BY HAROLD KIRTZ / AJT //
When the news becomes bleak about the possibility of Arab-Israeli peace – despite the best efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry – along comes a story that shows that hatred and violence don’t have to be the lasting legacy of the Middle East.
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Forbes Magazine reports on an Israeli company called Webydo, which aids graphic designers to create websites cheaper and faster. The company’s founders, Shmulik Grizim and Tzvika Steinmetz, have built a powerful code-generator that converts any graphic design into a functioning website that is fairly easy to update and manage.
After only a year, 10,000 designers – mainly in the U.S. – have created more than 60,000 websites using this online software.
Webydo’s first investor is an Israeli-Arab, Hisham Adnan Raya, who made money building homes in the north of Israel. His accountant suggested he diversify some of his profits and introduced him to Grizim and Steinmetz.
The three men have become close friends, including hanging out in Raya’s lavish home in the Arab town of Sakhnin. Raya says that Israeli-Arab politics simply doesn’t interest him.
“In general,” he says, “if people are intelligent and hardworking, they tend to get along . . . At the end of the day, if you want to make money, you have to work with Jews, and with everybody.”
Clearly, this attitude isn’t pervasive across Arab society.
Another business story, detailed by the Gladstone Institute, focuses on the opposite attitude in the West Bank. Two Israeli-Arab businessmen took a chance, wanting to open the first Fox clothing store in the West Bank.
They received permission of the Palestinian Authority and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations and in training employees. However, “anti-normalization” activists and journalists organized a protest, even threatening to fire-bomb the store. So the two entrepreneurs called off the project.
Unfortunately, this incident shows what might happen to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, if he works to seriously reach any agreement with Israel.
The problem that the U.S. needs to understand is that Abbas, and his predecessor Yasser Arafat, have failed to prepare the Palestinian people for the possibility of peace with Israel. That, I fear, is the real cause of the continuing deadlock in negotiations between Israel and a future Palestinian state, not the occupation. While it’s important to talk peace, it’s even more important to educate people about peace.
Another, more hopeful sign, is the increasing number of young Israeli-Arabs who are taking part in Israeli National Service. Several thousand are currently serving in roles across the country, from fire-fighting to working as medical assistants. Some are even serving in the IDF.
They and their parents recognize that such work enables them to become truly integrated into Israeli society. As one Muslim-Israeli mother said, “It is clear that serving in the IDF and serving in national-civic service is a basic component of the Israeli melting pot . . . My children get equal treatment in the army and they have not encountered racism or discrimination . . . This is true integration into society, in the only country in the Middle East that provides genuine human and civil rights.”
If more Arabs and Palestinians, and their sympathizers, took such an attitude, peace would take care of itself. The populations of Israel and the Palestinian territories, I think, would insist that their leaders make a lasting and productive peace.
About the writer
Harold Kirtz is an occasional contributor to the Atlanta Jewish Times and a past president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.