MK Uri Orbach (Jewish Home)
MK Uri Orbach (Jewish Home)

Ruby Rivlin, for his first official visit as Knesset Speaker, chose the Arab-Israeli town of Umm el-Fahm, just south of the Galilee.  He was accompanied by MKs Uri Orbach (Jewish Home) and Afu Agbariyah, a resident of the city.

Asked if his visit is meant to counter-balance the controversial visit of MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) and Baruch Marzel to the city last month, Speaker Rivlin told Voice of Israel’s Yaron Dekel, “This a visit unto itself, not instead of, not a protest, not against anything, just a visit that I think should have been held long ago.  We – Jews and Arabs – are not just decreed to live together here in the same land, but are actually fated to live together. These [Arabs] are people who were born here and who are citizens here, and despite our great conflict, we must develop a dialogue; we must no longer sweep these issues under the carpet.”

Umm el-Fahm is Israel's 2nd-largest Arab city, after Nazareth. The Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev is a close third.

Conflict Between Zionism and Arabs

“There is a sharp conflict between Israeli-Arabs and Zionism,” Rivlin said before the visit, “but this is precisely the reason why we must visit Umm el-Fahm, not looking for a fight but rather striving for dialogue and for listening.”

Asked about the fact that many Arabs in Israel waved Hamas flags during Israel’s anti-terror Operation Cast Lead earlier this year, Rivlin said, “True, this is a serious problem. There are those among them who support our enemies. But we have to find the way to deal with it.”

Last Month's March

The Ben-Ari/Marzel march last month, which extended for only 500 meters, was nearly prevented by local Arab court suits, threats, and ultimately, hordes of rock-throwers. Mayor Sheikh Khaled Hamadan had vowed to prevent the parade “with our bodies,” and a general strike was declared in the city to protest the nationalist march.  In the event, some 15 policemen were injured by Arab rock-throwers.

"There are hostile elements who claim that the State of Israel itself is a provocation," MK Ben-Ari told one reporter at the time. "But all we are doing here is waving the Israeli flag. We do not hate; we simply demand loyalty to the State and that the police should be able to move freely and enforce the law."

MK Uri Orbach, who arrived as a representative of what is perceived as the “more moderate” half of the religious-Zionist camp – the Jewish Home party – did not arrive with an Israeli flag.  He explained, “When we wave the Israeli flag, it need not be with a stick.”  He added that he decided to join the visit because “I am not on the side of the extremists of either side; I am in the middle, and I believe that we must live together and we must develop a dialogue.”

80 Out of 100

He was pressed, however, to explain why he felt that this was such an important issue on which to take a stand: “Given all the problems we face, is there even one out of 100 voters for your party who feel that this is where you should be putting your efforts?” Orbach's response: "I think that 80 out of 100 think this is a good idea."

"I have visited many places in the Land of Israel that are connected with religious-Zionism," he told Arutz-7's Chizky Ezra, "and now I am visiting Umm el-Fahm as well. Every national issue is important to religious Zionism. The Arabs here didn't like everything I had to say, such as that this is our land... But it is important to show that Marzel's in-their-face approach of hating Arabs is not our ideology," Orbach insisted.

Rivlin: I Saw No Israeli Flags

MK Rivlin said he did not notice any Israeli flags in the city, not during his meeting with the city councilmen nor on public schools.  He said that we need not “aggressively demand” that the flag be displayed.  The MKs also visited a museum in the city and met with high school students.

The late Rabbi Meir Kahane led a march into Umm El-Fahm in 1984. The participants barely managed to enter the town before they were met by a mob of rock-throwing Arabs and were forced to retreat.