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How Arab-Jewish communities are coping with the war in Gaza

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Mixed Arab-Jewish communities are rare in Israel, and since the Hamas attacks of October 7 and the ensuing war in Gaza, they have been under pressure. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley spent time in one mixed community that reacted quickly on the day of the attacks and worked together to protect its residents. She sends this postcard from the city of Jaffa.

(CROSSTALK)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: There's a children's puppet-making workshop going on at the Jewish-Arab Community Center in the town of Jaffa, which adjoins Tel Aviv and is about 40% Arab. The art class is put on by a grassroots organization called The Guard for Jewish-Arab Partnership.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Citizen groups sprung up in the days following October 7. It was the idea of Amir Ahmad Badran (ph), an Arab member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council. Badran said he knew they had to act fast to avoid a repeat of the violence his community experienced in May 2021 during the last Gaza war.

AMIR AHMAD BADRAN: We are asking our neighbors and partners, Jewish citizens of Jaffa to take part together with us so we can save each other's back, save each other's properties and save each other's families and synagogues and mosques.

BEARDSLEY: He says within hours, 500 people had joined a webinar. Two days later, there were 3,000 neighbors in a WhatsApp group. Their community forum has many activities.

(SOUNDBITE OF POSTERS RUSTLING)

BEARDSLEY: One team is putting up posters along a busy road in Jaffa. Jewish volunteer Eytal Kuttnev reads out what's written on the posters.

EYTAL KUTTNEV: (Reading) No racism, no violence - in Hebrew and Arab. Jaffa is for all of us. You need help, you need to report about violence, event or incitement, call us.

BEARDSLEY: Twenty-one-year-old Amit Oknin is also a poster volunteer. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish town in southern Israel but left.

AMIT OKNIN: I think that we need to more open our doors for other religions, other cultures. That's the problem we have now. We are trying to close the doors. If a terror attack or something like that, we're trying to close all the doors because we are telling the world, you see the haters. Everybody hate us.

BEARDSLEY: But he says that's not true. He considers culturally mixed Jaffa a utopia.

SHIRA NOY: I'm Shira Noy. And I'm one of dozens of volunteers in the hotline of the Jewish-Arab Partnership in Jaffa, Tel Aviv.

BEARDSLEY: The architect answers the hotline several hours a week.

NOY: So one of our role is to express our compassion and to say, yeah, it's hard times. You are not the only one, and that's why we are here.

BEARDSLEY: Noy says in 2021, right-wing extremists from outside stirred up fights and trouble. She believes the community's solidarity has helped avoid clashes this time around.

(CROSSTALK)

BEARDSLEY: Twenty-six-year-old Rivka Lvov is a volunteer back at the puppet-making class. She says Israel's problem is there's not enough mixing.

RIVKA LVOV: I have some Palestinian friends that I didn't have before, and it's like the whole world that I just don't know, the whole reality that, you know, you don't see when you're not mixing together.

BEARDSLEY: Sylvaine Levy has brought her young daughter to make puppets. She wants her to have what she didn't growing up in an all-Jewish community.

SYLVAINE LEVY: That she will learn from the start. She will learn the language. She will be near that. She will be with an environment that is mixed and to know that we live here together. And - yes, and it's the only way.

BEARDSLEY: And October the 7 only reinforced that for her because, she says, we are all in this together.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Jaffa, Israel.

(SOUNDBITE OF YUNG ALE SONG, "ONE TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.