We have elections next month, the fourth elections in two years. As a result, we are experiencing political unrest from both governmental instability and the pandemic. The good news, however, is that the vaccine seems to be working around the world (although not distributed fairly). This will allow us to eventually have meetings face-to-face. We hope this will further the process of our reconciliation work. But we are also troubled by the fact that the State of Israel is limiting the number of vaccinations in the West Bank and Gaza. Not only is this a violation of International Law and human rights, but there is also something deeply immoral in this policy. It also adds to the enmity between people and a lost opportunity to practice good will and care of neighbor.
As we approach the one-year mark of the pandemic and enter the fourth round of elections in only two years, tension and instability are high and any slight provocation could escalate, causing further harm to communities already suffering. In addition to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is growing friction between secular Jews and religious Zionists, especially when it comes to the Orthodox community. Among the secular society, there is a feeling that religious Jews did not obey the pandemic regulations and that the government turned a blind eye. This anger is directed towards both the religious community for their recklessness and the government for not enforcing the rules due to political considerations.
A recent study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (How the Haredi street turned racist and ultra-nationalist – Israel News – Haaretz.com
) confirmed this tension between secular Jews and religious Zionists, as well as between Palestinians in Israel and Israeli-Jews. The study mapped the level of hatred among the various communities in the country by interviewing a nationally representative sample of Israel’s different “tribes”: secular Jews, religious Zionists, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Palestinians living in Israel. The group that was hated the most overall by Jewish society was the Palestinians living in Israel. Around 24% of secular Jews, 42% of religious Zionists, and 66% of ultra-Orthodox Jews reported hating Palestinians living in Israel. Moreover, 49% of religious Zionists and 23% of secular Jews supported stripping Palestinians in Israel of their right to vote. Palestinians in Israel reported hating religious Zionists (22%) and ultra-Orthodox (22%).
Internal tension between Jews was also reported in the study, with 23% of secular Jews reporting hating ultra-Orthodox Jews. The hatred between Palestinians and Israeli-Jews is a known fact but the increasing level of hatred between different segment of the Jewish society has been exacerbated during the pandemic. Hatred seems to have become the norm in our region, and it is not limited to any specific boundaries. What is worse is the lack of condemnation of such hatred by religious, political and community leaders. Unaddressed hatred leads to violence, causing damage to all aspects of society, and accelerates division and fragmentation.
These “tribes” are becoming increasingly polarized and the limited contact among the different communities only exacerbates an already desperate situation. The perils of this echo-chamber effect are that like-minded people who engage in discussions with one another tend to move toward extreme positions. For those who already hold extreme views, this dynamic may lead to much more dangerous consequences.
For this reason, reconciliation work is extremely important. We need to bring people together with the help of organizations and individuals who have experienced the dynamics of reconciliation encounters. It is vital to prevent bad reconciliation encounters, and therefore, experience and wisdom in this field is key. Despite the high levels of hatred, Musalaha is receiving more and more requests to join its programs. There are other people groups who do wish to see an alternative to the conflict and embark on the journey of reconciliation.
As we begin to prepare for the upcoming holidays of Passover and Easter, we reflect on the theme of liberation from slavery and captivity. This should serve as a reminder to liberate ourselves and others from the slavery of hatred and its captivity over our lives. We pray for the day we will celebrate our freedom from hatred. – Salim J. MunayerMusalaha Executive Director