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Israel Votes
Israelis 'putting politics aside'
Israeli elections sharpen focus on divide between Jews and Arabs in mixed towns.
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2009 20:57 GMT

Palestinian-Israelis and Jews in Ramle share an uneasy but peaceful relationship

Israeli citizens may be divided politically, but differences between the country's Palestinian-Israelis and its Jewish population are left to one side on a daily basis in the interest of co-existence.

In the town of Ramle, just outside Tel Aviv, Palestinian-Israeli stallholders work side-by-side with their Jewish counterparts.

A local taxi firm is jointly owned by a Palestinian-Israeli and his Jewish business partners and is staffed by both Jewish and Palestinian-Israeli drivers.

"On a community level there are good relationships too, but still when you go into the communities you find we are not homogenous communities - there are differences"

Yoel Lavi, mayor of Ramle

Behind the market, a mosque and a synagogue sit opposite each other in the same street.

Yoel Lavi, Ramle's mayor, said his town was a "model" of multiculturalism, but admitted it was not without its problems.

"On the individual level people are living together and having a good relationship … they are sharing the same jobs on the land or the supermarket, or it doesn't matter which company," he told Al Jazeera.

"We haven't any problems on an individual level. On a community level there are good relationships too, but still when you go into the communities you find we are not homogenous communities - there are differences. Different culture, different values."

Palestinians 'neglected'

According to local government figures, over 20 per cent of Ramle’s population is Palestinian.

While Ramle's two populations may work side-by-side, they mainly live in separate neighbourhoods and Palestinian-Israelis say that the areas where they live have been neglected by the local authorities.

"There is ongoing discrimination in the municipality," Buthaina Dabit, a Palestinian architect who was born in Ramle, told Al Jazeera.

"We don't have recognition of our neighbourhoods on municipality planning issues. Just look at this neigbourhood and you will see," she said, gesturing at a building now reduced to rubble.

"We went through about 200 housing demolitions in the last five years."

'No agenda'

Mayor Lavi dismissed suggestions that the Palestinian neighbourhoods have been unfairly targeted.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, he acknowledged there was a difference in that condition of the neighbourhoods, but said it came down to planning permission.

"The problem is they build in every place, not according to any programme … they build without licenses," he said.

Lavi says Ramle faces a challenge in promoting a multicultural society 
"If you go to the Jewish sector you will find that everything is built according to the programme."

Back on the streets of Ramle, many residents espouse the mayor's view that their town is a multicultural success story.

"Arab children and Jewish children are being taught in the same schools, there is just one market in the city … it's a very good life together," Moses Shtamker, a Ramle resident who works in a barber shop, told Al Jazeera.

In a nearby coffee shop, the patrons agreed.

"Together life is good," one of them, Averham, said.

But asked who he was going to vote for in Israel's upcoming elections, he announced: "Lieberman!" and bangs his fist on the table.

Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing party that advocates the transfer of Palestinians from Israel, has seen his popularity soar in recent weeks, as Israel gears up for the February 10 vote.

"I am for Lieberman - he is like Putin," said Averham, referring to Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, considered by many to be a strong political leader.

Anti-war protests

But Ramle's Israeli-Palestinian population has also made its political mark.

Yosi, right, said most Ramle residents have little time to debate politics
During Israel’s bloody 22-day offensive on Gaza, the town was the scene of small-scale demonstrations by Palestinian groups, protesting against the conflict in which over 1,300 Palestinians were killed.

The Gaza offensive has stoked political tensions on both sides, angering Palestinians while contributing to Lieberman's growing popularity among the wider Jewish population.

At Ramle's jointly-owned taxi firm, Yosi, one of the owners, said the staff simply refused to talk about politics.

"We don't speak about it. There are many hours in the day and we talk about many things, but we don't discuss politics," he told Al Jazeera.

In Ramle, as in other towns across Israel, ordinary people put their political beliefs to one side in order to co-exist with others - making their opinions known only where they will find agreement.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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