By Idith Gal
In May 2021, the fire of hatred grabbed hold of Israel. Violent events by Israeli-Arabs against Jews, including life-threatening riots, began in Jerusalem and from there spread throughout the country. The violence took place in mixed cities (the Israeli term for cities with both Arab and Jewish populations), such as Jaffa, Lod, Akko, Ramle and Haifa, and in major intersections in northern and southern Israel, including in Karmiel and Misgav.
These events undermined the Jewish residents’ feeling of security and caused a great deal of harm to the fabric of shared society. In several places, Jewish youth started “riots” as a counter-response, presumably in order to “defend” against the Arabs. The police found it difficult to control the rioters.
At the same time, Hamas was firing rockets on Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and southern Israel.
During the riots, a 56-year-old Jewish man was critically injured by rocks thrown at his head by Arabs and ultimately died from his wounds. In Lod, an Israeli-Arab was killed from gunfire by a Jewish resident during riots (the Jewish resident claimed self-defense). An 84-year-old Jewish man died from his wounds in Akko as a result of arson by Arabs. Hundreds of people, both Jews and Arabs, were injured, and a great deal of property owned by Jews was deliberately set on fire and destroyed.
Here in our home, in the villages of Karmiel and Misgav, the rioting caused a great deal of pain. Throughout several long days, the lives of the Jewish residents in the region became difficult to bear. Driving on the roads in the Galilee after dark was so dangerous that the police instructed Jewish residents not to drive after sunset.
When the fire was extinguished, and when all that was left on the roads were burnt tires, the residents of the region were faced with a difficult dilemma. How do we continue from here? The residents of Arab villages in the Karmiel and Misgav region were our friends. Good friends. We bought things from them and ate at their restaurants, and vice versa.
Their children studied together with ours and went to extracurricular activities together.
There were Jewish residents that could not contain their anger and the feeling of deep insult. They called to boycott the Arab villages and to cut off ties with them. For some, the boycott continues today.
But there were others who chose a different way. During the riots, Kibbutz Eshbal was hit again and again by Molotov cocktails that caught fire within the kibbutz. The members, together with firefighters, managed to extinguish the fires and prevent a major disaster. It was clear that the Molotov cocktails were thrown by youth from Sachnin, the neighboring Arab village. So how did they continue?
Some members of Kibbutz Eshbal decided not to let hate win. When the winds calmed, they went to Sachnin which is adjacent to Eshbal. They went to all the businesses they had supported throughout the years … and gave them flowers.
“We wanted to say to them that we are still friends. We know not everyone participated in the riots and that most of the people here want to live in peace and quiet and friendship,” they said.
So they went from one business to the next, and they were welcomed with excitement and joy mixed with sadness.
The people of Sachnin explained that the rioters were “irresponsible teens” and that they were “against everything that happened.”
A week after the riots ended, we returned to our “regular” hummus place in Sachnin and were welcomed with joyful greetings of “Ahlan and Sahlan.” Over the years, we went almost every Friday afternoon to the same restaurant. We were always greeted with warmth, so we thought we should make it clear to the owners of the restaurant that we knew they were not to blame for what happened and that we had to restore the feeling of shared society that existed before the events earlier that month. The restaurant, which usually would be packed with lots of residents from Misgav and soldiers that came home for the weekend, was nearly empty. It was so sad.
On the way back from Sachnin to Karmiel we passed by the Yuvalim intersection, a main junction in Misgav. There were dozens of women standing at the intersection. There was no mistaking that there were both Jewish and Arab women, some from Misgav villages and Karmiel and some from Arab villages in the region. They stood together and gave flowers to drivers passing by the intersection and held up signs calling for peace and coexistence.
As an educator, I believe that everything begins and ends with education so, together with principals from other schools, I took part in different initiatives attempting to rectify the situation. Countless initiatives were born under the title “Jews and Arabs refused to be enemies” — between educators, between students and between communities. In my school, this is the third year of a program called “Connecting Worlds.”
Students from Jewish and Arab schools belonging to the ORT educational network connect with one another — one class from each school. The students choose a topic to study together. This year they chose to study photography. Together they meet and take classes on photography and go on walks together to take pictures. Through joint learning, connections are made. Teens spend time with one another and discover to their surprise that they are all human. Different but also so similar …
The difficult events that set Israel on fire were hard on everyone, but we all live in the same space, and no one is going anywhere. Each side has hardships and difficulties, and all we can do is find solutions of mutual respect, love and peace.
Idith Gal lives in Karmiel, Israel, and is the Partnership2Gether co-chair. Partnership2Gether is a program of the Jewish Agency for Israel.