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Israel Arab Mayor Shows
Common Ties That Bind


WHAT happened to us?” the mayor of the Arab town of Bak el Garbia in northern Israel wondered at the Abraham Fund dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria. Since its founding in 1989, the organization has supported dialogue and coexistence among Israel’s Arabs and Jews. Dinner guests included Ronald S. Lauder, Robert K. Lifton, Ambassadors Moshe Raviv and Ali Yahya, Seymour Reich and Mayor Jalal Abu-Tuameh, described happier days when thousands of Jews from nearby Hadera would come to his town on Saturdays to shop. The mall in Hadera would host hundreds of Arabs who’d come every Friday night from the surrounding villages.

Since the current spate of violence began, this two-way economic traffic has ceased.

“Is this accumulation of events, painful as they might be, powerful enough to destroy the interaction that was achieved during tens of years of coexistence and mutual respect?” Abu-Tuameh asked.

Portraying himself as the son of a proud Arab, Abu-Tuameh said he has long been  “a friend, partner and colleague to Jews,” having dedicated his life to “coexistence and cooperation between Arabs and Jews.”

UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke stated flatly, “Arabs and Jews have to live together or they will kill each other.”

Upon receiving the Abraham Fund’s Pioneer of Coexistence Award, Holbrooke pointed to the Balkans where he was able to bring Serbs, Croats and Muslims together to negotiate peace in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995.

“There have been no killings since,” he said.

The key, he insisted, is education.

“Hatred is taught by demagogues through bad history textbooks,” he said. “The suicide terrorists in the Middle East were born out of a history that teaches what they’re doing is noble when in fact it is cowardly.”

Now that the Mideast has again exploded in violence, people who have supported the goals of the Abraham Fund – fostering an atmosphere of tolerance and respect between Jews and Arabs in Israel – are faced with two alternatives.

The first choice is to give up on organizations like the Abraham Fund. The second choice, said president Judith Eigen Sarna, “is to get more involved with efforts to strengthen relations between Jews and Arabs, and to promote the values that the Abraham Fund stands for.”

For Sarna, the choice is simple: “I am too optimistic and not old enough to give up on the possibility that the world can become a better place.”

Sarna announced establishment of a $1 million emergency fund to get even more Israeli citizens, Jews ands Arabs, involved in the coexistence campaign.

“Jews and Arabs will not disappear,” said David Libai, chairman of the Abraham Fund’s Israel Public Council. “They need to learn to live together.”

Rabbi Michael Melchior, minister for Israel society and the world Jewish community, warned against turning the Palestinian-Israeli struggle into a religious battle for which “there will never be a resolution.”

“This is a territorial conflict between two people with a claim to the same land,” he said. “We have one God and there is room for Christians, Jews and Muslims in the same country.”


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