Shatil’s Shared Society program is born out of the belief that in order to bring Jewish- and Arab-Israelis together in a common vision, Israel needs something stronger and more robust than the tepid promotion of coexistence and mutual tolerance. In Shatil’s work advocating a society in which all its population groups feel a sense of ownership, we are building and facilitating Arab-Jewish dialogue and joint-action processes which tackle root causes of conflict, alleviate tensions, and develop both interim and long-term solutions.
Some programs, such as Shatil’s dialogue of “influentials” in Israeli society, bring people from all around the country, while others, such as interventions to help colleges and other large institutions respond to the needs of diverse populations, are developing models that can be applied nation-wide. In addition, Shatil has focused effort over the years in areas of the country where the residents live in separate localities and where they have frequent interaction, such as the Wadi Ara region and the Galilee, and in mixed cities.
While the term “mixed cities” generally describes cities that were originally Palestinian (Haifa, Acco, Yaffo, Ramle, Lod), in fact many other cities have mixed populations (Upper Nazareth, Karmiel, Be’er Sheva, just to name a few). Moreover, cities can be the proving ground of the shared society concept. With residents of many backgrounds living side by side and municipal governments responsible for basic services, cities—even more than nations as a whole—should view diversity as a strength and not a threat. For this reason, Shatil’s Shared Society program includes many initiatives that are seeking to transform mixed cities into places that are truly shared by all their citizens.
Haifa Between Reality and a Vision for a Shared City: Haifa is often cited as a model city of coexistence, and yet while the city is truly “mixed,” it is not shared. There are precious few institutions in the city which are jointly used by Jewish and Arab residents, and the inequalities in resource allocation between Jewish and Arab residents are profound. The project advances an atmosphere of tolerance and trust by bringing residents and leaders together from a broad range of sectors, drawing from experiences of other international cities and adapting the principles established through the Shared Society Project of the Club de Madrid, to build a model of what it would mean to transform Haifa into a truly shared city. The goals of the project, which just produced a 500-page book, Haifa – Between Reality and a Vision for a Shared City, include:
- Clearly define points of contention hampering a shared city in Haifa and frame a model of such a city based on principles set by a Steering Committee comprised of prominent Haifa residents from the city’s different populations, attuned to the needs and desires of their communities. Specific areas of focus include: planning, inter-community relations, employment and the economy, politics and protest, education, culture, and urban memory.
- Raise the awareness of the city’s residents and institutions to the need to reconsider policies and practices affecting inter-community relations based on a genuine dialogue with the city’s residents.
Housing Rights in Lod: The work that we began last year to cultivate leadership for housing rights in Lod is picking up speed and intensity. Shatil’s community organizing work led to the creation of a group of active, enthusiastic young people who want to work for their own housing rights as well as for those of the community, called Bonim Yesodot: Young People for the Realization of Housing Rights in Lod. The group is investigating the possibility of acquiring land and creating a planned community for Arab citizens in the city. To prepare for this, and to become effective advocates for housing rights, the group undertook an intensive course of study on planning, including necessary concepts, the planning and building process in Israel, and tools for advancing a building project.
They have received the endorsement of the city’s mayor and are in the process of creating a legally recognized procurement group that will allow them to acquire land and create a housing development suited for young Arab residents in the city. While there are many such initiatives by Jewish groups (including a group of religious Jews who moved in to Lod several years ago, this is the first effort of its kind in the Arab community.
Women in the Center: Shatil launched a project to create a change in the condition and status of the Palestinian women of Jaffa, Lod and Ramle, who suffer from high rates of juvenile marriage, high school drop outs, domestic violence, polygamy and “honor killings”. We aspire to help women solve their problems, create family and community support systems, raise awareness to gender inequality and basic rights, and lead campaigns towards changes in government policy and services.
Shatil established two women’s forums – one in Lod-Ramle and one in Jaffa. Both forums are active and conduct monthly meetings – currently there are 10 participants in Jaffa and 15 in Lod-Ramle. The participants are women from the community, of different ages, religions and socio-economic status. The goal of these forums is to bring to light the dire problems and distress of the women in the community, and create a group of motivated activists who will promote issues related to women’s status.
The women in the Jaffa Forum took a prominent part in Land Day protests there, in spite of the initial opposition of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were leading the protest march. In Lod-Ramle, following the murder of a woman whose sister had been killed five years before, the group decided to mobilize and to plan a memorial evening for women in the city who have been killed in the name of so-called family honor. In July, women from the three cities met for a seminar and shared launch event, celebrating the energy of the group and brainstorming future actions.
The newly launched program for women’s leadership in education in Lod is intended for mothers of children in the Arab schools in Lod. It will focus on the role of the women and their involvement in the municipal education system. The program is designed for women who are mothers of children currently studying in both public and private schools in the city. Its goal is to increase their involvement and influence on school and municipal policies and municipal policies.
Galilee Together: Shatil operates along a three-pronged strategy to achieve the overarching objective of advancing co-existence, shared living and Jewish-Arab relations and equality in the central Galilee, which includes intensive capacity-building assistance to local organizations as well as initiation and mobilizing of cross-sector partnerships to promote lasting social change. As part of this effort, Shatil is coordinating forum of nonprofits, municipalities, and representatives of the public and private sector. The forum decided to focus on the issue of health and is working for the establishment of an Information Center for the residents of the region as well as for employees in health professions around health and well being services in the region. The municipality of Misgav has agreed to make available the infrastructure of the information hotline it currently runs for its citizens. In another emerging initiative, Shatil is providing organizational consulting and helping build a partnership among a retired Air Force pilot, the Environmental Union of Municipalities (which includes Arab towns and villages from the Galil), the Galilee Development Authority, and Zionism 2000 to create a regional center in Sakhnin that will house a hub for social and economic issues and a center for science education for Jewish and Arab youth, with a special emphasis on space and astronomy.
The Invisible Residents: Carmiel and Nazareth Ilit: Though officially designated a Jewish city, the Galilee town of Carmiel has a population that is about 10% Arab. The Arab residents of Carmiel pay municipal taxes but don’t receive the same municipal services as the Jewish residents. Shatil has formed a group of Jewish and Arab residents of Carmiel to fight for the rights of the Arab residents and work toward the creation of a truly shared city. They started meeting in January, and with Shatil’s help have developed a workplan for 2013 under which they will lobby the city for Arabic and bilingual cultural activities, which are completely lacking in the city, and for city-funded transportation to the schools in nearby villages to which Arab parents must bring their children as there are no Arab educational frameworks within Carmiel. As the group’s vision statement declares, “Our goal is to provide every resident of the city of Carmiel, our city, the feeling of being at home.” The Arab residents of Nazareth Illit face similar problems, even though they comprise 17% of the town’s population. With support and guidance from Shatil, they have launched a struggle to open an Arab school in the city, despite the staunch opposition of the mayor, who declared that no such school would be opened as long as he is in office. In August, the Carmiel group hosted an iftar (Ramadan break-fast meal) for both Jewish and Arab residents of the city, giving unprecedented visibility to a Muslim religious event in the city.
Intercultural Cooperation in Acco: The Acco Jewish-Arab Task Force, founded after inter-communal tensions broke out into violence on Yom Kippur 2008, continued to bring together intellectual and cultural leaders from the Jewish and Arab communities in the city and to work toward the creation of city that is truly shared. Meeting nearly every week, the group—comprising some 25 regular attendees, including women and men, Arabs and Jews—discusses issues of concern in the Acco. In one meeting, for example, they spoke about the increase in violence and the feeling that it was not safe to walk in certain neighborhoods. In another, they addressed the problem of racist graffiti in the city.
They also convene artistic and cultural events, such as an annual “Holiday of Holidays” celebration marking Jewish, Christian, and Muslim festivals in December. Most recently, the Acco Theater hosted the group for a performance of soprano Inas Masalha, a young woman from the Arab town of Daburiyya near Acco who has become internationally known. As part of an evening of “Prayer and Song,” she performed an arrangement of the Kaddish, a central part of Jewish prayer services. This moving, cross-cultural event can be viewed on the Akkonet web site.
Institutional Interventions: Shared spaces of work or learning have the potential to become arenas for meaningful change and a platform for coexistence and partnership in Israeli society. However, too often the alienation, mistrust, and stratification that exist in society are reinforced in the workplace or university campus as well. Shatil has therefore developed a flexible model of Institutional Interventions, which can be adapted to different organizational structures from public institutions to private enterprise and non-governmental organizations. Shatil has implemented its the program in Tzfat’s diverse college system, where half of the college students are Arab, while the college administration and faculty are mainly Jewish. Events recent years in in Tzfat–including the city’s Chief Rabbi forbidding the sale or rental of apartments to Arabs and the torching of the cars of two Palestinian-Israeli students–exacerbated troubling trends where Arab residents are made to feel like outsiders.
Based on our work, the president of the college issued a policy paper wherein he expressed paramount commitment to the principles of cultural diversity and the end to on-campus racism. Furthermore, the College uses the shared workplace model in its promotional and marketing materials and is demonstrating greater sensitivity for the religious, cultural, and language needs of Arab students. Shatil has also begun to implement the program in the Nursing School at Emek Yizrael College, with the intent of fostering respect for minorities’ rights and a more equal majority/minority relationship. Throughout the the year, faculty and staff in the Department of Nursing will participate in regular meetings and intensive seminars to address relations among the Arab and Jewish students within the campus; the dynamics within the classroom and the role of the lecturer; and changes in policy on issues such as use of Arabic language in the classroom, the recognition of non-Jewish holidays, the provision of additional assistance to students for whom Hebrew is not a first language, and more.
Jewish – Palestinian Dialogue Initiative: Shatil and the Future Vision Project (FVP) convened mid-level Jewish and Palestinian intellectual, social, religious, media, business and political leaders in order to build a cadre of leaders that can work together for the improvement of minority-majority relations in Israel and towards de-escalation of potentially violent ethnic conflict. Shatil views mid-level leaders as having enormous potential to influence both grassroots and policy advancement toward inter-group equality in Israel. In 2012 the group decided that their strategic task would be clarifying and then promoting the concept of a shared civil space.
Group members met in July for their the fourth annual retreat, where 15 participants dealt with topics such as socio-political trends in Israel, including the challenging issue of national service; the Cyprus conflict and the work of civil society; and personal and collective narratives. The decision to delve into narratives led to an experience that participants and Shatil facilitators alike described as extraordinary. Each participant took some 15 minutes to write a personal narrative that seemed of relevance within the context of communal narratives. After that, each participant had 15 minutes in order to share the narrative. The group was instructed to listen without interruption, and after listening, facilitators allowed three or four questions. This disciplined process led to unprecedented levels of openness in sharing personal experiences, but even more significantly, enabled the group to engage in the national Jewish and Palestinian narratives and to wrestle with the core issues of the inter-group conflict within a discourse of respect and empathy.