|Seeing diversity as an asset, not a liability|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
The recent mosque burning in Tuba Zangaria and the defacing of Muslim and Christian cemeteries in Jaffa bring shame to the hearts of Israelis from all political backgrounds and they highlight the importance of working toward a truly shared society.
During the last year, SHATIL has placed a major focus on our Shared Society project, which promotes respect for the cultural space of others as well as prevents the escalation of tensions. Shared Society is a model in which every citizen can feel at home while holding on to his or her unique culture.
“Our aim is for each citizen to see cultural and religious differences as a treasure and a gift rather than a threat,” said SHATIL Shared Society Project Coordinator Shahira Shalabi.
In SHATIL’s new campaign, we are building and facilitating Arab-Jewish dialogue and joint action which tackle root causes of conflict, alleviate tensions, and develop interim and long-term solutions to friction and feelings of inequality between various groups in Israel. The goal of this campaign is to create a society where all of Israel’s populations feel a sense of shared ownership and of belonging.
Some recent successes:
Based on SHATIL’s Workplace Dialogue project at Tzfat Academic College, the president of the college issued a policy paper expressing the utmost commitment to the principles of cultural diversity and to ending on-campus racism. The college now uses the shared workplace model in its promotional and marketing materials, and is demonstrating greater sensitivity towards the religious and cultural needs of non-Jewish students.
SHATIL’s Haifa as a City of Joint Living initiative has brought together the city’s Arab and Jewish residents to learn about and enjoy one another’s history and culture (see the last issue of NIF News), and in general, works to promote more equitable municipal services and improved relations among the city's residents. It has developed practical steps to equalize budget allocations to different educational facilities, and improved communities' accessibility to cultural events. The staff recruits and trains activists and educates residents on issues at the core of the shared society framework, thus creating a community of informed and aware citizens who collaborate to advance the values of shared living. The Haifa as a City for Joint Living team has shared its work with other mixed cities in the world – such as Beirut, Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, Kaduna (a new city in Nigeria), Kirkuk (Iraq), Mitrovica, Kosovo, the borough of Mitte in Berlin, Mostar, Bosnia, Nicosia, Jerusalem, and Ramallah – and learned from them as well. The Project hosted Serbian and Albanian volunteers from Kosovo – who are still struggling with the tensions between them – to Haifa in August for 10 days, two of which were devoted to a workshop on conflict management.
The 20 Arab and Jewish members of the Acco Joint Living Task Force have been especially active in planning and hosting joint cultural events, including a yearly Old City celebration of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holidays with musical performances and cultural exhibitions.
In the Galilee, SHATIL spearheaded a three-year initiative which will strengthen non profits that: promote joint living; network between civil society and the government; and establish a forum of donors to facilitate more effective, holistic, and comprehensive investments in to promote shared living in the Galilee.
Together with our Israeli-Arab partner, Future Vision Project (FVP), SHATIL convened the third week-long retreat of the Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue Initiative in Salonika, Greece last July, bringing together Jewish and Arab-Israeli intellectual, social, religious, media, business and politicalleaders. This high profileJewish-Palestinian network has defined as its core mission the promotion of a shared civil space within Israeli society, both vis-à-vis the public at large and amongst decision makers.SHATIL’s newest Shared Society initiative focuses on Upper Nazareth and Carmiel, where Arab residents pay municipal taxes but do not receive municipal services. The cities have no preschools, elementary schools, or high schools for Arab children and teenagers, no community center for the Arab population, no after-school or enrichment activities, and no public theater – in short, they receive none of the educational or cultural services available to Jewish residents. SHATIL’s’ new effort will begin with fact-finding and mapping, followed by outreach to Jewish and Arab leaders, the establishment of focus groups, raising public awareness, lobbying for change, and eventually securing local services.