Over the course of the Chanukah holiday, several different events raised questions about belonging in the Holy Land, and how we understand that connection.
On the first night of Chanukah, the President of Israel, Isaac (Bougie) Herzog chose to light candles in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. In response to criticism, he declared that the Jewish connection to the site was beyond doubt.
On the last night of Chanukah, a right-wing march took place in the city of Lod, with several hundred demonstrators parading through the city carrying Israeli flags, promoting a message of Jewish sovereignty over mixed cities, as well as over all other areas in the Land of Israel. The sponsoring organizations made it very clear that their aim was to strengthen the Jewish population in the mixed cities and to send a clear message of Jewish dominance to the Arab minority.
What both these events have in common is confounding belonging to the land and in the land, with the land belonging solely to the Jewish people. President Herzog’s statement that the Jewish connection to Hebron is beyond doubt should be true – but that doesn’t mean that it should be marked by the brutal oppression of another people, or by shows of strength.
The right of Jews to live in the mixed cities of Ramle and Lod is also beyond doubt – but that too doesn’t mean that those cities belong to Jews or that Arabs should be made to feel lesser citizens. Xenophobic and racist marches do not serve us in building a safer and better future for all people living in this small piece of land – or even for Jews specifically. Whether we want it or not, Israelis – Jews, Christians and Muslims and indeed Israelis and Palestinians – must live side-by-side. The question is how? We can of course, march around to spread fear and incitement in mixed cities; in which case we can look forward to many more cycles of violence and bloodshed. Or we can work in these mixed cities for the benefit and welfare of all residents.
|On the 5th night of Chanukah, in between these two events, the Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue organised a joint Hannukah-Christmas party open to all residents of the city of Ramle. In contrast to the exclusive nature of the march, the party expressly invited Jews, Christians, Muslims, Israelis, Arabs, Palestinians, and all other identities. The Rossing Center’s activity did not see diversity as a threat but embraced it as a blessing. The Rossing Center recognizes that all religious and national groups belong here in the land – and our security depends on recognizing that fact and learning to live together.
During Channukah we often sing ‘We came to drive away the darkness, in our hands is light and fire.’ The darkness is hatred itself – not Arabs, as some of the Jewish marchers would have us believe – and the light and fire we hold in our hands are the values of respect, understanding, dialogue, peace, and equality.
Consider spreading the light with us in a campaign we are launching next week! For more details see below.
Dr. Sarah Bernstein