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No fires or inciting politicians can destroy our shared society

The wildfire that struck Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam left our Jewish-Arab village more resilient than ever before. We invite Israel’s politicians to learn from us on how to heal our society’s wounds.

Fire fighters try to extinguish a forest fire in the forest near Neve Shalom and Latrun, outside Jerusalem, November 22, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Fire fighters try to extinguish a forest fire in the forest near Neve Shalom and Latrun, outside Jerusalem, November 22, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Our country has been up in flames this past week. Hundreds of fires have broken out in various areas resulting in tens of thousands of people being evacuated from their homes. The first fire started last Tuesday at Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam, a unique community between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where Jews and Arabs live together in equality, which struggled to quell the flames and bring peace to the region. My husband and two children and I were evacuated from with 300 others, fearing of our lives and the destruction of our homes.

It was frightening for all of us. However what was even more frightening was the reaction of some of the countries journalists and politicians who used the opportunity to ignite and inflame hatred, claiming that arson was the cause of the wildfires. Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett posted an unfortunate and irresponsible Facebook status, in which he wrote that “The only ones capable of setting the land on fire are people to whom it does not belong.” Rather than unifying and reassuring Israeli citizens — if only slightly — Bennett incited against an entire public and inflamed the public atmosphere.

Following the elections in the United States, the world has become a dangerous place, as sparks have begun to fly in all directions, igniting hatred and fear. We have seen this over the past decade in Europe with new immigrants, and we now see it in the U.S., as white supremacists begin to cheer on Trump’s victory as a victory for the ‘white race,’ while graffiting swastikas on walls.

The fire at Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam was clearly an unfortunate accident, as was the one in the neighboring town of Nataf. One reporter, an expert in arson, deemed the fire an “inspiration” to other supposed pyromaniacs, giving second and third-rate politicians carte blanche to do what they are best at: incite. But perhaps the journalist was right; since the fire in my community was an inspiration. We made it through the freezing night together in the fields below our homes, where we realized that our community can teach this country’s leadership a thing or two about humane behavior in times of crisis.

Cohesion and unity in the face of fire is not so surprising in our community – the first and only Jewish-Arab community in the Middle East. It is what makes us feel that 40 years of living together through wars, intifadas, crises, military “campaigns,” and lots of pain has been worthwhile. They have been years of valuable teaching and learning; investment in people rather than stones; investment in one another, rather than in fences and barriers.

Pro-annexation Jewish Home ministers Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett during a preliminary vote on the ‘Regulation Law’ to legalize ‘illegal’ settlement outposts, November 16, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jewish Home ministers Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, November 16, 2016. Bennett hinted this past week that Arabs were responsible for the spate of wildfires across Israel. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Our hearts were open as we waited in the fields below, where a protective ring circled our community as the rescue forces fought to safeguard our life’s project, built on a hilltop surrounded by fires that raged on every side. (Those of us who are dedicated to living together in peace have felt this way often.) Meanwhile our neighbors, Kibbutz Nachshon, Bekoa, and Tel Shahar, opened their gates to us. At 6 a.m. they took us in; Arab and Jewish men, women and children and offered us a warm and cozy place to recover, without checking our identity cards to check which nation we belonged to.

If the world is looking for inspiration, and our minister of education is looking to bring our people together instead of pulling us apart, we invite you to join the Arab and Jewish families who send their children to our bilingual school. On the day after the fire, the pupils and teachers got together and cleaned up the school grounds, where for more than 30 years Jewish and Arab children have studied together every day — through war and through peace as equals, promoting peace and shared society. We invite him to observe how this week we set out with 40 up-and-coming politicians from Israel and Palestine to seek new solutions together and open avenues of communication. We invite him to learn from us how to struggle to bind a shared society together, not to pull it apart.

Students from Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam clean up the school grounds following a wildfire at the Jewish-Arab village. (Lindsay Stanek)

Students from Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam clean up the school grounds following a wildfire at the Jewish-Arab village. (Lindsay Stanek)

The attempt to sabotage the humanity of any people who share a common space in order to survive politically is a highly dangerous experiment —one that places the lives of millions all over the world. We have seen the results in the past, we see it happening all over the world today. This is truly playing with fire. If a burned forest takes years to rehabilitate, the work required to heal the wounds of hatred and fear is far more difficult.

Although it is hard to imagine that the voices we are hearing today, even from your political leaders, will lead us to a better society, I urge you, dear readers, for the health of your minds and your sanity, not to listen to the voices of malice or be carried away in the cold, dry winds of hatred and fear. Since inside that fear lies an unsustainable fire that eventually leads to hell. Look around and see that people, irrespective of religion, race and gender, are afraid of the fire and other disasters, just like you are. It is best to learn how to survive it together, or else we will burn together.

A version of this article first appeared on Times of Israel.

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    1. Carmen

      “If the world is looking for inspiration, and our minister of education is looking to bring our people together instead of pulling us apart, we invite you to join the Arab and Jewish families who send their children to our bilingual school. On the day after the fire, the pupils and teachers got together and cleaned up the school grounds, where for more than 30 years Jewish and Arab children have studied together every day — through war and through peace as equals, promoting peace and shared society. We invite him to observe how this week we set out with 40 up-and-coming politicians from Israel and Palestine to seek new solutions together and open avenues of communication. We invite him to learn from us how to struggle to bind a shared society together, not to pull it apart.”

      This sounds wonderful. Please write more stories about your town and others like it.

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        It sounds like the Muslims who are butchering each other in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other places could learn from Neve Shalom as well. Would they be willing to listen?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ray

          Non-sequitur.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      We expect minorities a total loyalty to the State of Israel (as in all countries in the world). Let’s wait for the result of the investigation. If the arsonists are Arabs coming from the Judea and the Samaria, or worse if they are Israeli Arab citizens, There will probably be some serious and tremendous consequences.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        And if they are Jews Itshak? What does your magic 8 ball tell you?

        Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordin Halevy

          If they are Jewish they will of course be punished according to the law. But there will be no influence on the coexistence.

          Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            Oooohhkkaaaayy.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Yeah sure, that’s right, when your grandkids run the third temple by divine hereditary right you can appoint a royal commission of inquiry, Ha-Levy. You’re totally sane. Sure you are. Just another day in the “democratic Jewish State.” “Trust us we are the only people on earth that can handle a demo-ethno-theo-cratic state–it’s a unique form of governance–we are different.” Like the chosen Ha-Levy here. And the chosen Minister Bennett: ​“The only ones capable of setting the land on fire are people to whom it does not belong.”
            Yep, what, me worry? It looks like it will all turn out just swell. Gotta a lotta fine people in charge. The best people. Fantastic people. Trust me it will be so great. It will be so great you will get tired of great. Because I got a really good brain. And I watch the shows.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      According to I24news.tv 18 Israeli Arabs are among the arsonists. The only question which should arise is the following:can we really trust the Israeli Arab minority. We need proofs of loyalty.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        “We need proofs of loyalty”. We do? What would constitute said ‘proof’? Relinquishing of a firstborn son? Signatures in blood or other bodily fluids? Or would it be all ol’ testimony like Daniel 3-8

        3 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. 2 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. 3 Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, 5 That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up:

        6 And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. (seems a bit harsh.)

        Interesting. The command to stop and worship when ‘ye hear the sound’ is what the GoI saw fit to herald ‘holy’ days.

        At any rate, I hope this isn’t what you’ve got in mind, being a self-proclaimed descendant of bishops or pawns, whatever you claimed.

        Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        Itshak: I rather think that we need proof of the integrity of the Israeli judicial system. The fact that it is Arabs arrested and only Arabs doesn’t really mean that much – we are talking about Israel remember. The fires were not even out before Israeli politicians began bellowing their threats against the Arab population – why should we think that the Israeli legal system is fair and impartial. There was hardly time for any substantive investigation to take place.

        Reply to Comment

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