Building Relationships Between Jewish and Arab Citizens in the North

An Active Response to Violence and Tension

In Israel, Jewish and Arab citizens have limited opportunities to meet and get to know one another. The distance between the two societies is exacerbated by separate schooling, lack of knowledge of the other's language, and stereotypes and ignorance about each others' cultures, customs and communities. In this environment of deliberate social and educational division, the lack of understanding by each side toward the other deepens the civic and social antagonism between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. In addition, the recent war with Hizbollah on Israel's northern border affected thousands of Jewish and Arab residents who were bombarded with missiles and spent weeks going in and out of bomb shelters. Many Jews suspected their Arab neighbors of siding with Hizbollah, and many Arabs, who were also not safe from the Hizbollah missiles, blamed Israel for the war. These experiences elevated tensions and hostility between these two communities in the north.

The Israel Association of Community Centers (IACC) believes it is particularly important at this time to strengthen peaceful coexistence between the residents of neighboring Jewish and Arab communities. Research conducted by University of Haifa's Center for Research on Peace Education found that coexistence programs are an effective means of helping to reduce tension between Jewish and Arab Israelis. Awareness, understanding and acceptance of differences promote mutual respect and enrichment, strengthening the establishment of Israel as a pluralistic democratic society, and paving the way for peace.
Today, IACC community centers conduct dozens of coexistence programs throughout the country. The following are but a few examples; upon request, more detail will be provided concerning any particular program.

Innovative Programs Promoting Peaceful Coexistence

Music for Preschoolers and Dialogue for Their Parents, which has been conducted successfully in several other IACC centers, invites 15-20 Arab and Jewish children up to the age of five, together with their parents, to age-appropriate musical activities. While their children are busy taking part in the enrichment class, the parents meet for facilitated dialogue on subjects of common concern, such as their worries and hopes for their children's future together in this country.

Funding: Each program, involving two community centers (one Arab and one Jewish) costs $25,000. The IACC seeks to implement this program in eight locations, at a total of $200,000.

City at Peace engages 30 Israeli Jewish and Arab youth ages 15-17 in a creative process that uses the performing arts to explore the personal, social and cultural forces that divide and unite them. Through facilitated dialogue and dynamic workshops, participants examine issues of power, self-awareness, mutual respect and understanding, creativity and joint problem-solving. In the framework of these activities, they work with professional artists to write, produce and perform full-length theatrical works about their lives, which they then perform for general audiences. Beyond the powerful impact on each participant personally, their performances, workshops and community projects enable them to become catalysts for change in their communities, communicating their vision of a "city at peace" to their families, peers, communities, and the broader Israeli society.
Funding: Each City at Peace program costs $20,000. The Rosenzweig Coopersmith Foundation and the IACC have partnered to implement this program in four locations. We seek funding to open eight additional locations this year, at a cost of $160,000.

Dialogue Through the Arts brings 15 young Jews ages 15-17 and 15 of their Arab peers together for joint study of one of the arts, such as classical painting and sculpture, dance and music, over the course of a year. Jewish and Arab facilitators together with one Jewish and one Arab professional in the chosen field of the arts run the program. Through these activities, participants gain skills and tools to engage in mutually respectful dialogue, and build relationships over time. The program has been conducted over the past four years whenever funding has been available; to date, some 70 young people have participated. In place of strained and hostile relations, many of the program's past Arab and Jewish participants have formed strong relationships and remain in touch with each other to this day. These relationships, in turn, demonstrate to family, friends and neighbors the possibility – and the benefits – of peaceful coexistence.

Funding: The cost of one group is $40,000. We propose to implement the program in five locations in the north, at a cost of $200,000.

Crossing the Galilee involves between 150 and 250 Arab and Jewish youth ages 13-18 from community centers in the North, or from mixed Jewish-Arab towns and cities. The young participants meet six times during the school year to get to know one another and engage in facilitated dialogue and joint activities aimed at helping them understand one another's cultures, recognizing what they have in common, and forming personalized relationships. These activities include seminars and workshops on Arab and Jewish life in the Galilee and a visit to a Bedouin village. The program features two joint overnight trips, one during the winter and one during the spring. During the summer vacation, the youth participate in a three-day camp, hiking across the Galilee and spending the first night in an Arab village and the next night in a kibbutz or other Jewish community. The camp culminates on the last day, when the participants build a raft and sail together across the Sea of Galilee.

Funding: Crossing the Galilee costs $50,000 for one group of 150-200 youth. We seek funding of $100,000 to enable us to implement the program in 2007-2008 and in 2008-2009.

The Women's Dialogue Project brings together approximately 20 women from neighboring Jewish and Arab towns and communities in the north for dialogue sessions in which they have the opportunity to build relationships and discuss difficult and painful issues in an atmosphere of mutual respect and acceptance. The group is professionally facilitated by two experienced women, one Arab and one Jewish. The women, who meet for three to four hours every other week – sometimes in each other's homes and sometimes at one of their community centers – explore the subjects of personal and national identity. They also participate in weekend seminars focusing on themes such as women's status in Israel's Jewish and Arab societies and future directions of Israeli society, using educational tools such as simulations and experiential workshops.
Although their discussions touch upon some of the most sensitive subjects related to the Arab-Jewish conflict, from our experience, the women are extremely committed to the process of building trust and forging relationships. Once the women are ready, they begin to take a more active part in running the sessions, and planning the activities for their peers.

Funding: A grant of $170,000 would enable us to run seven such programs each year for two years.

Detailed budgets for these programs are available on request.

The IACC has demonstrated its commitment to peaceful coexistence between Jewish and Arab youth in Israel through its many dynamic programs promoting mutual respect, understanding and acceptance. The IACC is seeking to form partnerships with forward-looking grant makers to enable it to both expand these successful programs and create new ones throughout the country, thus reaching thousands more Israelis of both communities.