Children of Both Identities
Mohammad Darawshe is co-executive director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives and a Palestinian citizen of Israel.
April 28, 2011
KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: Mohammad Darawshe is Arab and Israeli — a Muslim Palestinian citizen of the Jewish state. Like 20 percent of Israel’s population, he is, as he puts it, a child of both identities. He brings an unexpected way of seeing inside the Israeli-Palestinian present and future.
MR. MOHAMMAD DARAWSHE: I was with my family a couple of years ago in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt and I was arguing with the cashier because we are a family and I was arguing for a discount in Arabic. And after we got in, you know, the director of marketing came to me and he says, “I know you’re Israeli but you speak Arabic, how come?” And the guy has a master’s degree in Marketing from Cairo University and he did not know that in 1948, some of the Palestinian people stayed home. So the Arab world doesn’t know of our existence in many cases. And many Israelis don’t know. Let alone the Western world.
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, On Being. Stay with us.
KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: There are many faces of identity within the Israeli-Palestinian story — many, many more than two sides or even two peoples. This was one of the most striking experiences, for me, of traveling to Jerusalem and the West Bank earlier this year. Mohammad Darawshe’s very identity defies the narrative of conflict so familiar from this land. He is a Muslim citizen of the Jewish state; Arab and Israeli — like 20 percent of the total population of Israel. And he opens an unexpected way of seeing inside the present and the future.
MR. DARAWSHE: “In the past, I used to think about my dual identity as a Palestinian and Israeli as a burden. I think of it today more as an asset, as a power, as a skill that only we have.”
MS. TIPPETT: From APM, American Public Media, I’m Krista Tippett. Today, On Being: “Children of Both Identities.”
Mohammad Darawshe’s family has lived in the same village outside Nazareth for 27 generations. He is known as a political moderate and a leading civic advocate for Arab citizens of Israel. As a group of one and a half million, they experience a strange mix of disadvantage and freedom. They have significantly higher rates of poverty than most Jewish Israelis. And yet, Arab citizens are freer to clear the checkpoints and cross the borders that wind through Israel and the Occupied Territories.
They can, for example, live in Jerusalem and visit the West Bank city of Bethlehem, which most Jewish Israelis cannot. They can take their families on vacation to the Dead Sea, which other Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza cannot. Mohammad Darawshe co-directs an organization called the Abraham Fund Initiatives. His daily work ranges from negotiating with Israeli military officers to getting more of his people — especially women — into the work force, to strengthen their economic well-being. I sat down with him at his office in a suburb of Jerusalem.
MS. TIPPETT: So as we begin, I’d just like to hear a little bit about your story. It’s very, you know, intriguing to hear that you’re from a family that’s been rooted in a village near Nazareth for 27 generations. Is that right?
MR. DARAWSHE: And my kids are the 28th generation now. We’re one of the oldest families that lived, inhabited this community and that can track its history in the place. It means a lot of social commitments to almost 6500 family members in the same village, which…
MS. TIPPETT: Iksal is the village.
MR. DARAWSHE: Yes, it’s called Iksal and 6500 family members out of the 13,000 residents of the village.
MS. TIPPETT: That kind of defies the idea of an extended family.
MR. DARAWSHE: Totally [laugh]. But it means a lot of weddings, a lot of parties. Unfortunately, sometimes also a lot of sad stories that you get exposed and engaged in.
MS. TIPPETT: And that you’re intimately connected with.
MR. DARAWSHE: It’s hard to be intimately connected with 6500 people, but you feel at home in a lot of homes and you don’t worry where is your kid if they are away for a couple of hours. You don’t know where they are, you know. As a kid, I remember myself, when getting hungry, I just look where am I and just go to the next house and say I want to eat, [laugh] and they’ll offer you food, you know, because they know you; you’re a family member. But now, being in more of a leadership position in the community as council member, it means that you don’t lock your door also. You have to be open to hear, to listen, to help.
MS. TIPPETT: You don’t get a lot of private space.
MR. DARAWSHE: The term privacy doesn’t exist in those conditions. But I think that, overall, I appreciate it so much because up to the stage that — when I got married, I used to live in Jerusalem after my education. When I got married, my condition to my wife was we raise our kids where I was raised because it meant so much. The warmth, the interdependency, the safety, security, peace of mind, to feel part of a collective. And it’s not just a collective over an issue. It’s a collective in your heart and your mindset, in your being.
I go every Friday after the prayer, I go to visit a graveyard. When you walk in there, you feel your extension. You feel your depth. Every grave you look at has some relationship to you. Every person that comes to visit — and hundreds usually come at this hour after the Friday prayer to visit the graveyard — it reminds you of your common connection and you see them reading a phrase of the Qur’an over someone that maybe has died 100 years ago and you go there and you share that prayer with them. It just gives you a different sense — of the different dimension of being, I would say.
MS. TIPPETT: Is your family religious?
MR. DARAWSHE: I would say conservative. I mean, some are very religious; some are very secular. I think the middle way is in the conservative side. You know, I think it’s more socially religious and less religiously religious.
MS. TIPPETT: So by conservative, do you mean traditional?
MR. DARAWSHE: Yes. It’s more traditional, yes.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
MR. DARAWSHE: It is traditional, but at the same time, traditional family that lives in a modern society. So when I had the discussion four years ago with my wife about the need for her to go get the university degree after four children, it was a discussion topic for many people, not just for me and her, because many people in the family allowed themselves to engage in this discussion. What do you mean to send your wife to go to university? She’s not 18 or 19 years old. She’s now a woman with four kids that plays some responsibilities are beyond an 18- or 19-year-old or what an 18- or 19-year-old can allow themselves.
So we’ve got a lot of discussion and dialogue about this. But once she got in, about 30 others followed her. Thirty married women with children followed her, and it became a phenomenon that a married woman with children can go to university. Somehow the discussion of that type of society, you engage in an argument. You engage in a discussion and you think that it only affects yourself, but once you make the leap, once you make the step forward, it’s a leap and it’s a step forward and it’s a window that you open for much more than yourself and your immediate family.
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
MR. DARAWSHE: And so it — I think that it means that your impact could be much more. If you have certain ideas that you want to bring to this community, you have captive audience from one end. I think that, despite being a conservative community, we have one of the highest rates of female education in the Middle East now.
MS. TIPPETT: Really?
MR. DARAWSHE: More than 60 percent of our high school students are female. More than 55 percent of our university students from the village are female. This as good as America, as good as Europe and, in some cases, even better than some European countries.
MS. TIPPETT: That’s really remarkable. You know, I’ve become very fascinated how the notion of identity in this land has so many connotations that — I realize I didn’t understand any of this before it was here, and your identity in particular. I mean, you describe yourself, I believe, as an Arab Israeli. Is that right?
MR. DARAWSHE: I describe myself as a Palestinian citizen of Israel.
MS. TIPPETT: All right. Well, that’s what I expected. Well, maybe it was other people who described you as an Arab Israeli because I’ve learned that that distinction is important.
MR. DARAWSHE: Yes. Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: All right. And 20 percent of the population of Israel is Arab. I don’t think that’s something that is part of most peoples’ imagination outside. So I’d love for you to tell the story of how this came to be; and I think I only really started to understand this when I started reading you and reading about you that these are essentially mandate Palestinians who stayed home, right? So there was the phenomenon that we’re very familiar with; Palestinians who left, they’re called immigrants by some…
MR. DARAWSHE: Refugees.
MS. TIPPETT: … and refugees by others, and these are Palestinians who stayed and then found themselves inside the border. Is that right?
MR. DARAWSHE: It’s a very unique identity. I mean, first of all, not many in the world know about our mere existence. Unfortunately, not many even Israelis know about our existence, although we are 20 percent of society. And not many people in the Arab world know about our existence. I’ll just give you an example. I was with my family a couple of years ago in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, a resort town in Egypt. I was arguing with the cashier for discounts because we are family and I was arguing for a discount in Arabic, but I came with my Israeli car with Israeli license plates. After we got in, you know, the director of marketing came to me and he said, “Can I ask you a question?” I said, “Yes.” He says, “I know you’re Israeli, but you speak Arabic. How come? You spoke to your kids in Arabic also, not only to us. How come?”
I started explaining exactly your question. The guy has a master’s degree in marketing from Cairo University and he did not know that, in 1948, some of the Palestinian people stayed home, and that some was 20 percent of the Palestinian population. He was stunned. He thought that we are Jews from Arab countries that still have the ability to speak some Arabic language. So the Arab world doesn’t know of our existence in many cases, still in many pockets of ignorance. And many Israelis don’t know, let alone the Western world…
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
MR. DARAWSHE: …that Israel is a pure Jewish country that is fighting with the rest of the Arab world. In 1948, after the war, after Israel’s declaration of independence, 164,000 inhabitants, indigenous Palestinians, stayed home. Most of my village ran to the mountains. They did not go to cross border, and when things calmed down, they went home. Suddenly, this home was under a different sovereignty. It was under the sovereignty of the people that we were fighting the day before and we had to assume the citizenship of the political entity, the state of Israel, which we were fighting its mere existence.
Naturally, our immediate relationship with the state was more of a security nature because they saw us as part of the enemy. We saw them as yesterday’s enemy, and it took almost 20 years until the state lifted the military administration that was imposed on our own towns. But we’re left now with the dual identity, one which I would call it a national historic, cultural, emotional, Palestinian Arab identity which we are very proud of, which often is used against us when we present it in public in Israel. And it’s used against us when we act as a collective in that identity.
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
MR. DARAWSHE: But we also have and assumed the Israeli civic and cultural business political identity. Those two identities are often in clash. They’re often fighting between themselves. Imagine, for example, in 2006, four years ago, Israel was at war with one of the neighboring Arab countries, with Lebanon.
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
MR. DARAWSHE: And missiles were coming from Lebanon and falling not only on Jewish towns, falling also on Arab towns.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. Let’s just remember, this is — what did you say 2006, right?
MR. DARAWSHE: Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: And so it began — there were some rockets fired across the border, some Israelis soldiers killed, and then there was a ground invasion, right, of Lebanon?
MR. DARAWSHE: A couple of their soldiers were captured and kidnapped.
MS. TIPPETT: Captured and — yes. OK. And you’re in the north — your village is in the north.
MR. DARAWSHE: We’re in the north and you get missiles that fall on your villages and a couple of kids from Nazareth were killed and about, I think, 15 or 17 citizens were killed by missiles coming from our world, coming from our identity…
MS. TIPPETT: From Hezbollah.
MR. DARAWSHE: … and that’s part of our identity.
MS. TIPPETT: Yes. Mm-hmm.
MR. DARAWSHE: It’s like you’re being attacked by one of your siblings or by one of your parents that you don’t know to hate him or to love him. At the same time, we were having discussion with the Israeli Jewish establishment saying, well, why aren’t you protecting us?
MS. TIPPETT: Right. I remember, um, reading or hearing something you did around that time, I believe, for the BBC.
MR. DARAWSHE: Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: You talked about — also, I mean, the irony of this, there’s so many layers of irony — you’re under attack from Hezbollah missiles and then you described how in your town there were no sirens, that you were dependent on sirens from Israeli towns and that the Arab towns also don’t have bomb shelters.
MR. DARAWSHE: Exactly. And that not only that, ambulances were refusing to come into Arab towns and villages because, one, either they felt scared that, you know, here’s an Arab town so an average Israeli would relate to it as an extension of the enemy or feeling that they don’t treat the old Arab community anything because the neighboring Arab countries are shooting us, so should we go save Arabs? To be in this kind of…
MS. TIPPETT: But you are Israeli citizens.
MR. DARAWSHE: And we are Israeli citizens.
MS. TIPPETT: Here’s an excerpt from Mohammad Darawshe’s BBC commentary during the 2006 Lebanon War.
MR. DARAWSHE (FROM ARCHIVAL BBC RECORDING): “A few days ago, an Israeli Jewish friend and I talked about the war. He said he’d had the most depressing conversation with his parents the day before. I can’t get it out of my mind, he told me. My dad says the Israeli Arabs are supporting Hezbollah. I answered that the Israeli Arab community is against the destruction of Lebanon, but I think that’s far from supporting Hezbollah. Last Friday, after the drop of Hezbollah’s newest nine-meter-long rockets, my wife packed and left with our three daughters to her family in Jerusalem. My 11-year-old boy and I stayed home challenging fate and destiny and refusing to become refugees even for a few days.”
MS. TIPPETT: Hear that entire commentary on our website, OnBeing.org.
I’m Krista Tippett, On Being — conversation about meaning, religion, ethics, and ideas. Today: “Children of Both Identities.” I interviewed Mohammad Darawshe outside Jerusalem at the offices of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which he co-directs.
MS. TIPPETT:You know, you also wrote somewhere about growing up in the ’70s and learning in civics classes that you were Arab citizens of Israel and that you would someday be a bridge for peace between this country and the Arab world.
MR. DARAWSHE: Yes, and I still believe in it. I still believe that the Arab citizens of Israel are going to fill the most important role in Israeli Arab world relations. I still think that we will be the cultural bridge, political bridge, economic bridge, a social bridge, you name it. But someone forgets or many people forget that the bridge needs to have foundation on both sides, you know. You cannot be a bridge without having a strong leg on one side of the river and another strong foot on the other side of the river.
MS. TIPPETT: And you’re also very much caught — I mean, you are caught between both sides, right? Wasn’t it also just that Arafat and the PLO said, “Seek your future in Israel”?
MR. DARAWSHE: That was in the ’90s, mid-’90s.
MS. TIPPETT: ’90s.
MR. DARAWSHE: Yes, mid-’90’s. Basically, 1992 after the Oslo negotiations.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
MR. DARAWSHE: You know, we came to Arafat and we said, well, you’re the president of the Palestinian people. You’re negotiating an end of conflict. Our status in Israel as second-class citizens is a result of the conflict. So if you’re negotiating an end of that conflict, negotiate our status. And he said, I can’t. I’m dealing with the Palestinian refugees; I’m dealing with the Palestinians under occupation, but what’s your problem? You’re home. Seek your destiny in Israel. And we’re seeking our destiny in Israel. We want to stay in Israel. We want to stay home. I’m not going to volunteer becoming a refugee, not for the sake of a Palestinian nationalism and not for the sake of helping Israelis reduce their demographic size of the Arab citizens here. We’re home and we’re in our homeland. I think that my biggest challenge is how to help Israel become and act as my country also, not just as my homeland, and I think that Israel needs to mature, and that’s what I’m trying to do every day.
MS. TIPPETT: It’s interesting. That language of maturity and maturing I’ve heard from Palestinians and Israelis that there needs to be a human evolution.
MR. DARAWSHE: Absolutely.
MS. TIPPETT: And a maturing of humanity. And I think — I hear also people on both sides who see that, see that it’s below the radar, who see that there’s one step forward and two steps back, but that is a large phenomenon. Do you feel that that’s at least the direction?
MR. DARAWSHE: I think we are in two steps forward, one step backwards, but very painful one step backwards. I think that we are overall progressing in the right direction as human beings before the political issues.
MS. TIPPETT: You mean as Palestinians and Israelis?
MR. DARAWSHE: Yes, Palestinians and Israelis. I think that 20 years down the road will be better than where we are today. I think today we are better than we were 20 years ago. In a lot of ways, I would say as children of both identities and I would say that we have two parents. We have the Israeli civic parent, and we have the Palestinian national parent. In this case, we are battered children from both ends, but I think that we have a vested interest that those two parents at least draw a clear divorce agreement, maybe not to renew their marriage, or maybe not have a marriage, but at least have clarity over their divorce agreement so that at least from our own identity, we have some sort of settlement.
MS. TIPPETT: I mean, if you use that analogy, divorce is messy in the beginning and then hopefully you’d live into a…
MR. DARAWSHE: And the parents remain the vested common interest for both parents.
MS. TIPPETT: And even perhaps become friends.
MR. DARAWSHE: Hopefully, but I think that, you know, in this case, when I say we want to be the bridge for peace and we can play the bridge for peace — in the past, I used to think about my dual identity as a Palestinian and Israeli as a burden or sometimes even as a handicap. I think of it today more as an asset, as a power, as a skill that only we have. We speak Hebrew, we speak Arabic. We know the history and pain of the Jewish people. We know the history and the pain of the Palestinian people. We empathize with the pain of the Jewish people. We empathize with the pain of the Palestinian people. I want to see the destiny and the aspirations of the Palestinian people for safety and security and their independence be fulfilled. I want to see the same aspirations of the Jewish people fulfilled.
I don’t think it is a zero-sum game that one will win and one will lose. I think there is a middle ground in which both nations will go through the stage of self-fulfillment, but we’re not there yet. Neither of those nations has a state of self-fulfillment that can allow itself to engage in the right neighborly or even family relationship because ultimately the two people, the Palestinians and the Israelis, will continue to be interdependent in security, in environment, in every issue of life.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. Right.
MR. DARAWSHE: We share the same space, the same air, the same even historic narratives. I mean, we disagree on the last 60 years, but we go to Abraham — this organization that I work in. It’s called the Abraham Fund Initiatives. It is named after the common father.
MS. TIPPETT: And you have a reverence for Abraham in common.
MR. DARAWSHE: Yes, and we say he’s our common father, not only from a genetic point of view, but from conceptual point of view, from religious, from deep understanding of the values that came from that individual. We subscribe to the notion of the value of human being, the value of family relations, the value of perceptions and of the big issues of humanity and the beginning of the end. I think the commonalities there exist in a deep sense that we have detached ourselves from them in dealing with only the day-to-day matters of discrimination, killing, beating, this, that. We’re dealing with the surface of the problem instead of dealing with the essence of connection.
MS. TIPPETT: This conversation with Mohammad Darawshe is the first show we’ve produced from our March production trip to Israel and the West Bank. Two weeks from now, we’ll build on some of these same themes — drawing out the complexity of meaning within categories of Israeli and Palestinian — this time with Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi.
In the meantime, visit us at OnBeing.org. There, you can also watch our conversation with Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian doctor who first came to Americans’ attention when shells hit his home in the Gaza Strip and killed his three daughters and niece. He sat down with our executive producer, Kate Moos, to discuss his hopes for peace, which he talks about in his new book, I Shall Not Hate. And please check out this show’s website, where we feature blog posts from our trip. There was a serendipitous moment of muezzins’ calls to prayer overlapping with Korean Christian hymns on the Mount of Olives. There are rich photographs and descriptions of the struggling city of Hebron. This reporting trip was revelatory for us, and we share that with you at OnBeing.org.
Coming up, the role Mohammad Darawshe wants Arab citizens of Israel to play as a voice of Israel in the greater Middle East and as mediators for the Arab world in Israel.
I’m Krista Tippett. This program comes to you from APM, American Public Media.
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett. Today, On Being: “Children of Both Identities.” Mohammad Darawshe is an Arab citizen of Israel, a civic leader and a moderate, who opens an unexpected way in to seeing the Israeli-Palestinian present and future. I interviewed him outside Jerusalem at the offices of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which he co-directs. Mohammad Darawshe’s family has inhabited the same village near Nazareth for 27 generations. They achieved their strange dual identity of Palestinian and Israeli by staying home in and beyond the 1948 war that led to the creation of the modern Jewish state.
MS. TIPPETT: It’s interesting, another thing that I have learned in this week here is that it’s 60 years that you disagree on and 60 years is nothing here [laugh].
MR. DARAWSHE: It’s yesterday [laugh].
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, it’s yesterday. So let’s talk about the Abraham Fund and how do you make that vision of not just as you said, the genetic, but the conceptual importance of this shared narrative? How do you make that real in concrete ways? What do you do here?
MR. DARAWSHE: Well, you need to translate ideas into action. You know, I think that I once worked for an organization that called itself the Institute for Practical Idealism.
MS. TIPPETT: I like that. I’ve heard younger people talk about being pragmatic idealists. I think they will save us too [laugh].
MR. DARAWSHE: So in a sense, we are practical idealists. It’s how do you bring your idealism into a — make it a different realty on the ground. I think one of the key problems in Israel is that it does not legitimize. Israeli Jews do not see the normal Arab citizen. They see the political Arab citizen. They see the security Arab citizen. One of our key jobs here is to expose the human nature of Arab citizens, to expose the business nature of Arab citizens, to expose the municipal nature of Arab citizens. We have a department here that all of its work is what you call public advocacy. It’s to bring the average Arab citizen to the attention of the Israeli Jewish public.
MS. TIPPETT: So tell me, I had the impression earlier in the week talking with Israelis — Jewish Israelis that they do — that many of them see that there’s this socioeconomic and civil condition of Palestinians, but that — it’s very hard to have that discussion separate, that it gets tangled up with the political and security issues, so it stalls. Is that…
MR. DARAWSHE: True. It’s a good reading of the reality. I think, in a way, they’re missing out a bigger portion to hear. I think that the Israeli Jewish public is missing an opportunity of having partners that accept the definition of the state of Israel as a state of the Jewish people. That — I think that, in a way, going back to my Abrahamic faith, I do feel the responsibility for the destiny and well-being of the Jewish people.
MS. TIPPETT: And, again, so the issue for you is you say that from a very different perspective, but you become conflated with, I don’t know, a representative of Hamas in Gaza, right? I mean, there’s…
MR. DARAWSHE: And I’m happy to have the different perspective and mindset, you know? Yes, I’m part of the minority in Israel, but I think I have the mindset of a majority in the region.
MS. TIPPETT: In the region. By that, what do you mean?
MR. DARAWSHE: I mean that we have, when you’re a majority, it means you have a responsibility.
MS. TIPPETT: But what is the region for you when you say the region?
MR. DARAWSHE: The Middle East.
MS. TIPPETT: Really?
MR. DARAWSHE: Yes. Although I’m not organizationally structured in any formal relationship with the people in the Middle East, but I have the mindset of the majority — of part of the majority. You know, to my Israeli Jewish colleagues, I always say in Israel, they have the majority, but they have the mindset of the minority. They’re closing the country to Jews only instead of acting with the responsibility of a majority, which means you open yourself and you allow space for the minority, which in a way is also a responsibility for me as a member of the collective regional majority. I need to create space for the Jewish people to also be amongst us. And that goes back to the problem of identities because at one stage I’m a minority fighting for rights and integration in the Jewish majority. At the other end, I’m part of the regional majority that has a responsibility to create space for the Jewish minority in the region.
MS. TIPPETT: Yes.
MR. DARAWSHE: And — and I think that, if we find the right formula of integration of the Arab citizens in Israel, it is the exact formula for integration of the Jewish people in the Middle East.
MS. TIPPETT: Do you, um, I hadn’t planned on asking you about this. I mean, I’ve asked other people about what’s been happening in Egypt and Tunisia, you know, in the larger Arab world. Do you feel that this — you know, there’s a long road ahead to see how this unfolds, but could this be a moment where, as you say, that majority mindset that could create a more hospitable environment for Israelis to experience, could that be one of the manifestations that comes out of this democratic energy?
MR. DARAWSHE: It could be. I think what’s happening is good news. The fact that there’s more public engagement and there’s many more minds making the decisions and not just one individual that decides based on what side of the bed he awoke on. But really to have a collective mindset of a community that does see an interest for the Arab world in resolving the conflict. There is an interest for the people of the Arab world to resolve the conflict and not to keep the conflict running for years. People want to go over the Israeli Palestinian conflict and want to have a proper solution that allows it to deal with issues of human values and prosperity and economic development and intellectual growth and so on. But I think that we started playing a serious role in the public discourse in the Arab world in the past, I would say, seven years since many of the Arab TV stations started covering Israel properly and not just covering it from, I would say, a traditional demagogic style, but covering it with an investigative style.
MS. TIPPETT: I don’t think that’s the story that’s been told on the outside. There’s been a change in that journalism.
MR. DARAWSHE: Yeah. I think a significant change, and the key players in that change are Arab Israeli citizens. We are the ones that are being interviewed about what is Israel really. The Arab world knew one Israel in the past, and we know many Israels. We know the Israel of the left, we know the Israel of the right, was know the Israel of the Haredim, we know the Israel of the religious, of the nonreligious, of the business people, of the high-tech people, of the academics, of the culture, of the…
We know different faces of Israel that we can express it in Arabic. And more and more people in the Arab world, through the satellite TV stations, are seeing Israel through our eyes and reading it and hearing it from our own mouths, which makes it a more tangible Israel, a more realistic and less conceptual Israel and the more — I think we are really playing that role of bridging at least on the level of the distance of ignorance of the Arab world about Israel and I think we can play from the opposite direction, bringing the Arab world to the Israeli Jewish public. It doesn’t mean that it’s very easy and it’s not moving in the right speed. I think it’s moving in a very slow speed, but the events in the last few months I think can make things much — much — go a little bit faster.
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, On Being — conversation about meaning, religion, ethics, and ideas. Today: “Children of Both Identities,” my interview in Israel with Mohammad Darawshe, a leading voice of Arab citizens of Israel.
MS. TIPPETT: I meant to say, this is part of your story that your — what was it? Your uncle was the first Arab member of the Knesset?
MR. DARAWSHE: No, he was the first — he formed the first Arab parties.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
MR. DARAWSHE: The first Arab party.
MS. TIPPETT: And did he serve in the Israeli Knesset?
MR. DARAWSHE: He served in the Israeli Knesset. He was elected four times.
MS. TIPPETT: Four times, yes. I mean, that’s another story of Israel that people don’t realize.
MR. DARAWSHE: Yeah, today there are 12 Arab members of the Knesset. They are 10 percent of the members of Parliament. Yes, we’re 20 percent of the population, so there is a little bit of under-representation. Some of it is our fault; some of it is systematic fault, but that’s a tool that we haven’t even used properly yet mostly because many people ask themselves and people are asking all the time why don’t you go to Parliament? Why don’t you run to Parliament? I say, you know, it’s not time yet. I want to go to Parliament only when I can have a constructive engagement with Israeli Jewish members of Parliament.
Today most Arab members of the Knesset are the magnet for the anger of the Israeli Jewish public, and I don’t want to play that game. I think that it’s easy today to blame the Arab members of the Knesset for every trouble that Israel has around the world. Instead of being there, I prefer to be in a different constructive format. I would go to Parliament when I see that there is majority Israelis ready to make the significant leap forward in changing Jewish-Arab relations.
MS. TIPPETT: Have the Arab members of the Knesset also brought some of that on themselves? I mean, do their roles need to grow also for that to not be such a magnet? I don’t know.
MR. DARAWSHE: I think we need the revolution in mindset also. What do we mean when we send representatives to Parliament? Are we just a voice of opposition, which is a job that we do very well? Or are we a voice of integration and engagement? We went through this dialogue more significantly during, in the early ’90s, during the Rabin government when there was someone to tango with. Rabin was ready to dance tango with us. I worked in the Parliament at that time as a coordinator of one of their political parties, our political parties, and we did have very good working relationship. But since he was assassinated in 1995, I haven’t seen a significant Israeli Jewish leader that is ready to dance this game of co-existence and of integration, and that’s why I think, for me, it’s not time to be in that arena.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, it’s very energizing to talk to you. When I came into this, I think about, again, one of the peculiarities, we kind of named this, of your identity as a Palestinian citizen of Israel is you share the pain of both sides, right? You participate in the pain of both sides, at least these last 60 years.
MR. DARAWSHE: At least, I carry the burden of both sides [laugh].
MS. TIPPETT: Well, you do. But there’s also — I think as much as anybody I’ve spoken with, there’s an incredible energy. I mean, you are walking into the future very engaged and it’s very hopeful to talk to you. I mean, is hopeful a word you would use to describe yourself?
MR. DARAWSHE: You know, I think about this every day, you know, because I get challenges to my path every time I hear the news and you hear the news 10 times a day in Israel. Then I think about, you know, what’s my role? You know, what’s my job into this? I used to think of myself as an optimist. At some stage, I started to think of myself as a pessimist. I’m really scared of where we’re going because sometimes you feel you’re on a crash course. So sometimes it’s really my optimism that drives me, but sometimes I find it’s my pessimism that, if I do not engage, then it’s a crash course.
But I think that what made me in the last 16 years a believer and a person of hope is my commitment to my children, as being a parent. I think that the reason I come to work every day is because I want to be a good parent. I want to be able that my children will have a better reality than what I have and a significantly better reality. Because I think that, if you do not put your full attention and make your maximum effort now, the chances of a crash course, the chances of derailing Jewish-Arab relations, is very dangerous.
My wife has three sisters that live in the United States, and very often they say, you know, come live here. You know, things are easy. Sometimes you contemplate this idea, but then you say, well, who do I leave behind? You know, I can find a solution for my wife, myself, and my four children. What about my parents? What about my 6500 relatives?
MS. TIPPETT: Exactly. [laugh]
MR. DARAWSHE: You know, who do I leave them for? What about the rest of my 1.3 million Arab citizens in Israel? Who do I leave them for? It’s like abandoning ship, and I do not want to abandon ship. I think that, in my little effort, I can help maybe steer it in the right direction. Maybe, you know, when you row a boat, I’m just one person on the long boat that has many people that row that boat, but in my little effort, I can try to at least steer it in the right direction. I think that there hasn’t been the right level of talking between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and I think the right level has to go beyond the stage of blaming to some stage of building together, to some stage of empathy, to some stage of legitimacy and acceptance.
Once we realize that everyone is here to stay, Arabs are here to stay, Jews are here to stay, no one is doing anyone a favor by allowing, so to speak, the other to stay. Everyone is here to stay because they deserve it, because this is home for them. This is my homeland. No one can say to me it’s not my homeland. This is the homeland of the Jewish people. No one can say to them this is not their homeland. We need to learn how to do it together. We’re doing a lousy job now as a collective, and I think that, if you have a little bit of foresight, if you can see 500 years back in history and you can see five years down in the future, you can see that there are things that can be done. There are solutions that can be applied that are difficult. I’m very much a realist and I know the difficulties. Just before I met with you, I was meeting with people from the Israeli military.
MS. TIPPETT: The IDF.
MR. DARAWSHE: Yes, with IDF, talking to them about the services that they fail in providing to the Arab community at times of war.
MS. TIPPETT: Security services.
MR. DARAWSHE: Security services and I was having a very serious discussion with them. You talk to the establishment, which very often is seen as the problem. I allow myself to talk to almost everyone. Once I had my son with me and I was speaking to a group of police officers.
MS. TIPPETT: This is police officers in Israel — Jewish Israel?
MR. DARAWSHE: In Israel, yes. My son, who was at the time six years old, he said, can I come? I said sure. One of the officers said to me, can we ask you to take your son out of the room? I said, why. He said to me, you’re trying to force us to look at you as a human being, as a parent, and that’s manipulation. You talk to someone that basically refuses the concept that he does not want to allow himself to see you as a parent, to see you as a human being. I think that, in a way, we have to humanize the issue as much as we can. The more we can give a face to an Arab citizen, the more we can give a face to a Jewish citizen.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. On both sides, I mean, that’s also part of that trauma, those layers of trauma, that have built up over these years. I find one thing, I hear about a grievance and then behind every grievance is another grievance and this endless cycle, and they’re not all equal.
MR. DARAWSHE: We compete. Jews and Arabs continue to compete. Who’s more victim than the other? By the way, it’s the story since Abraham [laugh]. Who did Abraham want to sacrifice?
MS. TIPPETT: Right. Ishmael or Isaac?
MR. DARAWSHE: Ishmael or Isaac? And today we’re competing, who’s more the victim of history? Is it the Jews with what they went through in Germany? Or is it the Palestinians and what they went through here? Naturally, you cannot compare pain and you cannot compare victimhood.
MS. TIPPETT: But it imprints itself on everyone. You know, and so — when I — the story you tell about meeting with the IDF soldiers, you’re telling a story of very difficult and painful discussions or this story you just told. But on the other hand, for me, it’s a hopeful vision. It’s an inspiring vision that these conversations are taking place.
MR. DARAWSHE: They have to take place. They have to take place.
MS. TIPPETT: And that they in fact are civil conversations, maybe painful and maybe all the behavior is not good. But they suggest that it’s possible.
MR. DARAWSHE: I was speaking to a colleague after I went down out of this meeting with this police officer. He said to me, how do you feel? I said, I have a stomachache. I have a headache. It was very difficult for me to go there, but I’m looking for the next invitation to go. And so this dialogue is not easy. It sometimes turns you upside down and it humiliates you. It challenges many things that you think should not be challenged in your identity and your humanity, but this road shouldn’t be an easy road and you shouldn’t just pick the nice aesthetic arenas. I think that, if you want to change reality, you need to engage in your reality.
You need to get your hands dirty. Then you worry about washing them and getting clean. But you need to get them dirty in the right action, working in the right direction. Some people ask me, well, how do you allow yourself to go and talk to the prime minister’s office or talk to this? I talk to everyone because it’s him I want to change. It’s easy to sit and write an intellectual article and print it in Arabic. I want to say it in Hebrew and talk to the person that can decide in the Jewish community. I want also to say it in Arabic and talk to the people in the Arab community. That’s my share. But I think that we need to use the skill and ability of being able to talk to the Jewish public, and this is how you can try to find the common ground.
MS. TIPPETT: Mohammad Darawshe is co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives in Israel.
You can watch video of my entire unedited conversation with Mohammad Darawshe on our website, OnBeing.org. There you can also read a transcript or listen again to this show. We’re creating a special website that will feature the range of voices we captured in 10 days in Jerusalem and the West Bank. That includes my interview with Yossi Klein Halevi, a Jewish Israeli journalist, which we’ll be broadcasting next, two weeks from now. And on our blog find the work of USC graduate students from the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Janine Rayford profiles and Arab Israeli sculptor who is renovating his 400-year-old home. Jessica Donath writes about a progressive design school based on the notion that living coexistence is more important than talking about it.
And as always, join us by following along in real time on our blog, Twitter — at Beingtweets — and our Facebook page. It’s a great space to learn more about the world and about yourself: OnBeing.org.
This program is produced by Chris Heagle, Nancy Rosenbaum, and Susan Leem. Anne Breckbill is our Web developer.
Very special thanks this week to Fouad Abu-Ghosh.
Trent Gilliss is our senior editor. Kate Moos is executive producer. And I’m Krista Tippett.