe that they not only don’t happen, but that Israel is only oppressing Arabs. That’s not only not the case, but if left unchallenged, becomes a self fulfilling “reality.”

The truth is it’s not all warm and fuzzy. There are incidents that take place regularly, sometimes lethal, that remind Israelis that we live in a dangerous place. But my personal belief is that if only because of the predominance of Arabs and Israelis sharing the same streets and basic common courtesy of letting someone merge in traffic in front of you, we can and we do get along. On a human level, it’s the reality and more is possible.

May our leaders be blessed with the bravery and wisdom to bring us down a path that will see this become the only reality, whether reported or not.

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