I drive to the Yellow Hill near Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion a few times a week, taking the kids to swim lessons or gymnastics. Our route there frequently passes Arab shepherds herding goats or sheep, speeding Arab taxis ferrying passengers between Hebron and Bethlehem, Arabs on horseback or driving donkey-drawn carts.
Somehow, these sights often inspire commentary from Peach (the only political animal among my children so far). The other day, while driving with my kids in the car, Peach announced, “I hate Arabs.”
It’s difficult sometimes to temper my young children’s reactions to the things they hear around them. A family we know lost their son, murdered at the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva a few years ago. The murderer? An Arab. The four people killed in a car just south of here in August were killed by an Arab. The security fence (some sections of which appear as a wall around here) was built to keep out Arab terrorists. The people who demand that we stop building in our yishuv so they can fritter away more time not making peace with us? Arabs.
Nevertheless, I don’t like the word “hate.” It’s very strong, and there is nothing essentially hateful in an Arab. They are human beings, like we are. They eat, sleep, learn, work, love and live much as we do. They are as much God’s creation as we are, and I don’t think it’s right to hate them.
What I do sanction is anger at their leadership, those who would harm us or poison others against us, and suspicion of them in general. While there may be some who don’t deny the right of Jews to live in their ancestral homeland, this study done by the Israel Project indicates that most Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank would like to see Israel disappear and be replaced by a Palestinian state. This isn’t shocking to me, or even surprising. I don’t blame them, because honestly, I feel the same about them. I was honest with Peach when I told her that if I were to wake up tomorrow morning and this land would be magically empty of Arabs, I would breathe a sigh of relief, much of my low-grade but ever-present anxiety would melt away, and I would feel utterly joyous. I don’t want them dead, or harmed in any way. I want them safely, comfortably settled with dignity—somewhere else.
This, I would point out, is more than can be said for most Arabs. Violence against Jews is common currency in Arab society and shedding Jewish blood scores major brownie points. (Consider the fact that this Arab man, released from prison and accused by others in his community of being a collaborator, sought to restore his own reputation by stabbing a Jewish woman.) In addition, while I’m honest about the facts of what happens in Israel with Peach, I try to discourage her from hating even those who wish us dead and I certainly don’t teach her hateful, nasty, biologically absurd ideas about our enemies being descended from pigs and monkeys the way Arabs teach their children about Jews.
Perhaps because I deliberately keep my views about Arabs complex and murky, I can tell that Beans is sometimes confused. She has at least one Arab man working at her school, and she speaks of him as a friendly person. She is also eager to learn to speak Arabic. When I asked her why, she wasn’t sure, only that she seemed to think that it makes sense living where we live to understand each other. Yet at the same time, knowing what some Arabs have done (such as tried to blow up our little supermarket in Efrat years ago), she feels nervous around Arabs she doesn’t know. When I take her to the Rami Levi supermarket at the Gush Etzion Junction where Jews and Arabs work and shop alongside one another, she often asks softly if a group of Arab men entering the store in front of us are Arabs. The answer is usually yes, but I also point out to her that the security guard has a metal detector wand which he waves around every Arab man’s waistline, front and back, to prevent anyone with an explosive belt from entering the building. I don’t know if that makes her feel better (or me, for that matter), but I try to show her that while Arabs are allowed to shop in Jewish-owned stores, given the past behavior of some Arabs THEY are the ones who get the wand treatment, and I (a woman with fair hair and skin, young children in tow, and only a small pack around my waist outside my shirt) do not.
There are times when I think that playing the game by Arab rules is appropriate. Meeting violence with harsh reprisals (targeted killings, air strikes in response to missiles fired at Israel, life imprisonment with no chance of parole or exchange for those with blood on their hands) is the very least Israel can do to maintain its self-respect when dealing with people who see mercy as weakness, justice as laughable, restraint as capitulation, and targeting civilians as legitimate. But when it comes to hatred, glorification of murder and suicide, and dehumanization, I think Israel is wise not to join them. Our God commands us to love life and do all we can to preserve it—theirs as well as ours. This is an area where I think Israel really gets it right.
Does it make life any easier, or my lessons to my children any clearer? Definitely not. But life is rarely that easy. It’s part of the epiphany I had the other day where I realized that there is nothing more fulfilling than being Jewish, and at the same time nothing as burdensome.