The new President of the State of Israel, Ruvi Rivlin (my cousin), makes me enormously proud of him and his Presidency, now just several months old. He was invited to visit an Israeli Palestinian village that had suffered a massacre on October 26th, 1956, perpetrated by Israeli Border Police.
My colleague, Rabbi Ron Kronish, the Director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel, recently wrote in The Huffington Post of both the Israeli crime and the invitation given to President by the village’s mayor to speak there (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ron-kronish/the-president-of-israel-r_b_6120054.html). Recalling the crime Ron wrote that Israeli police
“…killed 48 Arab civilians who had violated a curfew (that they had not heard about in time). The border policemen who were involved in the shooting were brought to trial and found guilty and sentenced to prison terms (but all received pardons and were released within a year)”
President Rivlin’s speech may go down in Israeli history as one of the most important speeches ever delivered by a sitting Israeli President promoting mutual respect between Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians. He delivered it at the Israeli Arab town of Kafr Qasim in the Israeli “Triangle” in central Israel near the “green line” where the massacre took place.
Ruvi notes that his visit is not the first time in our family when efforts were made to make peace between Arabs and Jews in that location. His uncle, and my great-great uncle, Avram Shapira, came to Kafr Qasim in 1957 after the massacre to try and restore peace between its town’s Israeli Arabs and Israelis Jews.
President Shimon Peres had already apologized on behalf of the people and State of Israel for this crime against the Kafr Qasim population, and this past month President Rivlin went further still in this speech.
You can read the entirety of the speech – see link below. Though Ruvi is against a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has based his presidency in part on promoting democracy and equal rights for all Israeli citizens, including the 20% (1.5 million Israeli citizens) that is Arab Palestinian. He acknowledges in this speech that Arab Israelis have and continue to suffer second class citizenship status and that this must change.
President Rivlin’s outreach to the Arab community of Israel, which began last month in a video in which he sat silently with a ten-year old Arab boy from Jaffa calling out for an end to bullying, racism and discrimination. (see http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4577276,00.html) have had in this short time a profound impact upon the Arab citizens of Israel and Israelis who are fearful of the rise of racism and intolerance in Israeli society.
It is a travesty that Ruvi’s open-hearted and supportive outreach to Israeli Arab citizens is not being repeated by some members of the Israeli government of PM Netanyahu, who are calling instead for Israeli Arab citizens who don’t like current Israeli policies towards their communities to be transferred to the West Bank and to live under the Palestinian Authority (e.g. PM Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman).
And it is a calumny that Israeli right-wing fanatics have branded President Ruvy Rivlin a traitor to Israel. In the last two months, like the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before him who sought an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these right-wing fanatic Jews have dressed Ruvi in a kafiya and sent it streaming everywhere over the internet.
I pray for Ruvi’s good health and for his success. He represents the very best of Israel. Like President Shimon Peres before him, President Ruvi Rivlin is lifting the nation beyond politics that the state of Israel may fulfill its destiny as a democratic society for all its citizens.
He said in his speech:
“We have to find a path. This path it seems will not be laid on the foundations of love, but it can and must be built with an objective perspective, and with mutual respect and commitment.”
President Rivlin’s speech at Kfar Qasim – http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2014/Pages/President-Rivlin-addresses-Kafr-Qasim-memorial-ceremony-26-Oct-2014.aspx