JERUSALEM (JTA) -- In an elegant limestone building in a Jerusalem neighborhood that before 1948 was home to the city’s Palestinian elite, a group of Jewish and Arab Israeli academics recently tried to untangle one of Israel’s most complex and charged questions: the status of its Arab minority.
It is once again that time of year; our three young children – along with many others - are sorting through the ever-growing collection of Israeli flags to adorn our home for Israel's Independence Day (May 10). Our children are proud young Jewish-Israelis, free to celebrate the Jewish People's modern triumph of democratic state-building.
Yet, even as we celebrate, as Israeli adults entrusted with our children's futures, we are obliged to take a closer look at Israeli society and act boldly for the well-being of future generations.
American Jews must play a greater role in improving the lives of Israel's 1.2 million Arab citizens, members of a newly created task force of communal organizations that met in Manhattan last week agreed.
The task force will work to raise awareness of the socio-economic disparities that confront the minority population and steer funding to organizations that address those differences.
Jerusalem — Manal Diab, a single, 26-year-old Arab woman who graduated in June from the Hebrew University, did not think twice before renting an apartment in Jewish West Jerusalem.
“I didn’t think whether it was an Arab or Jewish [community], it was cheap and I teach very close to here,” she said. “It has a view of the Old City that I feel I belong to. Arabs were here before ’48.”
In what is being hailed as a dramatic shift in approach at the Jewish Agency, the organization that some Israeli Arabs have viewed as out to steal their land has agreed to support the New York-based Abraham Fund Initiatives in its efforts to teach conversational Arabic and culture to elementary school children in northern Israel.
Israeli Jews escaped the barrage of Katyusha rockets by huddling in bomb shelters often equipped with cable TV. Israeli Arabs just a few miles away had no shelters, no hospitals and often had difficulty getting food.
Israeli Jews cheered on the Israel Defense Forces, hoping they would inflict a decisive blow against Hezbollah terrorists. Israeli Arabs prayed for the war to stop so that it would end the suffering among the civilians of Israel and Lebanon.
Elie Rekhess is a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East Studies and an adviser to the Abraham Fund, which promotes coexistence between the Jews and Arabs in Israel. Born in Haifa, Rekhess, 53, served as a strategic adviser to Ehud Barak during his successful campaign for prime minister. He is currently an adviser to the Ministerial Committee on the Arabs in Israel. He was interviewed during a recent visit to the city.
Jewish Week: How has the attitude of the Arab citizens of Israel changed since the Oslo peace accords in 1993?
Since the start of the Palestinian violence almost two years ago, Samech Zakout, a 19-year-old Israel Arab from Ramle, said he has lost all of the Jewish friends he once had.
"They think Iím a terrorist," he lamented.
But Zakout said he has made three new Jewish friends at Open House since joining this community center six years ago that fosters Israeli Arab-Jewish relations. And Zakout said he hopes to make other Jewish friends through his music.