Israeli Arab spiritual and lay leaders on Wednesday night urged President Reuven Rivlin to persuade police to confiscate weapons that are illegally in the possession of Arab criminal elements.

Their pleas were made at the President’s Residence during the course of the annual Iftar dinner hosted by the president primarily for the heads of Arab and Druse municipalities.

Iftar (break-fast) is the sunset meal with which Muslims end their daily fast during the month of Ramadan.

Rivlin, who wants to create an environment of national unity and belonging that includes both majority and minority communities in Israel, last year extended the guest list in order to bring together Arab and Druse academics with mainly Jewish captains of Israeli industry.

This year, the guest list was even longer and also included Christian Arabs. It was the largest such presidential Iftar gathering since former president Moshe Katsav established the tradition in 2002.

Under president Shimon Peres, Iftar was no longer just the nationwide celebration of a Muslim festival in Jerusalem – it also included the Israeli executives of global companies.

Rivlin took the concept even further, inviting Christian Arabs, and Arab and Druse law enforcement personnel as well. Also present were Arab representatives of the performing arts and representatives of the Federation of Local Authorities.

Shari’a Court National Administrator Iyad Zahalka, in addition to asking Rivlin to intercede in the effort to stem crime in Arab villages and neighborhoods, also asked him to use his influence to have Islam legally recognized as a religion in the same manner as Judaism, Christianity and the secret religion practiced by the Druse community.

Muslims, who represent 19% of the population, are the only major religious group that has no legal standing that would entitle them to financial support from the government to establish places of worship, schools and cultural institutions, Zahalka said. He wanted legislation for the Shari’a Court to be put on par with the Chief Rabbinate.

MAZEM GNAIM, Mayor of Sakhnin and chairman of the forum of Arab mayors, charged the police with not doing enough. While appreciative of what the government is doing to alleviate poverty, upgrade education and eradicate crime, he said that the police “could go into any Arab village and seize the illegal weaponry” if they wanted to.

Since 2000, according to Gnaim, “1,200 Arabs were killed by Arabs.”

If the police fail to collect all of the illegal weaponry, he warned, “we will all pay, and we will lose.”

Gnaim praised Rivlin for tirelessly sending out the message that coexistence is possible.

Rivlin, who greeted his guests both in Arabic and Hebrew, said that it was no secret that there is a lack of confidence between Arab citizens, and the institutions of government and the legal authorities.

To bring about mutual confidence was a great challenge, he acknowledged, “but it is the mission of all of us, and it is in all our interests.”

Referring to the recent outbreak of violence in Haifa, as well as the altercations between the police and Arab demonstrators, Rivlin emphasized that freedom of expression is one of the fundamental privileges of democracy.

“There should be no question as to the right of freedom of expression – and it should apply equally to all, even if we don’t always like what we hear.” He added that “it’s also a challenge for Members of Knesset – Arabs and Jews alike,” inferring that they should think twice before coming out with rash statements such as calling policemen zeros or criminals in uniform. To speak in this way is akin to cutting down the branch of the tree on which we sit, he said.

Throughout his address, Rivlin repeated variations on the theme of his constant mantra that Arabs and Jews who share this tiny territory are not doomed to live together, but destined to live together. He called on the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael to learn each other’s history and culture, and thereby become more accepting of one another.

He is convinced that once that happens, “it will be easier to put an end to the hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and neighboring Arab countries.”

Invitees to the President’s Iftar dinner traditionally include ambassadors from all the Muslim countries represented in Israel. Even after the previous Turkish ambassador was recalled, the Turkish Charge d’Affaires came to the President’s Iftar dinner. And of course, there were some years in which Muslim ambassadors attended in full force, including the ambassadors of Egypt, Jordan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

But not this year. The only ambassador who accepted the invitation was Doulat Kuanyshev, the ambassador of Kazakhstan.

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