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The other half of Israel: do religious Jews hate Arabs?

Last week, a friend who volunteers teaching English to kids in an Arab village near Karmiel mentioned an informal survey he’d done among the kids he teaches.  He asked them, hypothetically, who they wouldn’t want living in their village. 

He listed a whole bunch of different types of people:  Arab Christians, Americans, religious and non-religious Jews.

It turned out that the main group of people that the kids didn’t want coming to live in their village was religious Jews.


Because, according to the kids, religious Jews hate Arabs more.

In other words:  not because they hate us, but because they believe we hate them.

I was astonished, but actually this makes sense.  They probably figure that the people who are most passionate about the religion are also the most passionate Zionists.  And thus, the most passionate Arab-haters.

To me, being a religious Jew is totally about Israel.  But it is not at all about hatred. 

I always figured that when I made aliyah, I’d understand the situation here a lot more clearly.  You know, being actually present on the ground, as opposed to being way off in North America.

That’s about as accurate as a flea expecting to understand a dog’s life just because it lives on the dog’s back. 

There’s no way.

I mean, that dog is running around, catching frisbees, cuddling with its owners, napping, eating, dreaming, rolling in the mud.  And there’s that flea:  hanging on for dear life, hoping it will be right side up at the end of the day.

If anything, seeing the situation on the ground makes it even more complex and confusing.  Instead of thinking about “Arabs” as a whole, you have to think about individuals.  The 80-something Arab Muslim I met last week who lives in Haifa and speaks better Hebrew than most Jewish Israelis.  His best friend is a Jew and they go to all of each other’s simchas.  And then there’s the guy who stabbed a young Israeli soldier who was sleeping next to him on a bus.  I wonder if he’s ever had a Jewish friend.

Let me clarify one thing:  when I’m talking about Arabs here, I’m not talking about Gazans or anyone else living under the Palestinian authority.  Just about folks with Israeli citizenship, who live in Israel just like me, and who happen to be Arab.

Do we hate Arabs because they stand in the way of creating a truly Jewish state?  Because they kill our kids?  Because they refuse to sing our national anthem in the Knesset, since it speaks of the Jews’ two-thousand year longing to return to our homeland?  Because they haggle with us relentlessly on the way to the Kosel?

Yup, I’m just a flea here, hanging on for dear life.  And it turns out I don’t have any more answers than I did back in Canada.

I suspect many religious Jews, especially olim, deal with this situation by not looking at it. 
And some deal with it by hating, because hating is easier than understanding. 

But if you hate, where do you draw the line?  Do you hate the Arab cabbie who blasts some kind of shouty Arabic sermon over his cab’s speakers?  The doctor who works in the neighbourhood’s health clinic on Shabbat so a Jew doesn’t have to?  The kid who brings you your (kosher) nuggets at McDonald’s?  The bus driver who chats obliviously on the phone as he plummets down the hill from Tzfat?

(Yes, it’s true; almost all of my encounters with Arabs in this country have been as a customer and not as a friend or neighbour.)

And then, too, how much of what we feel as hatred is actually fear?  Fear that we’ll be the ones the next terrorist drives a car into, or throws stones at, or stabs while we sleep on an Egged intercity bus.

When I mentioned this to my 20-year-old son, he said it made perfect sense.  But then he thought about it and qualified:  religious Jews outside of Israel might hate Arabs more, simply because they know more about the situation here and feel more strongly about Israel. 

But here in Israel, I think the hatred is spread out pretty well equally.  And to me, at least, it doesn’t seem to have much connection with how religious or how Zionist a person is.  There are religious people and Zionists who can envision ultimately sharing “their” Israel, and others who can’t.

Arabs are all around us.  I believe this is a good thing.  A friend of mine used to grow a few flowers in her garden, but hated bees or insects of any kinds.  Earthworms, too.  And I’d tell her, “You wouldn’t want to live in a world without bees in it.”  And earthworms.  None of those flowers would exist without them.

This is their country, too. 

In the picture at the top of this post, by the way, both the soldier and the kid are Arabs.  And I have that soldier to thank, in some way, for keeping me alive here in my Holy Land.

I suspect most of Israel’s Arab citizens are just fleas like we are, clinging desperately to the hairs that keep their lives stable and hoping not to get too splattered in mud.

Did you start reading this thinking I had all the answers?  I don’t, though there are plenty of blogs out there that think they do, if that’s what you’re looking for.  

I just know that I don’t want to be a person who hates.  My Judaism includes other nations, including the descendants of Ishmael.  I want to live peacefully and defend others’ right to do the same.

Does your Israel include Arabs???  Let me know in the comments.

A few books I’ve read recently on this topic that might or might not be helpful:

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

[photo credit:  Israel Defense Forces via Wikimedia]


  1. I work with Arabs, see them as people, but I also know that many of the Arab terrorists had worked with Jews and suddenly, no warning, turned on us and murdered/terrorized.

    1. I know what you mean. I have no clue where the line should be between trusting and gullible, between advancing the cause of peace and being a nation of freiers. Another thing I thought would be clearer when I moved here...

  2. This post has been included in the latest  Combined Havel Havelim (Post-Shavuot) and Kosher Cooking Carnival, Sivan. I'd appreciate your taking a look and letting your readers know. Also visit the other blogs, comment and share. And of course you are welcome to join our Jewish blog carnival community.

    Have a wonderful week!

  3. I want to say one thing: the conflict isn't about religion, it's about land.

    It's not a two thousand year long conflict; in fact, at the time, jewish-muslim relations were much better than jewish-christian.
    No, the conflict only started when Jews started settling at Israel and taking the land for themselves.

    The conflict is about land, not religion. Religion just naturally became associated with it.

    1. Hi, Noam! I definitely agree, to some extent. This is clear also from the fact that there are many Jews who are passionate about Judaism but couldn't really care less about Israel.
      But I think it's wrong to disregard religion entirely, given how many passionate Zionists are in fact religious Jews who see themselves as doing God's work by living in the Land. This may not have been the case historically before the State of Israel, but it is part of the modern reality of both Judaism and Israel.
      Thanks for stopping by - thoughtful comments ALWAYS welcome. :-)

    2. "the conflict isn't about religion, it's about land."

      Have you gone bloody mad?
      The riots in 1929 when the arabs of Hebron massacred the Jewish population who had established the community there for 800 years? was that about land?
      When 7 Arab armies attacked Israel - and had no intention of establishing any Palestinian state was that "about land" ?
      19 Years later when Nasser bragged he would drive us into the sea.. and while the arabs across the middle east cheered and started organizing armies to join in the "struggle" was that all about land?
      In 1973 when Syria and Egypt attacked - and Iraq sent tanks to help throw Israel into the sea.. was that about land?
      In 2001 when the PA rejected Ehud's Barak's offer of 96% of the West Bank and Gaza with land swaps for the rest. and Arafat's minions started a second Intifada - even as Barak offered to continue negotiating with them (while under fire), was that "about land"
      After Israel completely withdrew from Gaza - and rockets started pouring down on Sderot was that about land?

      When in response to placement of metal detectors around the area that was attacked last week by three gun men there is daily rioting - is that about land?

      When a 16 year old who lives in a large house in Jerusalem decides to take a knife and go stab some jews - is that about land?

      When 19 terrorists took four planes and killed over 3000 Americans - was that because of Land? Or wealth disparity?

      The Jews of Israel would gladly put this conflict behind us, even at a high price. But there is no wide belief that any compromise would do anything but worsen the situation. (as did both the Oslo accords and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza)


I'd love to hear what you have to say.