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Why Are Israelis Scared of Palestinian Identity?

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The violent upheaval that embroiled Jewish and Arab citizens this past May generated increased public discussion of the feasibility of a shared Jewish and Arab society in Israel. During and after those events, prominent actors in various sectors – local government, business, organized labor, education and academia, and other public institutions – called for maintaining or even intensifying efforts to forge a shared life. This is a new approach, not evident in prior rounds of escalation between Jews and Arabs inside Israel. Nor is it a typical response to escalation in national conflicts generally, and it was unusual in its scope and force. We think those calls at the height of the crisis were crucial in limiting or reducing the violence and preventing the implosion of relations between Jews and Arabs here.

This new pattern did not come out of nowhere. In the last few years, we’ve seen more and more public spaces and institutions where Arabs and Jews routinely meet, mainly workplaces and campuses. More Arab citizens have also established a greater presence in centers of power and influence.

Additionally, more public agencies and civil-society initiatives have taken steps to include Arab citizens as partners, participants and sometimes leaders in their programs. The process first trended widely within the Jewish left, and then spread beyond it to the political center. This is fortuitous because as the foundations for a shared society for Jews and Arabs become broader, encompassing larger and more diverse public constituencies and public, private and civil-society entities – the stronger and more stable those foundations will become. In turn, those foundations will have greater capacity to support bridge-building between Jews and Arabs, and perhaps even to forestall any future escalation of conflict.

Because this trend is relatively new and fragile, however, our efforts should aim to make it broader and deeper, forging a much more stable basis for a shared society. As two people long active in building partnerships between Jews and Arabs, we want to note that such joint efforts are typically beset by three fundamental problems. In the hope of helping others contend with them, we describe these problems below and offer some key guidelines for action.

National identity

The first basic problem often seen in shared spaces and joint organizations is the expectation, often unstated, that Arabs need to choose between their civil identity as Israelis and their national identity as Palestinians – and leave the latter at the door, or at least minimize it, when they enter shared spaces. This expectation becomes conspicuous when........

© Haaretz

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