One of my favourite names for a work of art is “What to Do Till the Messiah Comes.”
I never read the 1971 “hippie book” by Bernard Gunther. But I do remember the ballet, created in 1973 by the late Canadian choreographer Norbert Vesak.
The award-winning “Belong Pas de Deux” from the ballet, made famous by Evelyn Hart and the late David Peregrine for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, remains one of the most breathtaking and erotic creations I have ever seen on a stage.
What does this have to do with Israel, you ask?
The name of the ballet flashed through my mind as I started thinking about Israel’s many goals and challenges in the year to come. Indeed, many of these priorities would fall under the title, “What to Do Till Peace Comes.”
Strengthen national security. Bridge the gap between the ultra-Orthodox and mainstream society. Grow the economy. Resume meaningful negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
The goal that doesn’t seem to attract much attention, however, is improving relations with Israel’s growing Arab population – especially after an increase in terror attacks by Israeli Arabs in recent years has reinforced the “us/them” mentality.
So it was somewhat surprising to hear Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announce recently that Israel is pushing to recruit more Arab Muslims into its police forces.
It’s a bold move that won’t win popularity contests among either Israeli Jews or Israeli Arabs. But it’s an acknowledgment that whatever happens in peace talks and border negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Israel has to find fair and practical solutions for accommodating Israeli Arabs within Israel’s borders, present and future.
“They are not going to disappear, and hopefully we are not, either,” Erdan, referring to Israeli Arabs and Jews, said in an interview with the New York Times.
Hard-core Zionists may dream of a future Israel as a completely Jewish state. But that’s magical thinking.
Israel’s 1.7 million Arab Muslims make up about 20 per cent of the population. But 60 per cent of Israel’s murders and 40 per cent of its traffic accidents occur in Arab communities, Erdan told the Times.
The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a nonprofit that promotes coexistence and equality among Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, says that Arabs were charged in 58 per cent of all arsons last year, 47 per cent of robberies, 32 per cent of burglaries and 27 per cent of drug trafficking cases.
However, Israel’s 450 Arab Muslim police officers make up only 1.5 per cent of the 30,000-member national police force. Erdan wants to quadruple that number over the next three years by adding 1,350 new officers. Many of these new recruits will work in Arab cities and towns, where the Ministry has promised to open 12 new police stations.
The Israeli government also plans to invest $4.9 million CAD in infrastructure, housing and other services in Arab communities.
Establishing stronger connections between Israeli Arabs and mainstream Jewish Israeli society will not be easy for either side.
Many Israeli Arabs identify as Palestinian, not Israeli. And they typically feel neglected, or even disproportionately targeted, by Israeli police.
Hanin Zoabi, an outspoken and controversial Arab member of the Knesset, was fined and given a six month suspended sentence earlier this year for accusing Arab-Israeli police officers of being traitors.
Many Israeli Jews, meanwhile, have come to view all Israeli Arabs as potential terrorists. This suspicion has increased in the last year, when several of the “lone wolf” stabbings and other terror attacks have been carried out by Israeli Arabs.
Increasing the number of Arab-Israeli police officers isn’t a magical solution for bridging these gaps. But it’s an important step, especially combined with economic initiatives.
What’s also essential is increased peace education for Muslim and Jewish children, not just in the school system, but through youth groups and shared sports activities.
A great example of this is the Barbara and Len Farber Science and Sports Centre in the Galilee’s Misgav region, the chosen project of 2016 Negev Dinner honouree Barbara Farber.
“It will be a place where Israeli Arab, Bedouin and Jewish children congregate after school to play sports and to learn about science and aeronautics and work and compete together as a team,” said Farber.
The young Muslim men and women training to be Israeli police officers are overcoming decades of prejudice and suspicion. If our future leaders can play and learn together as kids, much of that mistrust will never even take root.
And that’s a great way to start a New Year.