For the second time in two weeks there was an atmosphere of expectation in the Arab-Israeli city Umm El Fahm. Towards late afternoon, dozens of Jews began arriving in the city – young and old, Orthodox and Secular, veteran Israelis, new immigrants and Diaspora volunteers. In contrast to the provocative march by ultra-nationalist extremists two weeks ago, the more than 300 Jewish visitors brought goodwill and the desire for joint living, not hatred and incitement.
As the Arab residents of Umm El Fahm handed out flowers to passing Jewish motorists, the marchers unfurled a banner saying "Harmony, Peace and Brotherhood." Singing songs of peace, the Jewish visitors marched through the city bringing a message of mutual respect. The show of solidarity was organized by NIF and grantee Yudbet Heshvan – Promoting Tolerance in an Orthodox Context, and was aimed at answering the right-wing march that further divided Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities.
MK Afu Aghbaria (Hadash), who lives in Umm El Fahm, told the marchers, "This visit is important for both Jewish and Arab society. You today are a 'light unto the nations' and those who came with Marzel last month only brought darkness to the Jewish people."
Jews and Arabs from all walks of life mingled in the city's main square. Dr. Gadi Gveriyahu, Executive Director of Yudbet Heshvan (the Hebrew date of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination), presented salt to Umm El Fahm Mayor Sheikh Khaled Hamdan as a symbol of a covenant between Jews and Arabs. The mayor said, "Our city welcomes our Jewish visitors, and we shower you with flowers."
Watch scenes from the march on the You Tube video here.
Among the hundreds of local residents who came out to greet the visitors was Jabrim Naif, 21, a student at Bar Ilan University and a resident of Umm El Fahm. "I strongly believe that Jews and Arabs can and must live together," he said. "In universities, in sport, in factories, stores and other places, we see the majority of Jews and Arabs living in harmony. The Jews who marched here last month were provocateurs who just came to cause trouble."
NIF Israel Executive Director Eliezer Yaari told the mayor, "We have come two days before Passover, the Holiday of Freedom, to tell our fellow Israelis that we believe in coexistence and in equality for all the country's citizens – Jews and Arabs."
The march was extensively covered by the Israeli print and electronic media.
As the crowd dispersed at sunset, Ram Greenberg from Haifa, who had come to Umm El Fahm to show that many Orthodox Jews believe in coexistence, felt better prepared for Passover. He said, "I walk away with a positive feeling and sense of hope and optimism that there can be coexistence here in Israel. We can only be free if we live together in mutual respect. Otherwise we will be slaves to war, terror and violence."