This year, 17th Tammuz (the minor Jewish fast day commemorating the breach of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple) coincided with Ramadan. Because of the heightened tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel, activists around the country – supported by NIF/SHATIL – decided to organize joint Jewish-Muslim meals to break the fast.
One of these events was held in the Negev town in Yeruham, and was organized by Omri Dunour.
Why did you decide to organize the break-fast?
Omri Dunour: We organized a joint meal for 40 people from Yeruham and the next door Bedouin village of Rahme. It was an Iftar meal – the meal Muslims do every evening to break the Ramadan fast – and for us Jews it was the end of the 17th Tammuz fast. Many of us have already been working to try to get recognition for Rahme, which is currently unrecognized, so it seemed like a good opportunity to get together.;
Because of all the recent events in the country – the kidnapping of the three young boys in Gush Etzion and the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir – I started asking myself questions, for example, why did people who weren’t even connected to a terrorist organization murder a Palestinian teenager? I understood that we have a problem here – we’re sitting on a powder keg. Things can go crazy any second. There is so much tension between Jews and Arabs; every time something happens it starts boiling again – on TV and the internet, people calling for revenge. And when it starts, it’s hard to stop it.
I started talking with people from Yeruham, and then the war started. Everyone talks about how to attack and to destroy, but nobody talks about the fact that there are people on both sides of the border who just want to live – they deserve the right to do that. The original idea was to do some kind of evening of learning together in Yeruham, but then we decided to do an event for the 17th of Tammuz and came up with the idea of doing a communal event with the people of Rahme. We then discovered that there were people doing this all over the country, and we decided to be part of it.
What happened at the meal?
Omri Dunour: We sat down, ate and talked. We talked about how the people of Rahme have no protection from the rockets, and we came up with some ideas about how to solve the issue. The government and the Home Front don’t really care about the fact that the Bedouin villages have no way of defending themselves. We also talked about what is going on in the country right now, and how we can change the situation, not just for our own benefit but also to try to create a different kind of discourse, one that shows how people can cooperate and look at one another as people and not only as enemies. A few days ago, when there was the first siren in Yeruham, someone started chanting “Death to the Arabs” – this was directed at the Bedouin who live in our neighborhood. It was a warning about what can happen when the public atmosphere becomes very violent. We said: “enough.” We won’t let that kind of violence spread in Yeruham.
Did you come up with any practical ideas?
Omri Dunour: Yes – we have a Hebrew language course, and we invited the people of Rahme to come and join. We also asked if they might be able to open an Arabic course for us in the village. We also talked about painting the bus stop at the Yeruham-Rahme junction, which currently has graffiti saying death to Jews and death to Arabs. We want to build a closer community.
Do you have anything you’d like to say to the Israeli public?
Omri Dunour: I believe in peace but I think it can only come from the people on the street, the everyday people. Politicians might be able to do a peace agreement, but they can never make a real peace. A real peace is about your ability to live together and recognize each other’s rights to dignity and respect – this is something you have to do for yourself. Nobody can do this for us. If we don’t do this, there will be no chance for real peace. And religion can also play a key role in this process of bringing people together.