In a glimmer of hope during a time of deepening divisions, nearly 200 Arabs and Jews gathered for an emergency conference on shared living in Haifa. The organizers of Haifa against Violence and Racism expected only 50 participants. Hundreds more expressed interest in attending, reflecting the widespread concern about the Gaza war's effect on Arab-Jewish relations.
The conference was not a gathering to hear speeches, but rather one to discuss and offer concrete proposals for actions to ease tensions and promote shared living. Nine round tables were led by Arab and Jewish co-facilitators. Conference, attendees expressed a renewed commitment to work for change.
"A very clear voice arose at the conference saying that at a time like this, slogans about Haifa as a model for co-existence are not enough," said Rolly Rosen, coordinator of SHATIL's Haifa as a Shared City project. "We need determined action, commitment on the part of the municipality, the allocation of resources for strengthening Arab-Jewish ties in the city, and steps to ensure the safety of all the city's residents."
Haifa – Between Reality and a Vision for a Shared City, a 500-page book SHATIL published in 2012, was quoted extensively at the conference, which was hosted by Haifa's Leo Baeck Community Center.
Among the directions for future action: Campaigns - with the support of Mayor Yona Yahav - to oppose the boycott of Arab businesses; fighting racism on social networks; and educational efforts promoting tolerance among children. The organizers also called upon the municipality to set up a unique municipal commission whose goal would be promoting a shared city in Haifa and ensuring all residents enjoy equal rights.
Conference organizers – Yad b'Yad for Bilingual Education, Woman to Woman, Shutafut-Sharaka, the Leo Baeck Community Center, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Mossawa Center and SHATIL – are working to organize similar events around the country.