Mourners put their arms around each other during a mass vigil for Israelis and Palestinians killed in Hamas killings and Israeli bombardment. San Francisco, Oct. 10, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Mourners put their arms around each other during a mass vigil for Israelis and Palestinians killed in Hamas killings and Israeli bombardment. San Francisco, Oct. 10, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Jewish-Arab partnerships like ours now face their greatest test

Every fifth person in Israel is Arab. We must remind ourselves that, especially now, in these trying times.

As leaders of AJEEC, Israel’s most prominent Jewish-Arab civil society organization, we have worked on intercommunity projects for two decades.

Among the many things we do is develop partnerships between Jewish and Arab schoolchildren and bring together Arab and Jewish mayors to imagine municipal collaborations. We educate Arab children and students, in their communities and with their communities, to see themselves as equals in Israeli society and economy and to act accordingly.

The challenges are immense, but the successes are just as significant.

Here’s one example: In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, AJEEC’s work in the field allowed us to witness an unprecedented coming together of different forces. While we cannot claim a totally equitable distribution of state resources during that period, the overwhelming sense was that every corner of society was threatened — and every corner of society showed up to contribute what they could.

The heroic efforts of Arab health care workers, in particular, were applauded by all. The virus served as a common enemy against which we could all unite.

The war that began on Oct. 7 has shaken every part of Israeli society to its core.

As the chairman and co-CEO of AJEEC-NISPED, we are not strangers to managing crises in Arab-Israeli society. Since AJEEC began operations in 2000, our organization has dealt with no shortage of social, political and security crises. We are, however, extremely worried about the implications of the current crisis on our Arab-Jewish partnership.

During the horror of Oct. 7, our dear founder and board member Vivian Silver was abducted by Hamas terrorists to Gaza. Vivian, who has dedicated decades of her life to the Jewish-Arab partnership, has a simple, practical and pragmatic vision: We are destined to live together, and our mission is to figure out how. I have no doubt that she holds to her vision even now, sitting in Hamas captivity.

We must not allow the horrors committed by Hamas to compromise the fragile relationship between Arabs and Jews in Israel.

For decades, we have been building trust, collaborations and cooperation with Israel’s Arab society in higher education, industry, the medical system and much more. We must not identify Israel’s Arab society as “them” who are not part of “us” in this war against evil.

Arab society suffered dozens of casualties in the brutal attacks on Oct. 7. Many Arab citizens died, were injured, are missing, and were kidnapped by Hamas. Yes, they kidnapped Arabs, as well.

A Jewish-Arab shared society means we do whatever we can to live together.

Unfortunately, sometimes we also die together.

As Israel wages war against terror, we cannot let our commitment to our partners in peace waver.

Now more than ever, we must commit ourselves to advancing Arab-Jewish partnership and equality of opportunity for every citizen of Israel, as these are the foundations of a just and lasting peace and a democratic, resilient Israeli society.

This piece is presented in partnership with the Z3 Conference on Nov. 5 in Palo Alto. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of J.

Kher Albaz and Ilan Amit

Kher Albaz is the chairman and Ilan Amit the co-CEO of the Jewish-Arab civil society organization AJEEC-NISPED.