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Day 75: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

Twenty-one percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs, Druze, or Bedouin. All are considered full, equal Israeli citizens—they hold Israeli passports, receive social services, and can vote for the Israeli Knesset.

It is important to note that of the Arabs, the majority are Muslims, and the minority are Christians. This is the reality of the Middle East, where Israel’s enemies believe in the same religion as the minority of its population, which often creates friction and tension. Living together in a tiny country defined as a Jewish state requires concessions, compromises, and a sincere desire to live together.

These tensions are the ones that make headlines and reach the news. Unfortunately, from time to time, there are particularly challenging waves of violence, as we experienced in 2021 during the “Guardians of the Wall” operations, where the IDF fought Hamas in Gaza. Some of the Arab Israelis sympathized with the Palestinians in Gaza and joined the protest inside Israel, especially in the mixed-population cities.

The Arab minority has claimed for generations that the population is underserved and misrepresented by the government of Israel. However, in repeated elections, many candidates have campaigned on the promise of correcting and addressing these issues—though by the nature of election promises, few are fulfilled.

But today, I want to focus on our shared sense of home, of belonging to this land, of coexistence, as this has manifested for the past 75 days through the hardest of Israel’s wars.

The murderous terrorist attack carried out by Hamas did not differentiate between faith, race, nationality, or blood; Jews, Muslims, Christians, foreign workers from Asian countries, tourists from Europe and North America, and many others were murdered.

But killing innocent people wasn’t enough. Hamas kidnapped 240 people, most of whom were Israeli Jews, but many others were abducted as well, including Muslims and members of the Bedouin sector. Some were members of Israeli security forces, and others worked at the different kibbutzim in agriculture. Among the Bedouin population, at least 20 people were killed.

One of the abductees was Samer Talalka, who worked in the fields of Kibbutz Nir Am.
Samer called his father to let him know the kibbutz was under attack. An hour later, Hamas uploaded on Telegram (a social media app) his picture from Gaza in which Hamas terrorists are seen leading Samer through the streets of Gaza City.

Under harsh conditions, Samer was held captive by Hamas for 70 days, even though he and his captives spoke the same language and shared the same faith. Last Friday, Samer was tragically killed, along with two other Israelis, by friendly fire from the IDF due to a mistaken identification.

In the Bedouin town of Rahat, where 19 people were murdered at a nearby beach on October 7, Yov Alkarinawi, a resident, volunteered to collect bodies and clean up the scene of the massacre. He said:

I am a Muslim and a resident of Israel who lives here. I volunteered to carry this job because not too many carry on with this type of work, which includes dealing with body parts and mutilated bodies. Alkarinawi continued “We are all residents of the State of Israel, we Bedouins lend a hand. Members of my family rushed to help to save people. We saw with our own eyes how the terrorists caught a Bedouin. The poor guy told the terrorist that he was a Muslim, but nevertheless, they shot him. We will continue to take revenge on them wherever they are, that’s what needs to be done. In this war against Hamas, Druze, Bedouins, and Jews—we are all one organ. Hamas burned our people.”

The Al Goren family from the Bedouin settlement of Mulda will never forget the October 7 massacre. As the family gathered for breakfast, a Hamas missile fired from the Gaza Strip landed right in the middle of their breakfast setting. Four children were murdered. Unfortunately, the missiles were not preceded by a siren; in most of the unrecognized Bedouin settlements, there are no loudspeakers to alert the residents, nor are there adequate shelters.

For the Hamas terrorists, the fact that a certain individual is a member of their faith is meaningless. When the intent is killing, there is no distinction between women and children, Jews, or Muslims.

And as we die together, so we fight together. Lt. Col. Salman Habaka, known as “the hero of the Kibbutz Be’eri battle,” led direct encounters against the terrorists who infiltrated Israel, killed dozens of them, and saved many Israeli lives. Three weeks later, Lt. Col. Habkah was killed while fighting in the Gaza Strip. He is an Israeli Druze, not Jewish, yet I can’t imagine anyone more Israeli than him. Lt. Col. Salman Habkah and five other soldiers who were killed in Gaza are members of the Druze community in Israel, a community that takes pride in the high percentage of its IDF officers.
This is a shared destiny, an alliance between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, where Jewish and Arab blood—the blood of Israeli citizens—mixes in the human cost of war. And there is also a special bond between Jews and other minorities in Israel that manifests through army service. A warrior brotherhood like no other, one that does not distinguish between origins of birth or religion. This unique brotherhood not only characterizes the battlefields on which they serve and through their willingness to sacrifice for the shared homeland but also defines these men and women in times of peace.

Our youngest son-in-law, Segev, serves in a special unit where Bedouins, Druze, Circassians, and Jews serve together. They relate to one another as brothers, using the Israeli phrase achi | bro when calling out to one another. Segev and his fellow soldiers were invited to Issa’s wedding a few months ago. Issa is an Arab Christian, and to provide a full kosher meal to his unit mates, he had a rabbi supervise the cooking so that his friends, including Segev, could enjoy the delicious feast.

Israeli soldiers are required as part of their mandatory services to participate in various educational activities designed to enrich their education. Segev’s unit visited a site sacred to the Druze community to learn the community’s customs and be exposed to the heritage of their comrades serving alongside them.

In war, in peace, on the battlefield, and on the dance floor of a wedding, Israeli soldiers who risk their lives, fighting side by side, also know the deep meaning behind each other’s faith and celebrate each other’s customs.

Life in Israel is challenging—a fast roller coaster of ups and downs, days of grace, and days of sorrow. There is still a lot to fix. Hopefully, Israel’s government will commit to supporting all of its citizens, Arab Israelis included, who should feel the same sense of belonging to this one homeland that we share and for which we are all willing to die. And in the meantime, we will cherish all the victims, our brothers and sisters from all backgrounds whose lives were brutally stolen and taken away from their families. We are all citizens of this country, for better or worse, we share in its destiny.

Together, united, we will overcome.

Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.

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