Wednesday, November 21, 2012

community cohesion

Givat Haviva, Israel – Every week for the past five months, a group of Arab and Jewish women from neighbouring towns near Haifa, Israel have come together to cook. Each week, they meet in a different woman’s home, discovering their commonalities and differences by sharing recipes, culinary traditions and childhood memories.

These weekly meetings take place through an initiative called Cooking for Peace, one of many projects initiated by the Givat Haviva Education Center. Cooking for Peace is part of its new holistic model for peace education called Shared Communities, which was developed in response to profound changes within Jewish and Arab societies in Israel in the past decade and has provided a new way to bridge deep divides.

Since the second intifada began in 2000, Arab Israelis have experienced a rise in national sentiment, motivated by the struggle for statehood by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Concurrently, a new political and intellectual leadership which advocates a “state for all citizens” in Israel has emerged. Among Jewish Israelis there has also been a sharp rise in nationalist feeling, due in part to the failure of the Oslo peace process.

The rise in nationalism on both sides has made the traditional models for peace education that brought together groups in conflict to discuss their differing historical and political narratives too difficult to implement, and often rendered them ineffective. This reality has forced peace activists to identify a different approach to finding common ground and develop new practices and terminologies.

The new model for peace education shifts the focus from dialogue focusing on narratives to actively discovering common values, daily needs and shared goals. Participants are then encouraged to create cooperative frameworks to be used toward realising these goals.

The Givat Haviva model aims to engage all potential partners in the effort to bridge divides. It builds on the idea that the active involvement of ever-growing social circles contributes to sustainable cooperation between communities. Therefore, the idea of Shared Communities may apply not only to Arab-Jewish relations, but may also address other social schisms between secular and religious Jews, long-time citizens and new immigrants, and rich and poor.

Givat Haviva has become a leading establishment in the field of Jewish-Arab dialogue inside Israel since it founded the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace in 1964. Tens of thousands of participants have taken part in its programmes and encounters. In 2001 Givat Haviva won the UNESCO prize for Peace Education.

Cooking for Peace was part of a major pilot for the Shared Communities initiative. The project brought together participants from the neighbouring towns of Pardes Hanna-Karkur (a Jewish town) and Kfar Kara (an Arab town), both of which are in the Haifa district. The programme was launched in January 2011 with an agreement that pledged inter-communal projects and was signed by the council heads of Pardes Hanna-Karkur and Kfar Kara, who wrote in the agreement: “we are aware that geographical proximity is not sufficient…and what is called for is collaborative work in order to turn geographical proximity into human closeness, trust-building and mutual appreciation.”

Local Stories is another on-going initiative within Shared Communities that has drawn residents of Pardes Hanna-Karkur and Kfar Kara to meet on a regular basis. In this videography course, Jewish and Arab senior citizens meet weekly to learn scriptwriting, editing and how to use a video camera. Participants will collaboratively produce short personal videos illustrating the unique history and character of both communities.

Another programme targets sixth grade children. Together for the Environment has brought together 50 Arab and Jewish children in an innovative learning programme to promote environmental awareness. Children and educators engage in a series of workshops where they work with recyclable materials to create practical and artistic products – while indirectly acquiring a new set of tools for dialogue. United by the shared goal of protecting the environment, the children continually find creative ways to straddle language and cultural barriers.

Other cross-community initiatives include youth theatre, a women’s hiking club, a course in first aide and programmes to empower municipal teams. These multigenerational and cross-cultural initiatives have a holistic, sustainable impact on every aspect of the two communities.

Learning from the Pardes Hanna-Karkur and Kfar Kara pilot, Givat Haviva is now expanding the holistic model for Shared Communities so that it can be used to heal ruptures between many types of divided communities, both in Israel and elsewhere. We hope that the positive impact will bring the needed resources in order to turn the programme into a serious catalyst for change in Israeli society and contribute to the struggle for social justice.


* David (Dudu) Amitai is a Spokesperson for Givat Haviva and an alumna of Tel Aviv University and the University of California, Los Angeles. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).


TEL AVIV: A few weeks ago, Jaffa witnessed protests against members of the Jewish religious-nationalist community moving into the area. At the same time, the Israeli parliament began debating a measure which would allow small villages to select residents by using the undefined concept of “social suitability”, a move seen as a stealth measure to prevent Arabs from joining elite communities around the country.

Many are familiar with Israel’s discriminatory attitude towards its Arab minority. The rulings by the rabbis in Safed and other towns banning property-owners from renting to Arabs are one recent example. But discrimination is not confined to the Arab-Jewish divide. South Tel Aviv sees regular protests by local Israelis against African refugees and North Tel Aviv sees occasional protests by secular Jews against ultra-Orthodox Jews.

All instances of exclusion are unacceptable: the disparate communities in Israel need to learn how to live together.

Many left-of-center critics allege that the developments outlined above represent the inevitable descent of Zionism into outright racism. But the problem is far more complicated. The course of Zionist history bears some responsibility for these outbursts of intolerance, but not in the way that the reflexive critics argue.

In the early days of Israel, the government tried to unite the different Jewish ethnic groups in the melting-pot of “Israeli-ness”. The Arab community, which lived under military rule at the time, were excluded from this nation-building. But even within Jewish society, this relentless policy of trying to mould Israel into a unitary, Hebrew-speaking state necessitated discrimination against minorities, with Mizrachi (Jews from Arab countries) and Yiddish-speaking immigrants particularly affected.

Eventually, though, the experiment was all but abandoned. By the end of the 1990s, the melting pot had been abandoned. It was no longer seen as necessary; there was now a sufficiently robust Zionist-Hebrew majority. Israel, a country once famous for its socialism (most popularly manifested by the kibbutz), had now signed up to the neo-liberal consensus, and personal advancement was preeminent. It was accepted that different groups would live separately, with their own culture, rituals and languages.

Whenever anyone has tried to challenge the status quo, whether it is ultra-Orthodox Jews in the largely secular neighborhood of Ramat Aviv, moderately Orthodox Jews in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh, or Arabs in northern communities, there has been conflict.

According to the defenders of this policy, there’s a certain realism in acknowledging people’s differences and allowing them to live separately and develop their own identity autonomously. To call this racism – the issue of discrimination with regard to government funding notwithstanding – is to abuse the word. After all, they argue, don’t the Arabs want to live separately just as much as the Jews?

The problem, though, is that it tacitly reveals Zionism’s failure to create a normalized state according to the promise of Israel’s founding document, known as the Declaration of Independence, with “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” Building a normal society means struggling to ensure that disparate communities have at least a modicum of a shared national life, that there is some thread to connect everyone within the nation, regardless of their ethnicity or religious practice. For Israel to work, this urgent national mission cannot be abandoned.

Selection committees should be outlawed. Religious Jews should be welcome in Jaffa. Arabs should be welcome in the neighboring Jewish Bat Yam. Ultra-Orthodox Jews should be welcome in Ramat Aviv. But they should come on the basis of parity and not of conquest. There should be no demographic infighting. We must strongly support the work of civil society organizations such as Merchavim or the Abraham, which work towards democratic pluralism and equality between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel.

Instead of withdrawing into our caves, we need to work towards a shared Israeli identity.

I live in Tel Aviv’s Yemenite quarter, where Orthodox Jews, secular hipsters and the occasional foreign worker live happily side-by-side. The Jewish Shabbat is a quieter time, but nobody is reprimanded for listening to loud music. Walking along the beach last Shabbat, I saw a religious Jewish family watching happily as a group of secular Israelis danced to blaring music. Their secularism in no way detracted from the watching family’s orthodoxy. For Israel to thrive, we have to stop living in settlements and get to know one another, in all our wonderful variety.


* Alex Stein ( lives in Tel Aviv and is an activist with Combatants for Peace. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Rami and Mazen believe in hope as well.

They also visit schools, in Israel and in the occupied territories.

Their message is that violence will never solve the conflict.

They are very persuasive.

Rami is a Jew, Mazen a Palestinian Arab and they know what violence is.

Mazen's 62-year-old father was shot dead by an Israeli soldier.

Rami's 14-year-old daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber on a bus in Jerusalem.

Rami and Mazen are now close friends - they call each other brother.

They are members of the Parents Circle and Families Forum.

It is not a psychological support group. It is a campaigning organisation with a very precise objective which is written on their smart business cards: "Bereaved families supporting peace, reconciliation and tolerance".


"Initiatives like these are essential 'baby steps'," Hind Kabawat told me.

Hind is a Syrian lawyer who specialises in conflict resolution.

In her fabulous, spacious, stone Damascus house - with a fountain in the courtyard and elaborately painted high ceilings - she proudly pointed to "the most important books on my shelf: the Bible, the Koran and the Sayings of Mahatma Gandhi".

Does she believe Israel and the Palestinians are reconcilable?

Does she believe - especially now, with talk of attacks on nuclear sites - that Israel and Iran can negotiate?

"Of course," she said. "In Ireland, peace only came after the British negotiated with the IRA."

Then she added: "Look at Europe. Millions of people died there in the Second World War. Millions! Did your parents or mine ever believe there would be peace in Europe?" she asked.

"Well there is," she went on, "because they did believe in it. We have to have hope."


No comments:

Post a Comment