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‘A microcosm of how things can be’: Arabs and Israelis co-exist in Jaffa

‘A microcosm of how things can be’: Arabs and Israelis co-exist in Jaffa

Published Oct. 18, 2023 2:50 p.m. ET

Updated Oct. 18, 2023 3:36 p.m. ET

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TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — The Hamas massacre has led to a war that is now feeding off of the innocent lives of both Israelis and Palestinians. With each funeral and each shovel of soil dropped onto a coffin, another family is left shattered and the region is left even more divided than before.

Yet, there’s an Arab, Israeli enclave that at its best can set an example for this war-torn region. In Hebrew its name translates to beautiful, and if you take one walk through the neighbourhood of Jaffa, you can’t help but marvel at its architecture and charm.

Jaffa is a predominantly Arab suburb of Tel Aviv, where both Palestinians and Israelis live together.

It has been a contested community for centuries and no stranger to riots, but those who call the “mixed community” of Jaffa home have largely found a way not only to co-exist, but to thrive.

As a call to prayer from the local mosque echoes through their apartment, Canadian Daniella Haliva and her fiancée Alec Burkin reflect on the last two weeks

“Our Arab, Israeli neighbours are our friends. They’ve invited us into their homes and we’ve reciprocated,” says Alec Burkin, who goes on to share that “there’s been really a common compassion over the course of the last week and we feel it’s important for us to let the world know that is the situation here in Jaffa, and Jaffa is an example for how Jews and Arab Israelis can live together in peace.”

The couple were supposed to get married on October 12th, when Hamas militants began their attack in the south. They had 40 family members in Israel who had to scramble to get out.

Burkin’s fiancée, who previously lived in Thornhill, Ont., north of Toronto, remembers the morning she heard the first wave of air raid sirens. “I remember thinking that I’m dreaming, that this cannot be real.”

Unfortunately for so many, it was, and another war had begun.

“The act of war is not working,” says Rula Daood, a Palestinian who also calls Jaffa home and is quick to point out, “Hamas doesn’t speak for me, I don’t believe of the killing of innocent people.”

Daood is the national director for a grassroots movement called Standing Together, which works to mobilize Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel in pursuit of peace, equality and social justice. She’s witnessed firsthand the failure of previous Gaza wars. “We still have Hamas, whether we like it or not,” she says, “and this is the only party you can talk to in Gaza right now, and we have to find a way to talk.”

Daood believes there are political solutions to this decades-long conflict, but what’s been lacking is will.

“Innocent people have been dying on both sides and I think we need to cut off that chain of blood,” she says.

Haliva has spent the last seven years teaching gymnastics to children from all different ethnic backgrounds at Jaffa’s Arab Jewish Community Centre. Speaking from her experience, Haliva shares, “It’s like a microcosm of how things can be. I think we can learn a lot from children and the kids and how you can get along and live together — and have a purpose together.”

In Jaffa’s streets, Arab children speak Hebrew to their Jewish neighbours as they kick a soccer ball around together. A small, simple example that this war doesn’t have to define a region.

A path forward in the short term, according to Daood, “is to end the occupation, free Palestinians in Gaza, as well as all the hostages taken by Hamas.”

She adds that Palestinians in Gaza “want a chance to live a life, get a job, raise their families in peace, and the Jewish communities outside of Gaza deserve to live in safety and security too. Having rockets fired at you is no way to live — it’s no way to raise a family.”

When asked what his conversations have been like with his Muslim neighbours since the attack Burkin shares that, “we have our commonalties on the street and share small talk between neighbours, checking in on each other. It gives me hope that this is a place where we can live together.”

Daood shares a similar sentiment. “If we can replicate what is happening in Jaffa in the good days, then it will be a great society for all of us.”

A touching beacon of solidarity, during a time of intense division, across the region. 

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