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A group of Jews and Arabs in Israel has a ‘radical’ idea — protecting one another as fear reigns

So, perched on a dimly lit rooftop terrace above a hummus cafe, he joined two dozen of the group’s core members to make wallpaper paste, the buckets of sticky slop primed to plaster posters of their cause across the neighborhood. They are in Hebrew and Arabic, and feature a QR code inviting  people to join the movement.

They know their voice represents a tiny minority. 

But the extent of its nascent support has also surprised them, with its WhatsApp groups attracting 3,000 members, 100 of whom have received some form of “training” from others in the group with different expertise.

They have taken on a range of tasks: accompanying both Arab and Jewish Israelis who are scared to  journey across other neighborhoods; sending supplies to Israeli communities displaced by the recent conflict; and, in the event of significant unrest , planning to dispatch volunteers to document and even mediate.

Members of the Arab-Jewish Partnership Guard in Tel-Aviv-Jaffa prepare to put up anti war posters in Jaffa, Israel.
Anti-war posters.Maya Levin for NBC News

All here are visibly harrowed by the events of May 2021, when violence in Jerusalem and rocket fire exchanged with Gaza caused Jaffa and elsewhere to descend into rioting, looting and arson.

This is one of Israel’s “mixed cities,” where 37% of the population is Arab. Everyone in the group says the locals mostly get along, and the violence two years ago was the doing of far-right and extremist elements from other districts.

That strife showed that the “relationships between Arabs and Jews here were very fragile,” said Omar Siksik, an Arab community leader who used to run the area’s Arab-Hebrew Theater.

Though distressing, this led to “real dialogue and real friendship between Arabs and Jews,” said Siksik, a well-known figure who locals say is highly respected on both sides of the divide.  It was the “first time we felt a very warm closeness, because each side expressed their own fears to the other one” and “we became very good friends, hosting each other” in our homes.

These were the seeds of the civil guard that was set up two weeks ago, part of an overarching goal of swimming against the suspicion, prejudice and hate swelling in the region.

Members of the Arab-Jewish Partnership Guard in Tel-Aviv-Jaffa are stopped by police as they put up anti-war posters in Jaffa, Israel.
Members are stopped by police while putting up posters in Jaffa on Oct. 25.Maya Levin for NBC News

Mirroring the demographics of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, most here are Jewish. However, unlike the wider Israeli population, where populism rules and the government is the most right-wing in the country’s history, they range from center-left to avowedly communist.

Most see themselves as allies who need to protect their at-risk Arab neighbors. But few here kid themselves that their worldview is anywhere near making a breakthrough into the Israeli mainstream, where public opinion only seems to have hardened since the Oct. 7 attacks.

Meital Pinto, 46, a law professor specializing in the protection of the Arabic language, said she considers the nighttime poster campaign so controversial among friends and family that she hasn’t even told her husband she is here.

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