Originally composed before yesterday’s terrorist attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem, the following is adapted from Phyllis Bernstein’s D’var Torah delivered at the Nov. 17th meeting of the Israeli Arab committee of her local New Jersey Jewish community federation, which she co-chairs:
This week’s portion (Chayei Sarah) is distinctive for its lesson on coexistence and a rational approach to neighbors. Genesis contains a story about Sarah’s burial, what it means to perpetuate life on a promised land, and how to deal with the neighbors.
Abraham wanted and needed for his spiritual fulfillment a shared space. A shared space required–and still does to this day– honorable and equitable shared commerce. That is why Abraham begins and ends his engagement with the Hittites with an insistence on proper buying and selling of property.
There is another important element: Abraham’s self-identification as a stranger and a temporary resident. Rabbis say “love thy neighbor” is one of the most important concepts in Biblical literature and one of the most frequently quoted commandments. Thirty-four times the Bible commands the Jewish people to love the stranger and resident among them.
This is the most important lesson Judaism offers to the world. It is not a message of unity, or absorption of one into another. It is a message of plurality, and to honor difference across borders. It is a lesson that the world cannot survive without, and it is a message to those living in the Promised Land, and in Jerusalem.
Tensions in East Jerusalem have already risen to dangerous levels due to a mixture of settlement expansion, police brutality, Jewish attempts to upset the delicate arrangement regarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque/Temple Mount compound, and a number of deadly Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers.
In the wake of anger over the fatal police shooting last week of a 22-year-old, Kheir Hamdan, in highly suspicious
circumstances, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had threatened those who engage in protests, violent or otherwise, with being stripped of their citizenship. And he had invited anyone demonstrating against Israeli actions and supporting a Palestinian state to move to the West Bank or Gaza.
Such statements attempt to scare the Israeli Arab population into submission and dismiss their right to demand equal treatment to their Jewish counterparts. The prime minister has already backed away from this statement, but damage was done. There are now discussions between the prime minister, Jordan and the Palestinians, so hopefully sanity will return.
It seems non-Jews are seen as lesser citizens in the eyes of Israel’s government. This double standard appears clear in the attitude of the police to the various communities it is supposed to protect.
In the past month, the response to a series of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians in Jerusalem has been to shoot to kill. The priority has not been to detain, put on trial, and comply with basic standards of justice.
We watched this during last week’s deadly shooting of Kheir Hamdan after he attacked a police van with a knife during a night-time raid of his village. The police statement insisted officers felt their lives in danger and that they fired a warning shot. But video on Internet and TV appears to show otherwise. Not only was Hamdan running away when a policeman got out of the (presumably knife-proof) van and shot directly at Hamdan’s body, but there does not appear to have been any warning shot. Then he was dragged into the van and later died of his injuries.
His father told Israeli newspaper Maariv: “They killed him in cold blood because he was an Arab. If he had been a Jew, it wouldn’t have ended that way.” It’s hard to argue with that.
Jews have a state, but a significant population of non-Jews have lived in this part of the world for centuries. Many of them left – either by force or on their own – when Israel was created in 1948, but some stayed. These non-Jews have ties to the Holy Land. How do they fit into a country that, at every level of society, screams Jews are more worthy than anyone else?
This was explicitly recognized by the new president, Rubi Ruvlin, in a fascinating speech that deserves to be read in full. Google it. He gave the speech at a ceremony marking the anniversary of a massacre of 48 Israeli Arabs at the village of Kfar Qasim in 1956, committed by a unit of the Israeli Border Police.
“The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, who returned to their land after two millennia of exile. This was its very purpose. However, the State of Israel will also always be the homeland of the Arab population,” said Rivlin.
“We are talking about a population which is part and parcel of this land, a distinct population, with a shared national identity and culture, which will always be a fundamental component of Israeli society.”
So, they cannot simply be wished away or stripped of their citizenship when they misbehave. Rivlin, a lawyer and vocal proponent of Israeli Arab rights, is a controversial figure and his presidency was strongly opposed by Netanyahu, which speaks volumes.
“We must state plainly,” Israel’s president added, “the Israeli Arab population has suffered for years from discrimination in budget allocation, education, infrastructure, and industrial and trade areas…
“Poverty and a sense of deprivation provide a breeding ground for nationalist and religious extremism, and we ourselves fan these flames when we do not insist upon the principle of equality between citizens of the State of Israel.”
Rubi Rivlin is considered right wing. If someone like him is taking the positions and actions he is taking, then all Israeli Jews need to listen. Shared society, equal rights and respect for Israeli Arabs is not considered just an issue of the far left. All Israeli Jews should listen to their new president!
Jews and Arabs share the same geography, breathe the same air and drink the same water. And they should want to live in security, peace, and as good neighbors.
Maybe next year in Jerusalem!?
Leave A Comment