During the stressful times the citizens of Israel are currently coping with, the argument surrounding the rights of Israeli Arabs to protest against Israeli policy and the military operation in Gaza have boiled over to become strident in tone. In times of war it is difficult to think about the "day after " or about anything not directly relevant to the difficult, unstable security situation. Still, Jewish citizens and Arab citizens of the State of Israel must always remember the common interests of the state, which is a home for both of these populations.
Non-violent protest is a basic democratic right that must be upheld . In fact it is Jewish citizens of the state, who have relatives scattered across the world, who must come to understand the complex situation of Israeli Arabs in the state of Israel. Indeed, Jewish citizens in the United States and Europe take advantage of their basic right to protest against the policies of European states and the United States concerning Israel, or even to protest against the policies of Israel itself. No one doubts their loyalties to their country of citizenship or the honor they feel for the state of Israel. From this perspective, it is precisely the Jewish people, with their complicated identities, who must come to understand the complicated situation of the state's Israeli Arabs.
Israeli Arabs have relatives in Gaza and the West Bank and deep ties to the Palestinian people. It is difficult to stay apathetic in the midst of the casualties suffered by the residents of Gaza, just as it is difficult for Jewish citizens of France when their relatives living in Israel are in danger. The inclination of the Jewish population is to become defensive when the Arab minority that lives among them expresses criticism, although the attempts to silence any expression of this kind only adds fuel to the fire of mistrust between the populations. In spite of the profound disagreements that may break out in times of war, Israeli Arabs are a population that is loyal to the state, and which wishes to live in partnership with the Jewish population.
Partners on the Path
I can only speak from personal experience. For nearly a decade I have worked adamantly to advance coexistence between the Jewish and Arab populations through higher education. The F und which I head awards scholarships every year to Jewish and Arab students alike through a deep commitment to advance coexistence in Israel. Scholarship recipients, who come from Jewish and Arab communities across the state of Israel, take part in creative and positive joint activities, such as olive picking in the Galilee.
These activities are the first meeting for many of these Jewish youth with Arab youth, and vice versa. Coexistence is the first step, in the framework of the F und, not only for students who have won scholarships, but also among members of the F und and its donors, who come from among the Jewish and Arab populations – all of whom seek to advance a different model of common life in our country.
Israeli Arabs must take it upon themselves to remember that we are citizens of the state of Israeli and if we want to live here alongside the Jewish population it is upon us do this as partners on the path, with all that that entails. There is no excuse for violent demonstrations when there are full democratic rights to express a diverse variety of opinions and criticisms as equal citizens.
We must come to understand, Jewish and Arab citizens as one, that we will need to live here side by side in times of war just as in times of peace. When this war ends we will need to take care of the wounded under the same roof. It is precisely in times that are stressful from a political and security standpoint that we must not hurry to produce rifts in the homefront's foundations, but rather to strengthen the home's common ground – it is exactly here that the strength of the democratic Israeli state lies.
Lafi Khamees is Chairman of the Wesam Khamees Scholarship Fund for Arabs and Jews