Yom Kippur coincides with the Muslim festival of Id al-Adha this year, with both falling on October 4, leading to concerns of intercommunal conflict on the rapidly approaching date.
Prof. Rassem Khamaisi, a lecturer in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Haifa, warned on Sunday that the starkly different characteristics of the two religious holidays could give rise to misunderstandings and tensions.
Yom Kippur, or in the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar and is traditionally observed by fasting, refraining from bathing and other physical comforts as well as day-long prayers in synagogues.
Id al-Adha, however, is a festive celebration involving large family and communal feasts to commemorate the Muslim tradition in which Abraham was willing to submit to divine will and sacrifice his son Ishmael although ultimately a lamb was sacrificed instead.
Jewish tradition holds that Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac not Ishmael.
“There is a chance that the ignorance of Jews and Muslims of their neighbors’ customs and festivals will cause violence and rioting,” Khamaisi warned in a position paper on the issue.
The professor said that there was a growing concern that many Jews will take the behavior of Muslim Arabs as a deliberate insult to their sensitivities, while at the same time, Arabs could interpret this attitude as an attempt to infringe their expression of happiness on the holiday and a form of religious coercion.
“Fringe groups are likely to exploit the situation in order to carry out racist and violent actions that will deepen the existing divide between Jews and Arabs,” Khamaisi said.
He said that the best way to combat such an eventuality was to increase public awareness in both communities as to the special circumstances of the coincidence of the two religious holidays on October 4.
The professor called for the involvement of the president, religious leaders and social activists in such a campaign, as well as the state school system. Mayors of mixed cities, where conflict could be more likely, should also play a central role.
He called on the Israel Police to prepare appropriately for the day and to prevent Arabs from celebrating their holiday amid Jewish population centers observing Yom Kippur.
“Our assumption is that proper preparation and increased intercultural familiarity will alter perceptions of denial and racism and allow tolerant behavior patterns to grow within the two communities,” said Khamaisi.