It was March of 2005 when we first heard the term, “Arab Spring.” This was not too far removed from 9/11 which led to the incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan by a coalition of military forces. Many in the west felt that all people wanted in repressive regimes were a sense of freedom. But people who have never known true freedom are hard-pressed to understand its meaning.
In 2011, Arab countries surrounding Israel began to embark on massive internal struggles. It began in Tunisia in December 2010 and then the dominos began to fall in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Countries that were once thought relatively stable, like Jordan and Turkey, are suddenly fighting for their lives. So what happened exactly and what difference does this make to Israel?
The west is often pulled into chaotic circumstances. We can, with the best of intentions, foment greater instability through naivety. Often, one’s desperation for a solution can look like political capitulation and foolishness (though not and Arab country, Iran is a perfect example). President Barack Obama has said that Palestine “should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” And even more myopic, “the Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves and reach their potential in a sovereign and contiguous state.” That all sounds reasonable until you dig beneath the shallow surface of reality – the Palestinian Authority is a corrupt regime seriously at odds with itself. The greatest enemy in these Arab countries is not Israel; it’s their own failed worldview.
Arabs living in Israel fare far better than they do in Arab countries. Did you see that in the news? And they fare far better than those in the West Bank or Gaza by a long shot. No one seems to protest against the thousands of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel who work every day as doctors, nurses, and pharmacists in Jewish cities, helping patients. “I am greeted with a lot of respect,” says Dr. Mahmoud Abo Salwook, 38, an endocrinologist from the Arab village of Kafr Qassem who treats diabetes patients in the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak. He has worked for nine years in clinics in Jewish neighborhoods. The Israeli health system also attracts Palestinian citizens because of the centrality of the medical oath, which requires professionals to treat patients without bias.
For those of us living in the west, Israel is seen as the pariah, pushing down the rights of Palestinians and harassing the helpless. The reality is something far different; a tiny and vulnerable country living with people who hold fast to a religious ideology that rewards those who hate and want nothing more than the eradication of the state. On the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, however, Jews and Arabs live mostly in harmony; engaged in a strange but tangible symbiosis that is rarely celebrated.