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On a bridge near Abu Gosh, Arabs and Jews showed me a better way

“We can be together,” the flyer said. Jews and Arabs. And we were. At 6 p.m. on Thursday, dozens gathered on a bridge outside Abu Gosh, a town on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, wearing jeans and T-shirts, dancing and singing, holding up their hopeful signs. “The solution to racism is cooperation between Jews and Arabs,” said a purple one. “Women Wage Peace,” was the blue. “B’yachad” — Hebrew for “together.”

All week, we had watched as the violence spiraled. Clashes between the Israeli police and Muslim worshippers in the Old City. A barrage of some 1,800 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Retaliatory Israeli airstrikes into Gaza.

And hours after we gathered on that bridge, the conflict entered a frightening new phase, with the Israeli military announcing early Friday morning that ground troops had joined the assault on Gaza.

An Arab and Jewish woman stand by a sign that reads “women wage peace” in Hebrew, Arabic, and English Photo by Laura Ben-David

Red Alert sirens have been sounding in Israel, around the clock in many parts of the country, including some of our densest population centers — with direct hits happening way more than we’d like; Iron Dome notwithstanding. Stone throwing, Molotov cocktails and other attacks have kept all of us on edge. As if this wasn’t enough, terrible violence has broken out in numerous previously peaceful mixed Jewish-Arab cities around Israel. Arabs attacking Jews; Jews attacking Arabs.

Arab and Jewish Israelis demonstrating on the Hemed Bridge, near Abu Gosh.

Arab and Jewish Israelis demonstrating on the Hemed Bridge, near Abu Gosh. By Laura Ben-David

The war with Hamas we can fight. But how do we fight the battles going on in our own cities and with our own neighbors?

A man holding a sign that says in Hebrew, “the answer to racism: Jewish-Arab partnership.” By Laura Ben-David

In addition to the massive harm caused to us as individuals, what about the harm caused to the basic trust between peoples? Have years of coexistence vanished in the flames of the synagogues, the broken glass of an ice cream parlor, in the beating of an innocent driver?

While the rocket onslaughts are incredibly scary for all who are targeted, the rioting and acts of violence in the neighborhoods are also depressing. Is this who we really are at our core?

A peace demonstration on the Hemed Bridge, near Abu Gosh, Israel.

A peace demonstration on the Hemed Bridge, near Abu Gosh, Israel. By Laura Ben-David

A Facebook post by Israeli politician Yair Lapid gave the situation some badly-needed perspective: “The rioters in Lod and Acre don’t represent every Israeli Arab, the rioters in Bat Yam and the members of La Familia, Lehava…don’t represent Israel’s Jews….”

He was right, of course. But what do we do when what is unfolding right in front of us reflects a different reality?

The answer is to stand up together — Jew and Arab — and tell the country, and the world, who we really are. Who we really could be.

That’s exactly what happened Thursday on the Hemed Bridge, near Abu Gosh, just outside of Jerusalem, as well as in several other cities. Hundreds of Jews and Arabs from the surrounding villages came together with music, dancing, flags and flowers — all to show that we refuse to hate one another.

Three young Arab boys at a peace demonstration on the Hemed Bridge, near Abu Gosh, in Israel.

Three young Arab boys at a peace demonstration on the Hemed Bridge, near Abu Gosh, in Israel. By Laura Ben-David

The people who gathered seemed very ordinary — Moms and dads. Kids. Grandparents. Neighbors joining together to demonstrate that what you see on the news does not define us.

Often, it wasn’t entirely clear who was a Jew and who was an Arab. While I was late to arrive due to challenges finding parking and accessing the bridge, the demonstration did not seem to have any formal leaders or politicians involved — it was truly grassroots activism at its best.

And people were so happy to be there. Almost felt like a street party. It truly brought light in a difficult time.

I’d like to think that this — not the violence, war and bloodshed — is who we really are.

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