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COURTESY PHOTO - Dr. Thabet Abu Rass (left), an Israeli Arab, and Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, an Israeli Jew, were pleasantly surprised by the lack of armed guards on the Forest Grove campus when they visited Pacific University last week to talk about Middle East peace prospects. I thought I was going to have to show my identification, said Abu Rass, a professor at an Israeli university, where security is more intense.Imagine more than 8 million people crammed into a space the size of Harney County, Oregon, and you’ve got an idea of the physical demographics of Israel, said Thabet Abu Rass, an Israeli Palestinian who came to Pacific University last Thursday with Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, an Israeli Jew, to talk about Arab-Jewish relations and the possibility of peace in the Middle East.

The two are friends and co-directors of the Israel-based Abraham Fund Initiatives, a nonprofit dedicated to improving Arab-Jewish relations in Israel.

While the 20 percent Arab minority suffers discrimination and injustice from the Jewish majority, Jews themselves suffered centuries of discrimination and injustice before forming the state of Israel, Abu Rass said. Israeli Jews are “a majority with a minority mentality,” he said.

Both men hope tensions will ease with the creation of a Palestinian state, which they believe is still possible, despite election-day comments last March from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicating he rejected that idea.

An audience member noted Israeli voters ushered in Netanyahu’s right-wing government, indicating they, too, reject a two-state solution.

But Abu Rass said polls show otherwise. And Be’eri-Sulitzeanu refused to believe the conflict is unresolvable, insisting there are many ways the states’ boundaries could be adjusted and citing the resolution of other seemingly intractable conflicts such as in Northern Ireland.

“It may take 10 years, 20 years (I hope not) but eventually there are going to be two states,” he said.

Perhaps surprisingly to some audience members, neither man supports the BDS movement (an international drive to boycott, divest and sanction Israel until its government stops oppressing Palestinians). “Boycotting is a legitimate tool but in our case it is not helpful,” Abu Rass said.

“Radicals in Israel feel good about your boycott,” Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said, because it promotes their siege men-

tality among average Israelis: “We are alone. We are the defenders of the free world.

Eventually people will understand.”

Meanwhile, good things are still happening for Arab Israelis, said Abu Rass. The government has been investing more money into Arab towns.

And just last week, Israel’s Minister of Education imposed a requirement for Israeli children to be taught Arabic beginning in first grade.

Although Arabic is one of Israel’s official languages, most Jews don’t know it, Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said. Previous education ministers have brushed off the importance of learning Arabic, saying everyone can already communicate through Hebrew or English and that Jewish students don’t like learning it because it’s “the language of the enemy.”

The Abraham Fund has forged ahead on its own with a program that teaches Arabic language and culture in Jewish schools — and Jewish language and culture in Arab schools. But the new nationwide directive is great news, Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said.

It shows that while some members of the government are clearly racist and uncooperative, others are open and willing to help Arab Israelis, he said. “It’s never a story of black and white.”

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