Coexistence in Israel?

Just before the Christmas holidays, I hosted some delegations from Europe. Some of the visits entailed me guiding them around one of Jerusalem’s leading hospitals. They witnessed at first hand a multi-ethnic staff treating Jews, Moslems, Christians, and whoever else came through the door.

Some of the tourists expressed surprise. In comparison to what they were used to seeing about Israel via the international media, this was not what they expected to see. Was it typical, I was asked.

How to answer? In Jerusalem, you have ultra orthodox fighting (almost literally) against the state authorities. In the Palestinian territories, minority extreme sections of Israeli society can be seen inciting Palestinian neighbours. Bedouins for years have not received social services available to others. And so the list goes on.

Yes, it is easy to criticise, but then which society is perfect. Just look at what is happening in Sweden today, seen for decades as the bastion of a politically correct land.

So, if Israel’s hospitals are getting it right, day in and day out, what else happens in Israel? can a pressure cooker of 7.5million turn out all right?

Well, once a week, I do my shopping at a branch of the Rami Levy supermarket chain. I can assure my readers that a fair proportion of the buyers are not Jewish. And the latest outlet opened up in Gush Etzion, an area where the two sides have distrusted each other continuously.

What about the religious and non religious battle ground, where often comaprisons are made to Iran. Go the kibbutz Shomeriyya in the Negev desert. In the past decade, the farmers have been joined by a group of observant Jews, who used to live in the Gaza Strip and were evacuated in 2005.

On the surface, apart from an id card and passport, the two sets of people conduct their lives in very contrary ways. And yet, they have found how to put aside political and religious differences. By talking, they realise that they have more in common than could be believed. Even if the “application” is different, ideals and aims are similar.

The Abraham Fund has dedicated over 20 years of efforts to bring peoples of different religions in Israel to work together. Elwyn serves over 2,500 children and adults with disabilities from all sectors find their positions in society. etc, etc.

Last month, the Yediot newspaper led with a story about refugees from Sudan and other parts of Africa. A moving photo showed the sufferers, walking through the desert and crossing illegally into Israel. As my wife said, we must be doing something right for these people to want to come here that badly.

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