By Doni Cohen
Yishai Fleisher and Walid Shantur discuss seeing eye to eye on a statehood solution in Israel and how Israel already has the government and infrastructure to support both Jews and Arabs. They discuss the ramifications of the Arab Spring for Arabs in Israel and end by talking about the role of the U.S. in the Middle East and how Americans truly do not understand the region.
Yishai Fleisher: Welcome to the Yishai Fleisher Show Walid. What brings you here to Jerusalem when you could be sitting in Ithaca?
Walid Shantur: I’m here visiting family in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
YF: I hear that you speak a perfect English. Where are you from originally and do you speak Arabic?
WS: My father came over in 1948, and was originally from a small town near Ramallah. I was born in Chicago, and stayed in Ithaca while attending Cornell. I do speak fluent Arabic.
YF: What is life like in your small town near Ramallah?
WS: My father built a house right across the street from a mosque. So at 3:45 in the morning, I would hear the “Allahu Akhbars” blaring right into my bedroom window. It was quite a culture shock coming from a secular place like Ithaca. My family does want me to be what they consider a “good Muslim” but I want to be what I consider a “good person.” However, my family accepts me nonetheless.
YF: I was sitting at a dinner earlier this evening, and I kept hearing this new term that was being thrown around called “inclusive nationalism.” I think you and I see eye to eye on this point. This is a Jewish State. We don’t deny that. We want to include our minorities. We want them to have fruitful successful lives with upward mobility, with a sense of empowerment and belonging without giving up their national identity. But at the same time they need to respect that this is an ethnic country called Israel. It was created primarily and originally as a safe haven for the Jewish people, and continues to be a homeland for the Jewish people. At the same time though, there are minorities, some who even predated the Jewish influx and return to the land of Israel, and many who have come afterwards. However, the situation in which we have a nation behind a wall living a kind of regressive and repressive life is not a situation which Israel should want. We want to see a situation in which Arabs would respect Jewish sovereignty but would also gain from that respect a normal life. There are Arabs right now on Ben Yehuda Street where we are sitting right now feeling very comfortable walking around and shopping.
WS: And they do look very comfortable. They really don’t look out of place at all. I recall in Genesis where Ishmael and Isaac came together to bury their father. I feel we kind of need another Ishmael and Isaac now. My dream utopia would be no wall with Arabs and Jews respecting each other’s existence and living together as brothers.
YF: One of the biggest obstacles to this movement is the need for the extremist Arab Jihadists to be reigned in so that this process can move along.
WS: Absolutely. That has been nothing but a hindrance for Palestinians.
YF: If we could rein these Jihadists in, this movement could move forward. A lot of these walls that were erected because of the terrorism that these Jihadists encourage. Israel really only put up these walls when it started feeling threatened. My friend Yehuda Cohen and I do believe thought that the walls say that we cannot control the bad guys, and that we don’t believe fully that this is our land. And in that way we sort of offered up our Arab brothers to the Jihadists to swallow up, because the walls say in a sense that Jihad has won, and that is very destructive for Israel. To reverse that feeling is not so simple.
YF: Let me ask you about your family. Are you able to say these kinds of things to them?
WS: Well, I do speak to them about this, but more in general terms. I do speak to them about the most ideal situation of Jews and Arabs being able to live together as brothers. I do tell them that Israel has a more ideal political structure and infrastructure such as hospitals and schools etc. that Arabs could benefit quite a bit from. There are a lot of Arab leaders that are still tied to 14th century Islam.