Amid nightly violent demonstrations and riots in many cities in Israel, Arab and Jewish citizens throughout the country are trying to send a message of hope.
“I’m sitting at home scared, it’s happening here everywhere. They burned down the playground near my house,” said Nur Abu Ghanem, a twelfth grader from Ramla, a mixed Arab-Jewish city.
Abu Ghanem is a high school student at the Tichon HaChevrati high school in Ramleh, which is part of the Dror Educational Centers network of high schools. As a member of the school’s student council, she worked with other Arab and Jewish students to make a video condemning the violent demonstrations.
“I am texting people all the time, both Jews and Arabs, about how the situation must change,” she said.
The situation Abu Ghanem and her peers are opposing is indeed bleak, with Jewish-Arab violence within Israel reaching an intensity and scope that is unprecedented in recent years. Since last week, young Jewish and Arab Israelis have damaged property, burned vehicles and houses, and even murdered other citizens in cities across the country. In some instances, rioters went from door to door, demanding to know whether the property was Jewish or Arab.
In Jaffa, a 12-year-old Arab boy was injured when an Arab youth threw a Molotov cocktail into his home, thinking it belonged to a Jewish family, setting the home on fire.
In Bat Yam, young Jews lynched an Arab man, who was hospitalized in critical condition. A Jewish teacher who took to the streets in order to prevent his students from participating in the riots was beaten by young Arabs, and he too was hospitalized in critical condition.
A Jewish resident of Lod, where some of the most intense rioting has taken place, died of his wounds after being attacked with stones. An Arab man in Lod also died after being shot by Jewish residents.
Throughout the country, there have been reports of Arab bus drivers who could not return to their homes for fear of violence. Their Jewish co-workers have had to physically protect them so that they could leave the bus terminal after their shifts.
Waze, a popular navigation app in Israel, starts every trip with a request to avoid unnecessary travel. Authorities have warned Jews against traveling on many roads, especially in the north, for fear of getting hurt on their way. Some Arab workers, meanwhile, are reportedly afraid to show up for work, as they fear for their safety.
In the face of such a harsh reality, public figures, educators, young people, and social activists have decided to take action.
Abu Ghanem says she has many Jewish friends who oppose the situation, so she was happy to participate in the film.
"We wanted to say that there is no difference between an Arab and a Jew, and that there should be peace. That Jews and Arabs should stand together and say clearly: We live here together in this country and that is how it should be,” Abu Ghanem said. “I have Jewish teachers at school. How can we think that they don’t want us to be here?”
"I speak on behalf of all the students in our school, but also on behalf of my family and friends. There is no difference between us, because we live together in this country, and I want to say that to the whole country and the world. Stop this war, stop the violence,” she said.
“The video is the product of a variety of activities carried out in recent days in the [Dror Educational Centers] network’s schools against incitement and violence in Israeli society,” Gil Vardi, 39, coordinator of the new media program at the Haifa Tichon HaChevrati high school, told Davar.
“We tried to make something positive by creating a different conversation, one that strengthens coexistence, to lower the flames of hatred raging in the streets,” he said.
“Our students come from all over the region, most of them from Haifa and the surrounding areas. They experience all the violence and tension in this country,” Vardi said. “The situation is not good, and unlike previous wars, this time it feels like it’s eating us from within, while silencing the sane voices in society. Our students understand what’s going on and decided to add a counter-message, to show that there is room for a sane voice that calms the situation."
Protests against the violence were also held across the country over the weekend, with both Arabs and Jews participating.
“A demand for calm.”
A joint protest demonstration was held in Habima Square in Tel Aviv. According to the organizers, the demonstration was against “incitement, escalation and arson,” and was “a demand for calm.”
At the Hemed Interchange, on a highway near Jerusalem, a demonstration of Jews and Arabs took place as well.
Further protests took place in dozens of centers across the country, in cities and on overpasses.
The “educator patrol”
In Tiberias, educators have also gotten involved in efforts to de-escalate the violence in the streets. Last week, over 30 educators walked the streets after a night of riots in which many of their students participated.
“I saw two of my students here. One we managed to bring home. The other is still here,” said a teacher at one of the high schools in Tiberias, who walked around the city on Thursday during the riots.
Tensions in the city rose after a violent demonstration last week, during which young Jews threw stones at Arab passers-by and attempted to harm local businesses. A police officer was hit in the head and lightly injured.
“We are here to take responsibility,” Eli Meiri, head of the education department in the Tiberias municipality, said. The “educator patrol” was his idea.
“The goal is to send a message of calm and control,” he said.
In Akko, a mixed Jewish-Arab city in the north of Israel, a theater was burned last week, apparently as a result of arson. The theater, established 36 years ago, was considered one a symbol of the co-existence between Jews and Arabs in the city.
Residents of Akko went out Saturday morning to clean up the center of the Old City, including the area around the theater.