KT Exclusive: This is not a time to be silent, says Arab-Israeli politician Issawi Frej
He called for an immediate ceasefire as the death toll rises in Gaza and Israel.
Life is stronger than Hamas, says Issawi Frej, an Arab-Israeli lawmaker who is a member of the left-wing Meretz party in Israel.
Frej is one of 1.9 million Arabs living in Israel and has been advocating for Arab-Jewish partnership for over 30 years. A strong believer of coexistence and the Palestinian rights for self-determination, Frej says most Arabs and Jews want to live in peace.
This past weekend, Frej, together with Meretz member Mossi Raz, released a statement calling the Israeli government to “declare an immediate ceasefire, stop all military operations carried out by the IDF in the Gaza Strip, and stop the bloodshed that is taking the lives of innocent civilians and children in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.”
Just like his party mission states, Frej is an advocate of the two-state solution and envisions Jerusalem as the capital of two states. He believes that the solution to the problem in Gaza is not military, but political, through a peace agreement with the Palestinian people and a ceasefire with Hamas.
“Israel, being the strong side, can bring about a ceasefire before it is too late," the Meretz members statement read.
Twenty per cent of the population in Israel is Arab and their sense of identity is often multifaceted. According to Frej, most Arab citizens of Israel identify as Palestinian.
“Every person in Israel has two identities: a civil identity and a national identity. There is Jewish and Arab, the national identity for each, but both of us have one civil identity, we are Israeli. You can be part of your people but at the same time be part of your society” says Frej.
As Hamas pounds Israeli communities with rockets, the Israeli Air Force has been carrying out air strikes over Gaza which they say target Hamas infrastructure. The death toll in Gaza has risen to 192 people while, in Israel, 10 people have been killed.
Unlike previous rounds of violence, the current Gaza conflict has upset the fragile balance between Arabs and Jews living in Israel.
This past week, violence erupted in various mixed cities across the country, with clashes between Arabs and Jews, primarily in the flashpoint city of Lod. Knesset member Frej criticised other Arab-Israeli politicians who weren’t quick to condemn the violence. “This is not a time to be silent,” he says.
The pain of the conflict isn’t foreign to the politician, whose own grandfather was killed in the Kafr Qasim massacre, in which 48 Arab civilians were killed by Israeli border police.
The Kafr Qasim native says the majority of Arabs and Jews in Israel are against violence, and it’s a small minority that tries to create clashes between Arabs and the Jews.
This past year serves as an example of how Arab and Jewish cooperation can not only work, but benefit all of society. When it comes to dealing with Covid-19, “Arabs and Jews [worked] together in hospitals, and more than 40 per cent of doctors in the hospitals are Arab,” says Frej.
Once the current round with Gaza ends, Knesset member Frej and his party will continue to push for a new Israeli government that will prioritise negotiations with the Palestinians and lead to a long-term settlement for both people. As far as mending the fractured Arab-Jewish relations within Israel, Frej says it will take time but he remains optimistic.
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