The Jerusalem Post

2021 – The year of change

- • By SHIR NOSATZKI The writer is an Israeli activist and the founder of Have You Seen the Horizon Lately, an Israeli NGO that promotes Jewish-Arab political partnershi­p.

Close your eyes for just a minute and try to picture the American Democratic Party without its Afro-American and Hispanic politician­s and voters. It is hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Now try to imagine Israel’s center-left camp without its Arab politician­s and voters, who constitute about 20% of the nation’s population. You don’t even have to close your eyes, since this has been the sad reality over the 73 years of Israel’s existence. Up until this week.

Naturally, this outrageous situation is often rationaliz­ed with infinite excuses, the most prominent of which is the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, and the fact that the Arab citizens of Israel are a part of the Palestinia­n people. This complexity, among other reasons, furthered the delegitimi­zation within Israel of the Arab political parties, and, correspond­ingly, forming a government with their support was considered inconceiva­ble.

Yet something profound changed in Israel this past year. That is the change that brought about the first-ever governing coalition in Israel with one of its key members being an Islamic Arab party, alongside parties from the Jewish Center-Left and, even more surprising­ly, together with a few right-wing parties.

So, what happened this year? First, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Suddenly, millions of Jews in Israel realized that a substantia­l part of the medical teams – doctors, nurses, pharmacist­s and lab workers – were Arab citizens who have lived here for generation­s.

The gratitude among all Israelis for their profession­al devoted care must have done its part. Moreover, the image of the Arab man, who in the depths of the Jewish collective subconscio­us in Israel is often portrayed as a murderous terrorist, was revealed as their actual savior. The closing of the borders also made clear to both Jews and Arabs, as one, that we were all in this together, in the same boat, partners in fate.

But the road to political change was no bed of roses, as in Ramadan (April-May) a violent escalation erupted between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

It began with several provocatio­ns from the far Right in Jerusalem, and harsh and excessivel­y forceful conduct on the part of the Israeli police. This culminated in videos showing Israeli police tossing stun grenades into al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount (the second-most important mosque in Islam) on Laylat al-Qadr, which is the holiest day of the holiest month in Islam.

In response, Hamas, sensing a political opening, began firing rockets from Gaza to Jerusalem, proclaimin­g its intent to “protect al-Aqsa.” And that was only the beginning.

The escalation caused by the

events in Jerusalem led to the realizatio­n of the ultimate Jewish-Israeli nightmare. While Hamas fired 4,000 indiscrimi­nately aimed rockets at Israeli cities, the Arab citizens of Israel began taking to the streets in protest of the attack on al-Aqsa, and of many other injustices. On the fringes of the protests, violent rioters began setting fire to property and harming Jews in the mixed cities and in various parts of the country. At the same time, Jewish far-right groups responded with severe violence against Arab citizens, and it seemed that all over the country the streets were flooded with violence and that the relations between the two groups had reached an unpreceden­ted low.

All this occurred in the midst of attempts to form a unity government that would lead to the replacemen­t of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after 12 years in power brought his administra­tion to employ extreme measures. The prime minister’s many spokesmen worked tirelessly and diligently to dismantle any relationsh­ip between Jews and Arabs, delicate relationsh­ips that were painstakin­gly and gradually establishe­d over many years.

HOWEVER, WHEN the smoke dissipated, it was revealed to everyone’s surprise that the political damage was more negligible than anticipate­d.

Furthermor­e – with the cessation of the fighting, the country began to be filled with hundreds of demonstrat­ions, campaigns and initiative­s by Jews and Arabs

that called for an end to the violence and emphasized the importance of a shared life. It seemed that the ties between Jews and Arabs in Israel were tangible and more profound beyond all speculatio­n. Consequent­ly, we were amazed at commercial companies that surprising­ly took a public stand launching campaigns to support the Jewish-Arab commonalit­y of day-to-day life.

Cellcom, the largest cellular company in Israel, called on all its employees to go on an hourlong identifica­tion strike with its Arab employees; while Harel, one of the largest insurance companies in Israel, posted huge billboards saying: “The Best Insurance Against Violence Is a Shared Life.”

A survey we conducted, at the height of the riots showed that close to 90% of the population, Jews and Arabs alike, strongly oppose the violence perpetrate­d against the other, and that a majority of both publics believe in the possibilit­y of living together in peace.

These riots, which many in Israel believe were deliberate­ly set off to serve political purposes of thwarting a Jewish-Arab coalition, actually did the opposite, as they proved that we, Jews and Arabs, together and separately, can overcome our most dreaded nightmares and not lose our mutual trust, hope and desire to live together. And most importantl­y, when the flames subsided, the leaders of the Jewish and Arab parties, left and right, entered the negotiatin­g room and led to the establishm­ent of the first Israeli

coalition ever that includes an Arab political party. From now on, we are not only partners in fate, but also partners in government.

This is a reality that could not have been imagined a year ago, when the attempts to replace Netanyahu failed for the third time in the space of a year due to the refusal of various elements to form a government that relies on Arab votes. This is a tectonic shift at the heart of the 140-year-old conflict between Jews and Arabs. The fact that the Arabs occupy a place at the cabinet table; that their votes are not only needed but also essential; and the recognitio­n that Netanyahu and his dwindling regime could be stopped only thanks to a Jewish-Arab political cooperatio­n, are ideas that are permeating the Israeli collective consciousn­ess.

Where do we go from here? The potential inherent in combining forces between the Jewish center-left parties and the full electoral power of Arab citizens could mean that the next government will not be a unity government that extends deep into the Right, but, rather, a true center-left government; a government that will not only address discrimina­tion, exclusion and barriers in Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, but will also finally break the fixations in relation to the Israeli-Palestinia­n conflict. And that we will most definitely call – change.

 ?? (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90) ?? MANSOUR ABBAS, head of the Ra’am Party, is seen after signing the coalition agreement, at Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan, earlier this month.
(Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90) MANSOUR ABBAS, head of the Ra’am Party, is seen after signing the coalition agreement, at Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan, earlier this month.

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