Bridge the Divide: Building Jewish-Arab Partnership In a Time of Crisis

3 June 2021

Beginning in April, tensions flared in Jerusalem over attempts by settlers to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the decision by Israeli police to bar Palestinians from gathering near the Damascus Gate during Ramadan, a spate of physical assaults by Palestinian youth on ultra-Orthodox Jews on Jerusalem’s light rail, provocations and attacks by far-right wing Israeli extremists, growing protests and demonstrations, and a police raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex. This provided the spark for the worst outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas since 2014. Eleven days of intense fighting took a terrible toll: nearly 250 Palestinians in Gaza and 13 people in Israel dead. The conflict also spilled into Israel’s mixed cities and neighborhoods causing the worst intercommunal violence between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel in decades.

From the start of the hostilities, the New Israel Fund (NIF) and our grantees worked to help de-escalate the situation and minimize the harm and suffering. While Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire on May 21, the situation in Gaza remains dire and the damage to relations between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel requires painstaking work to repair.

The events of the past weeks reinforce the urgent need for the ongoing work of NIF and our grantees to advance a shared society in Israel, combat racism and protect minorities from discrimination, and quell extremism. Many of NIF’s shared society grantees are rising to the evolving challenges with new and innovative programs. In addition, grantees whose focus is or includes human rights and the occupation continue to speak out against human rights violations both within Israel and over the Green Line. Alongside our ongoing support, NIF provides rapid response grants for emerging needs among this cohort of organizations, as opportunities arise.

Advancing a Shared Society

Jewish-Arab partnership is critical to Israel’s moral fabric, to its democratic future, and to enabling Israel to fulfill its founding vision­—one based on equality for all its citizens. NIF has invested in strengthening Jewish-Arab partnership since our founding, and – recognizing this as an urgent priority even prior to the current events – recently dedicated significant additional resources in this area.

Emerging Strategies
NIF is investing in initiatives that foster cooperation on the local and national levels; combat racism, extremism, and incitement; advance public legitimacy for Jewish-Arab partnership; and bring representatives of the Palestinian-Israeli community into local and national decision-making. Our work during this time is focusing on three primary strategies:

  1. Launching a 1 million shekel fund to support new shared society initiatives;
  2. Supporting long-term work to advance shared society; and
  3. Responding swiftly to emerging needs.

Learn more about our Bridge the Divide campaign »

Voices of Hope: A New Fund for New Shared Society Initiatives

NIF is earmarking NIS 1 million (over $300,000) to support new initiatives that promote shared Jewish-Arab society. NIF is issuing a request for proposals for initiatives that help keep communities safe, rebuild trusting relationships between neighbors, and re-inspire a vision for a shared future. NIF will direct grants towards groups, organizations and NGOs that run or plan to run projects aimed at:

  • Promoting Jewish-Arab shared society
  • Promoting issues on the agenda of both Jews and Arabs living together in the same neighborhoods

Priority will be given to:

  • Projects carried out in mixed cities
  • Projects led jointly by Jews and Arabs
  • Long-term projects

Supporting Ongoing Efforts to Advance Shared Society & Combat Racism and Extremism

NIF has long supported organizations advancing these goals, many of which are leading initiatives to meet the current challenges.

Tag Meir – Light Tag Forum is a coalition comprising over 50 groups from across the religious spectrum that works to combat hate crimes and racism. Tag Meir has been active throughout this period of tension, patrolling Jerusalem to protect Arab residents during a hate march organized by Jewish extremist group Lehava and visiting both Jews and Arabs injured as a result of the intercommunal violence. Representatives from Tag Meir and the Abraham Initiatives participated in a delegation to Lod with Meretz lawmakers Ghaida Rinawe Zoabi and Mossi Raz, visiting Jewish sites that had been torched in the riots and condemning the violence. Tag Meir is planning marches calling for an end to the violence and for coexistence in mixed cities.

Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) – IRAC’s Racism Crisis Center (RCC) assists victims of racism, providing legal aid and psychological assistance. Before the recent violent conflicts in Jerusalem, IRAC urged law enforcement authorities to mobilize forces to prevent violence between extremist Lehava protesters and East Jerusalem Palestinians. As the protests unfolded, the RCC issued a call to victims or witnesses of violence to reach out for assistance. Recently, IRAC began investigating instances of businesses seeking to replace Arab employees with Jewish Israelis; IRAC is following up on the allegations and reporting its findings to the National Committee for Equality in the Workplace.

The Abraham Initiatives – works to promote shared society and equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel, has called on political leaders, especially those in mixed cities across Israel, to work to calm tensions while at the same time allowing non-violent protests, even large-scale ones, in their towns and cities.

Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality organized the heads of Jewish and Arab local authorities to sign a statement calling for calm, emphasizing the importance of safety for all residents and promoting tolerance and shared society. Sikkuy facilitated such joint calls in Karmiel and Taybeh, as well as in Hod Hasharon, Ra’anana, Kfar Saba, and Kafr Qassem.

Omdim Beyachad (Standing Together)Omdim Beyachad’s rapidly growing grassroots movement, with chapters of Jewish and Arab activists across the country has brought the concept “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” into the mainstream. From organizing joint Jewish-Arab protests calling for the government to combat domestic violence in all sectors to mobilizing Jewish and Arab activists to rally together in cities and by highways in support of Jewish-Arab partnership, Omdim Beyachad has helped unleash a groundswell of support for shared society.

Ir Amim, which works to make Jerusalem a more equitable and sustainable city for Israeli and Palestinian residents, has been at the forefront of current efforts to quell the violence in the city that began at the start of Ramadan in April. Ir Amim, along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), submitted an urgent appeal to Israel Police demanding that it remove the barricades at Damascus Gate, which it did on April 24, and desist from using excessive force. Ir Amim advocated directly with Knesset members to put pressure on the police to show restraint.

Shatil, NIF’s action arm in Israel, has created a Jewish-Arab Partnership Task Force to help respond to the crisis comprising key shared-society organizations and leaders. The task force will work to promote legitimacy for Jewish-Arab political partnership, increase representation of Palestinian citizens of Israel in public discourse, and achieve representation for Palestinian citizens in decision-making bodies.

Separately, Shatil hosted a meeting of 30 representatives of around a dozen shared society and Palestinian society grantees to discuss effective media outreach and strategies for ensuring that de-escalation steps are reported on in the media. Meanwhile, Fida Tabony Nara, Shatil’s new director in Haifa, was instrumental in establishing a “situation room” to help Palestinian-Israeli organizations respond effectively to current tensions. Participants include Adalah, I’lam – Arab Center for Media Freedom, Development and Research, Women Against Violence, and Mossawa, among others.

Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom (WAS-NS) – As part of its increased investment in Jewish-Arab leadership initiatives, NIF recently approved a grant for to help WAS-NS use its network of Jewish and Palestinian alumni of its School for Peace to increase the presence and impact of Palestinian Israelis within their respective professional associations. In partnership with fellow-grantee the Arab Center for Alternative Planning (ACAP), the project will initially focus on urban planners and social workers.

Have You Seen the Horizon Lately – NIF approved a grant for this new initiative that focuses on advocacy, engaging the media and influencing public opinion to create greater support and legitimacy for the participation of Palestinian-Israelis in political life and leadership.

Qadaya – NIF approved a grant for this new initiative to develop and strengthen a new cadre of Palestinian-Israeli leaders by cultivating leadership within the Palestinian-Israeli university student body. In recent years, the Palestinian-Israeli student movement has waned, after a high point in the mid-2000s when it engaged in advancing Arab students’ collective rights and serving as an incubator for emerging leaders. Qadaya aims to revive this movement and nurture the next generation of Palestinian-Israeli leaders by establishing Palestinian-Israeli student groups at five universities: Hebrew, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be’er Sheva and Bar-Ilan Universities.

The Alliance for Israel’s Future (AIF) Lod Project – NIF recently approved a grant for a new project to cultivate three Jewish-Arab cultural initiatives with the goal of laying the groundwork for a Jewish-Arab political slate to run in the 2023 elections in Lod, a Jewish-Arab city. The grant for the project, initiated by a Palestinian-Israeli AIF fellow who is a member of Lod’s city council, takes on special significance in view of the outbreak of intercommunal tensions in the city. Project leaders decided to focus on culture as a space in which to cultivate joint activities. If successful, this project will provide a model for Jewish-Arab political partnership that can be replicated in other mixed cities.

Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI)PHRI opened a hotline to report attacks against medical personnel in Israel. In the wake of reports about Palestinian-Israeli health-care workers who have been harassed on social media for expressing solidarity with Palestinians harmed by airstrikes in Gaza, or for demanding equality within Israel, PHRI urged the Health Ministry to protect these individuals’ freedom of expression.

FakeReporter – An initiative of the grassroots pro-democracy organization Mehazkim which is supported by an NIF emergency grant, FakeReporter revealed that it had infiltrated far-right Whatsapp groups and informed the police of planned violence in Bat Yam on May 12. The police response failed to prevent violence. FakeReporter successfully worked to have the extremist organizing group “Civilian Army – the Right-Wing Response” banned from the Telegram messaging service for incitement. FakeReporter’s reporting led to the closure of dozens of Telegram and WhatsApp groups created to organize violent attacks. Its work on infiltrating and reporting extremist groups was profiled by JTA and The New York Times.

“Kick It Out Israel” (KIO) program aims to reduce racism and violence at soccer matches. The program emphasizes social responsibility, monitors racist manifestations at all professional league soccer games, educates fans and players toward tolerance and sportsmanship, and brings together Jewish and Arab youth for tournaments. KIO has proven to be a creative way of mainstreaming the need to address racism in Israeli society.

Responding Swiftly to Emerging Needs

NIF maintains a robust rapid response funding pool that enables us to address crises and utilize opportunities as they arise, including the current crisis:

Givat Haviva – The Center for Shared Society: Havazelet Cultural & Educational Institutions of Hashomer Hatzair – Emergency funding was approved for Givat Haviva to provide refuge for 15 families from Ashkelon. This grant was a departure from NIF typical forms of support; however, given the danger to communities adjacent to Gaza, and the fact that the initiative was part of Givat Haviva‘s work to promote a shared society, the staff recommended the grant.

Omdim Beyachad (Standing Together) – Emergency funding was approved to support the organization’s grassroots mobilization efforts. On May 15 alone, Omdim Beyachad organized or supported over 40 pro-peace Jewish-Arab vigils and demonstrations across the country. On May 22, the organization brought thousands of Jewish and Arab Israelis to the streets of Tel Aviv to rally in support of shared society and a two-state solution. Omdim Beyachad has gained many new followers on social media in recent weeks.

Tag Meir – Emergency funding was approved for Tag Meir delegations to help defuse tensions by showing solidarity with residents of mixed cities. Inspired by Tag Meir’s annual Flower Parade in Jerusalem, activists distributed flowers in five places—Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, the Gush Halav junction in the Galilee, and near Kochav Yair and Taybeh in the Triangle region.

I’lam – Media Center for Arab Palestinians, the Citizens’ HQ, and Sikkuy – Emergency funding was provided to hire a public relations professional and a Palestinian-Israeli journalist to influence the media coverage of the current round of fighting and violence and to increase the number of Palestinian-Israeli interviewees who can give voice to the importance of shared society. They will work together with the three organizations, and in coordination with the Shatil “situation room” for Palestinian-Israeli organizations.

Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education (FUCAE) – Emergency funding was provided to support educators in the Arab sector, particularly in mixed cities, as they confront the current crisis in Arab-Jewish relations. The grant will provide teachers, parents, and schools in mixed cities tools to address the breakdown in Arab-Jewish relations with their children and help their students feel secure in their environments. FUCAE will provide recommendations to local and national government officials so that other school communities can benefit in the future.

Have You Seen the Horizon Lately – Emergency funding was provided for a public campaign to inform the public of the results of a recent survey of Jewish and Arab citizens’ attitudes about the recent violence and the possibility of coexistence. Though the survey, which was commissioned from the aChord Center, was conducted at the height of the violence, its findings showed that 90% of respondents reject violence and most believe that Jews and Arabs can live together. The organization is planning to use survey results for an extensive public campaign targeting both Jewish and Arab sectors emphasizing that violence was fomented by a small minority on both sides—and that a majority of both groups oppose it.

Hand in Hand – NIF provided emergency funding to support vigils by Arab and Jewish citizens in public places around the country where Hand in Hand (which runs bilingual Hebrew-Arabic schools across the country) is active, and to support a conference of Hand in Hand employees and community members who will come together to discuss steps to take in the wake of the crisis in Jewish-Arab relations.

Faraa Maai – the Independent Arab Media Platform – NIF provided support for the publication of a bulletin on violence in Palestinian-Israeli society. Faraa Maai (“I Care” in Arabic) is a women-led, non-partisan and non-commercial alternative media platform that aims to allow journalists, writers, academics, innovators, and activists to contribute to improving the quality of life for Palestinian citizens of Israel. To date it has produced four issues of its bulletin and now it would like to publish another issue focusing on violence in Arab society, produced in cooperation with other organizations, including several NIF grantees. Previous bulletins were created by volunteers; this grant will help Faraa Maai produce a professional product that will hopefully broaden its reach.