Quelling Racist Blazes

8 December 2016

Last week, devastating fires raged across Israel. While some ultranationalist politicians attempted to exploit the moment to sound messages of racism and of discord, Shatil saw a unique opportunity to bring Jews and Arabs together for dialogue and joint-action.

Activists in Shatil’s Haifa as a Shared City initiative came together in areas of Israel damaged by fires and spoke out via social and conventional media. Their message was one of hope, of optimism, and of cooperation, as opposed to the racism and incitement emanating from many government officials. In their reports to the media, activists emphasized the assistance offered by Palestinian Israelis, who opened their homes and communities to Jews displaced by the fires.

“During the Gaza War, Shatil organized these groups to act; but this time, the groups are initiating actions on their own,” noted Shatil Haifa Branch Director Fathi Marshood.

The fact that all municipal department heads had participated in Shatil multicultural trainings helped Haifa maintain an atmosphere of cooperation and solidarity under crisis.

Shatil is now seeing a surge in interest from new players wanting to promote joint living. Shahira Shalabi, coordinator of Shatil’s Leadership for a Shared Society training said: “There is a new generation of leaders working toward a shared society. Everywhere you look, you see groups of Jews and Arabs working together again…”

In fact, 100 people applied for 40 places in a recent training. Also, on November 29th, the second cohort of Shatil’s Lowering the Walls: Leaders Combatting Racism in Jerusalem training launched with 57 people applying for 26 spaces. The participants represent an unusually wide variety of populations, including school principals, businesspeople, organization heads, city officials, lawyers, college lecturers, and artists who are religious, secular, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, Palestinian, Ethiopian-Israeli, and Haredi.

The caliber of the applicants for both courses was especially encouraging: most are already involved in shared society or anti-racism initiatives and are in positions to influence wide formal and informal networks.

“Interviewing potential participants was inspiring,” says Lowering the Walls project coordinator Yael Porat. “We met amazing people working for change who are optimistic even in these difficult times. We were so happy to learn of the many shared society initiatives in Jerusalem in which the applicants have been involved.”

Program participant Avshalom Noama, manager of the bar “Hamakom” in Jerusalem’s city center, said: “For 20 years I’ve struggled with myself to stay in Jerusalem, but I’m still here, and still committed to changing life here.”

NIF’s CEO Daniel Sokatch recently said: “We know that the change isn’t going to come from Israel’s political leaders. This future is going to be forged from the bottom up out of Israel’s civil society.” These amazing activists are a testament to a more equal, more democratic Israel.