|Shaping Perceptions in Haifa : Making a Shared Society Work|
|Written by Tamara Symonds|
When SHATIL first began its work in Haifa, its goal was not to establish a mixed city – a city of different people and identities. That already existed. Instead, it set out to create a shared city, a place where all of its residents felt a sense of belonging and had a say in the shaping of the city.
For five years, the project mapped existing projects, reached out to and built partnerships with key citizens, and developed practical recommendations for creating a shared society in Haifa. The recommendations, compiled in a book published last fall, span areas as diverse as urban planning, culture, inter-communal relations, and business.
As the next step, SHATIL - along with partners Beit Hagefen, Maarag, and the Community Services Department – recently created the Haifa Center for Dialogue and Conflict Management. The center aims to help Haifa's residents and institutions manage inter-communal conflicts through dialogue, prevent conflicts from escalating, and help build a shared society in Haifa.
On September 1st, Yaron Levin, the Center's coordinator, sat down for the first time at his new desk in the Haifa Department of Community Services. Haifa's willingness to support the Center and provide a home for it demonstrates an unprecedented level of commitment to the pursuit of a shared society.
"To develop the ability in the city to solve conflict in a nonviolent way, to build the capacity among organizations and in the community, will contribute tremendously to the core of what it means to be a shared society," Levin says. "SHATIL has been one of the partners from the very beginning, and of course the vision of a shared society is very much part of the DNA of the center."
In addition to the opening of the center, the influence of the project is taking hold elsewhere. For example, Haifa City Museum's current exhibit about the Hadar neighborhood includes a number of exhibits which are either the result of or relate to the project's recommendations for multi-cultural events. One of the museum rooms includes flyers and political publications distributed by the Haifa Shared City Program. On another door, a text written by a member of the SHATIL-organized "Creating the Haifa Story Group" speaks of the city's complex history and its Arab and Jewish communities. A text written by Prof. Rachel Kallush, a member of the Haifa Shared City Program Steering Committee, relates to the urban renewal plans in Haifa, and calls for them to take into consideration the fact that the city should be a shared one.
Haifa's support for the Center along with the museum exhibits show how the shared society language has become a part of the mainstream.