These past few weeks have seen a grave escalation of violence in Israel and the occupied territories. Horrific acts of terror have led to terrible acts of revenge.
I’ve been in close touch with our Israeli colleagues. The country is gripped by fear. The impulse to look over one’s shoulder, to cautiously eye strangers walking down the street, is unavoidable. As one Israeli friend told me, “it is different from last summer’s war; there are no sirens to warn you of a knife attack.” This is a moment that threatens to further damage the already complicated relationship between Jews and Arabs within Israel. And there is a very real risk that extremists on either side may drag us into a religious confrontation that could become catastrophic.
NIF exists to bring Israelis together to build a better Israel. We support Israelis committed to the values of liberal democracy, committed to the notion that all Israelis deserve to be treated as equals, and committed to ending the occupation.
In this moment, our organization has three key tasks:
(1) We must support grassroots efforts to bolster and repair the relationships between Jews and Arabs within Israel. Extremists must not be allowed to use this moment to pit Israelis against one another. We’re hearing from front-line organizers about the strong desire at the grassroots to demonstrate solidarity across ethnic lines. We will support these initiatives.
(2) We must stand with Israel’s human rights champions.
It is too easy for policy makers at times like this to overstep and curtail civil liberties. We will continue to stand for freedom of expression and against policies that entail collective punishment. We will also ensure that the right to protest is upheld.
(3) We must make sure progressive security experts are heard.
As painful as it may be to hear, many Israeli experts have explained that the current situation was all-too predictable. Israeli security figures have long warned that trying to “manage the conflict” while eschewing progress towards peace would fail to keep Israelis safe. (Our partners at the Council for Peace and Security are joining us for public events in several cities next week; check HERE if you’d like to participate.)
The most important thing that Israel can do to prevent the next outbreak of violence is to learn from this experience, to take substantive steps to confront Israel’s own extremists from both sides, and to act to further self-determination for the Palestinian people, to give them a sense that the future can be different and better. We are empowering security experts who understand this dynamic to impact the policy debate.
Amid the upsurge of violence, it’s more important than ever that we hold tight to the values that drive us: Democracy. Equality. Justice.
Now is the moment to reinforce our support for Israel as a democracy that values all of its citizens. Now is the moment when the work of Israel’s human rights champions is so vital. Now is the moment to address the divides between Jewish and Arab Israelis.
Before I close, I want to share with you this image from a rally NIF sponsored this weekend in Jerusalem. Hundreds set aside their fears to turn out and to make a statement about the cycle of terror that is plaguing Israel.
At the microphone is Yigal Elhanan whose sister was the victim of a terrorist attack eighteen years ago. Here is some of what he said:
“No person is born with a knife in his hand. No person is born a racist with hate filling his heart. The terrorist who killed my sister did not drink hate from his mother’s milk. Those who burned the child Mohammed Abu Khdeir did not get from their mothers gasoline and lighters as toys. The knife, the bomb, the lighter, and the Molotov cocktail is delivered by despair, by humiliation, and by racism.”
We must confront despair with action. We must end the policies that bring about humiliation. And we must drown out the voices of hate and incitement.
Thank you for your partnership.