I spent the day in Nazareth recently, doing a story about Israeli Arabs in hi-tech, and when I got in the car with the (Jewish) photographer to leave, I said to him, “Isn’t it a relief to talk to Arabs as regular people?” He smiled in agreement.
I had the same feeling when I was doing a story on B’Tselem, the anti-occupation NGO in Jerusalem, and found myself making coffee in the kitchen next to an Arab woman who was getting a glass from the cupboard or something. We were together for about a minute, I don’t remember any conversation, any particular notice we took of each other. It was only afterward that I felt this revelation: For a minute, I wasn’t living in a segregated country. For a minute, the sharing of space with an Arab, as equals, was unremarkable.
This is a vision of life in this country as most Jews and Arabs, I think, wish it could be – and it’s so amazingly rare. We cross paths, but usually on opposite sides of a counter or standing next to each other in line. With few exceptions, we live in segregated neighborhoods, our kids go to segregated public schools, they play in segregated parks.
Nearly 25 years ago, not long after I moved to Israel, I rented an apartment in the Kababir neighborhood of Haifa, right on the informal border between the Jewish section and Arab section. The building had two Arab families along with about 10 Jewish families. I’d see one of the Jews talking with one of the Arabs in front of the building, griping about the plumbing, about the noise – the things neighbors talk about. I got to know one of the Arab families, and once they invited me in to their apartment.
It’s only in the decades since then that I’ve realized how rare an experience that was for an Israeli Jew. [continued…]
Israel’s bigwigs attacked at dawn on a wide front. The president in Germany, the prime minister with a giant entourage in Poland, the foreign minister in Hungary, his deputy in Slovakia, the culture minister in France, the information minister at the United Nations, and even the Likud party’s Druze Knesset member, Ayoob Kara, in Italy. They were all out there to make florid speeches about the Holocaust.
Wednesday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and an Israeli public relations drive like this hasn’t been seen for ages. The timing of the unusual effort – never have so many ministers deployed across the globe – is not coincidental: When the world is talking Goldstone, we talk Holocaust, as if out to blur the impression. When the world talks occupation, we’ll talk Iran as if we wanted them to forget.
It won’t help much. International Holocaust Remembrance Day has passed, the speeches will soon be forgotten, and the depressing everyday reality will remain. Israel will not come out looking good, even after the PR campaign. [continued…]