Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel must continue
Raya Strauss Ben-Dror
Photo: Courtesy of the Spokesperson unit of the President of Israel

By Raya Strauss Ben-Dror

I was born in Nahariya before the State of Israel was established, and I still live there.

I have lived alongside Arabs my entire life. When I was a young girl, they sat next to me in classes at the local high school; and I met them on the production lines, working shoulder to shoulder with Jewish workers at the Strauss Group food production plants founded by my parents, where they received the exact same salaries as their Jewish coworkers.

In recent years, through the Treasures of the Galilee philanthropic tourism venture that I established, I helped hundreds of small businesses in the tourism sector, including many dozens of Arab businesses.

At the Galilee Medical Center, where I serve as president of its friends association, hundreds of Jews and Arabs work together under the leadership of Prof. Masad Barhoum, the general director of the medical center and an Arab resident of the Galilee. At our hospital, there are no “Arabs” and “Jews” — there are patients and staff members, and the motto of the institution is “a person is a person is a person.”

Together, a few years ago, the medical staff treated badly-injured Syrians from that country’s civil war. This past year, everyone together treated hundreds of coronavirus patients at the hospital.

I know the city of Acre very well. For many years, the Strauss Company had an ice-cream factory there. My late brother Michael was a mentor to Acre’s mayor for over 20 years, until he died. In the city’s music conservatory, which is named for our parents, Dr. Richard and Hilde Strauss, 750 outstanding music students play music together — Jews, Muslims and Christians. Several years ago, I arranged for the Israeli Opera to perform in Acre, and many members of my tourism initiative are from the city. I have promoted shared existence for years.

In 2015, I decided to spearhead a quantum leap for the Western Galilee. The goal is to improve the quality of life and the standard of living in the region. For this purpose, I recruited 180 leaders who live in the area, and together we devised a common vision. Public figures from the Arab community also took part in the process.

The vision statement to which we all agreed specifies: “All residents of the Western Galilee are proud to be part of the Galilee, to take responsibility and, together, create a flourishing region that is resistant to crises. We recognize heterogeneity to be a source of strength and treat one another with respect and civility.”

It broke my heart to see the violent events of recent days in Acre. Since the violent incidents in the city in 2003, we successfully overcame quite a few crises in the region, such as the Second Lebanon War, and we witnessed gestures of assistance and solidarity — for example, during the terrible flooding in Nahariya. In recent days, the Western Galilee’s togetherness is facing an enormous threat.

I refuse to concede. I don’t have another country. We cannot afford an unending internal conflict. Regional leaders — mayors, religious dignitaries, opinion leaders — must join forces to rekindle coexistence and make sure the voices of good people who want to live together in peace will drown out the bad voices and the violence which threatens to harm everyone.

We don’t need to love everybody. We don’t have to agree about everything. We just need to respect one another. If we come together and make a united effort, the Western Galilee can still be a better place to live.

Raya Strauss Ben-Dror is president of the Israeli Friends of Galilee Medical Center. She has served as the International Partnership co-chair, and is involved in promoting connections between Jewish communities around the globe, and Israel, for many years. Raya resides in the Western Galilee and is a strong supporter of the development of the region. This piece first appeared in the June 6 issue of the Jerusalem Post and is reprinted with permission of Raya Strauss Ben-Dror.

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