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Heartening news from Gilboa and Jenin

By Dan Fleshler | September 3, 2009

If we are to believe the rhetoric of some in the Israel-can-do-no-right crowd, the discrimination faced by Israeli Arabs proves that the majority-Jewish state is already comparable to South Africa under apartheid, and a 2-state solution will only make the situation permanent. In Israel and the territories, though, there are Jews and Arabs who can’t afford to just sit around condemning each other –and each other’s narratives– and have to figure out a way to live together. What follows is a heartening report from the estimable Ken Bob, President of Ameinu, about the growing cooperation between the Gilboa region in Israel and the West Bank city of Jenin.

Note that the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was a co-sponsor of the meeting described below, along with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli-Arab Issues, another American Jewish group that includes participants from the mainstream community. To some, their involvement means the meeting was inherently evil and the project could not possibly be anything other than a sham meant to hide Israel’s ongoing crimes. Qadoura M. Qadoura, Governor of Jenin, begs to differ. Here is an excerpt from Ken Bob’s report:

It is easy to be discouraged and even cynical about the Israeli-Palestinian track these days. As a matter of fact, on some level you can feel even worse about Jewish-Arab relations within Israel.

With that in mind, it was a welcome break to have the opportunity to meet this week with Danny Atar, the Jewish chairman of the Gilboa Regional Council and his Arab deputy, Eid Saleem, along with the their colleague Qadoura M. Qadoura, governor of the West Bank Jenin Governorate. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization sponsored the intimate event, along with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli-Arab Issues. To appreciate this story, one must know that of the Gilboa region’s 30,000 residents, 60 percent are Jewish and 40 percent are Arab. The city of Jenin, the urban center of the governorate, has a population of 40,000 and is right across the green line from the Gilboa region.

Setting the stage for the description of their groundbreaking collaboration, Saleem explained that when he was elected to the regional council in mid-90s, he had every intention to split it into separate Jewish and Arab councils like other regions have done. As he tells the story, he spent a long weekend with Atar discussing the matter, with “Danny convincing me to remain one council, saying if we can’t live together in a regional council, how will we live together in a country?”

With this joint motto, they went about attempting to provide economically and culturally for the citizens, creating a sense of one community. Atar acknowledged that “Jewish-Arab relations are complicated and have not reached a successful path in the state” and there is much work to be done. Saleem actually opened his comments with Theodore Herzl’s famous “Im Tirtzu – If you will it, it is no dream,” signaling that he truly believes in the co-existence approach. For example, the region has instituted an annual Bible-Koran quiz where Jewish and Arab students form teams and compete against each other. It has been so successful that it has spread to other areas in Israel as well. Their recent Coexistence Festival attracted over 80,000 people included thousands of youth from outside of their region. Saleem suggested that they must be doing something right since they were recently both re-elected for a fourth term.

The speakers focused, however, on their joint decision to move the coexistence project across the border and create a bond between the Gilboa region and Jenin, something truly unprecedented since the intifadas.

Qadoura, who previously spent 18 months in an Israeli prison, stated that “no two peoples can exist only meters from each other if one is the occupier and one is occupied, if one has a strong economy and one has a weak economy.” Elaborating, he offered that to create stability in his region, three components are required: personal security, economic development and political progress towards a peace agreement. Atar and Qadoura both attested to the advances made in security in Jenin, once a hotbed of radicalism and street violence. The centerpiece of the economic partnership is a new industrial zone that will provide jobs to thousands of Palestinians and Israelis. It will include olive oil production and an agricultural packing house operation for export to Europe of West Bank produce.

I asked Qadoura, a recognized leader of Fatah, how other West Bank leaders view the Gilboa-Jenin relationship. He replied that the younger leadership that gained ground within Fatah at the recent conference want peace and want progress like this project. He then smiled and said “our neighbors want to see whether the leaders of this initiative have their heads chopped off” before jumping in.

Topics: American Jews, Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians | 13 Comments »

13 Responses to “Heartening news from Gilboa and Jenin”

  1. Tom Mitchell Says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Dan,
    If Israel were like apartheid South Africa, there would be no difference in status between the Israeli Palestinians and the Palestinians of the PA. South Africa didn’t grant the franchise to even those urban blacks who still held South African citizenship.

    The status of Israeli Arabs is more akin to that of Catholics in Northern Ireland who faced discrimination in housing, employment, and gerrymandering of electoral boundaries to limit the power of their franchise. Without direct rule from London these discrimnatory practices would not have been rectified. Israel has no imperial overlord so the rights of the minority are dependent on the generosity of the majority.

    I oppose cooperation across the Green Line as it blurs the border and further promotes the argument of those advocating a one-state solution.

  2. Richard Witty Says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Its a great thing that there is collaboration between different communities. They are physical neighbors, border or not.

  3. Suzanne Says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    When this dynamic becomes the rule–rather than the exception–true progress will have been made.

    Still, it’s nice to know it’s happening here and there.

  4. Teddy Says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Heartening? I wouldn’t go that far. I’d say it offers glimmers of hope and a model for the rest of the region, but Gilboa is a very unusual area, isn’t it?

  5. Y. Ben-David Says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    Modus vivendi. Beautiful. What I have been advocating here for a long. Improve the lives of the Palestinians without forcing them to take stands that forces the radicals to push everyone on the Arab side to extreme positions.

  6. Richard Witty Says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 7:02 am

    Good point Yakov.

    I hope you see that they have needs that the settlement expansion effort makes very difficult if not impossible, and will therefore advocate restraint on settlement expansion, so that peace is possible.

  7. Robin Says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Hey guys, I just wanted to point out that I left a comment (very belatedly) addressing some of your questions about the right of return on the thread from Aug. 15 (Banish Me…), just so you don’t miss it.

  8. Suzanne Says:
    September 7th, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    I’m late to see this: Lebanese Writer Farid Salman: Jordan, West Bank Should Become a Palestinian State, Which Will Absorb the Refugees

    I guess he kind of agrees with Yaakov about the intentions of leftist Jews.

    Has anybody seen this interview before?

  9. Tom Mitchell Says:
    September 7th, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Suzanne,
    I agree with him on the narrow issue of the Palestinian refugees. But it seems from his other remarks like he is scapegoating Jordan for Lebanon’s problems, which he blames on the presence of the Pals.

    This is typical of the losing ethnic groups: the Maronites, the Druze, the Sunni Muslims.

  10. Suzanne Says:
    September 8th, 2009 at 7:51 am

    I read some of his other comments in another part of the interview and he thinks American Jews have an agenda to destroy America and Western Europe.

    It’s really sad that this is who is representing the Arab world and it reflects where they are at.

    BTW–I thought his overall reason for endorsing Jordanian absorption had evil intent…i.e. to stampede Israel and achieve right of return by sheer volume.

    His theory (or whatever it is) of Jewdanians is insane. He’s talking about Phil Weiss et ilk I suppose…but still…whew! he’s nutters.

    As long as this is the Arab mentality…I guess I will always give the Israeli settlers some slack…as much as I think settlements–on the face of it–are wrong. But this is what they have to deal with.

  11. Tom Mitchell Says:
    September 8th, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Suzanne,

    I took the Jewdanian remark as a slam at the Hashemite dynasty for being too close to Israel. Since 1948 Jordan has attempted to accommodate itself to Israel’s existence rather than tilting at windmills like the other Arab regimes.

  12. Suzanne Says:
    September 8th, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Tom–it’s an odd term and I didn’t know what he meant by it. But this from the interview seems to clarify what he means:

    “The Anti-Zionist “Jewdanians… Have Now Gained Power, Along With Obama”

    “With regard to Israel, I am very optimistic. For 40 years, I have been writing about this issue – about Zionism and about the people I call ‘the Jewdanians’ – that group of Jews around the world who are against the Zionist philosophy and state. They have now gained power, along with Obama.”

    He wrote elsewhere that they just started their own lobby. Either he is pipe-dreaming or I don’t know what’s going on right under my own nose. haha!

  13. Tom Mitchell Says:
    September 8th, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Suzanne,

    I guess I read that rather too quickly. It is a very strange formulation. The whole interview seemed rather strange.

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