"Both the Jewish and the Arab populations want to be able to lead a life of coexistence, sharing a common vision of community, and this is what we saw in our polling", says Yaniv Sagee, who serves as the Executive Director of Givat Haviva, Center for a Shared Society. The survey, part of the project "Roadmap for a Shared Society", aims to examine public sentiment on a critical question: Could Jews and Arabs truly live together, alongside one another? According to the survey, 66% of Israelis, among them 63.7% of Jewish Israelis and 84.3% of Arab Israelis, support the idea of a shared life together. "The findings of this survey are consistent with what Ive been seeing out there in everyday life for years, but I understand how these results could be a surprise for some of the wider Israeli public", adds Sagee. "The political discourse these days is divisive, driven by the narrow interests of politicians who are out to preserve their current position of power. It is a discourse meant to instill fear and hatred, and turn different sectors of the population against one another. At Givat Haviva, weve been observing a different reality over the past few years, and this is what was reflected in the survey."
It all begins with education
One of the strongest manifestations of the surveys findings is the topic of education. 71.1% of those surveyed stated that they see importance in providing teachers with educational training on the issue of a shared life and society. "There is a huge demand for our educational programs", explains Sagee. "We operate a variety of programs reaching approximately 8,000 students, teachers and school administrators. If we had the budget, we could potentially double that number. In only a few years, weve gone from having to chase after schools to participate, to having to decline invitations and disappoint schools that we cannot reach without the funding necessary to do so. To be clear, were talking about schools that are well within mainstream Israeli society."
How do you explain this?
"When you look at the education system in Israel, you can clearly see that among teachers and educators, there is a real fear of expressing a clear stance or opinion on political or social issues. Any stance which could be perceived as political could lead to an immediate and significant attack on social media, whether from the students themselves or their parents. When expressing an opinion exposes the person voicing that opinion to such an extreme degree, where they are vulnerable and could suffer real consequences, the resulting reality is one where young students receive only information, not an education. One of the ways to cope with this reality, mainly among educators who find it disturbing, is to bring in an external third party, who can express certain sentiments that Israeli educators cannot. Givat Havivas program has been approved by the Israeli Ministry of Education, and in many cases, we can afford to say the very things that teachers, educators and school administrators are afraid to voice themselves."
Could education efforts focused on a shared society weather the current public sentiment and todays political climate?
"Weve realized that to promote our programs and bring to life a vision of a truly shared society, education is critical, but it isnt enough – its clear that there is a need to create meaningful collaborations and partnerships between the two communities in everyday life. Weve outlined three main pillars for partnerships of this sort. The first is municipal collaboration, based on the common interests of neighboring municipalities. The second is an educational partnership including programs consisting of shared encounters and study sessions, and the third pillar is a community partnership. There is a great demand for each one of these programs. Due to budgetary constraints, we have no way to meet current demand, but were working on it. We believe that creating ongoing dialogue and enabling conversation through shared face-to-face meetings are the foundations of true integration for both cultures."
The tension between a desire to integrate and a willingness to give more
As much as this recent survey provides an optimistic picture, it also shows that for the Jewish population in Israel, a shared and integrated life is something that could happen only in certain aspects of life. When it comes to involvement of the Arabs in government and the Israeli public sector, or the allocation of land to the Arab population, the willingness to share seems to decline. "There is still a long way we need to go where Israeli Jews are concerned – we are a privileged society, which holds much of the power", says Sagee. "We need to understand that there is no way to create a shared society without first creating equality. The Arab Israeli population is clearly saying: We dont want coexistence that is based on feelings of good faith alone. As long as its only a partial coexistence, limited solely to the 'soft' and most convenient aspects, the willingness of the Arab public will obviously decline. In the program we created, 'Roadmap for a Shared Society', we strive to provide solutions to this challenge. We look at how we can make progress across all avenues of coexistence, through changes in financial policy, education, different partnerships, and other topics like land allocation and governance."
In todays political climate, is this program realistic?
"We spent a year and a half building the program, in conjunction with 70 different experts in their fields as well as the wider public, while taking the current administration into account. We present 25 practical recommendations promoting a communal vision of life that would be shared by Arabs and Jews in Israel, and provide milestones based on our understanding of the feasibility of these different ideas. We focus on what can be done by diverting existing budgets and would not require any additional significant budgeting. That is the idea at the center of 'Roadmap for a Shared Society' – to present what needs to be done for us move forward, not to create a vision for a future we cant agree on, that would just be another pretty pamphlet to look at. The driving force of this program is that it illustrates how practical initiatives in fields such as education, land management, economic development, and culture and the arts, are the key to bringing about change. You can see how well the program is being received, with the Knesset Advocacy Group for the Advancement of Shared Living between Arabs and Jews having chosen our program to serve as part of their work plan for the coming year, and asking us to continue guiding them on this task."
The Work Itself Will Create a Better Reality
Mohammad Darawshe, Director of Planning, Equality & Shared Society at Givat Haviva, presents a similar point of view. "I think the public on both sides lives the multi-faceted diversity of Israeli society, and contains it all. It seems that politicians have an interest in painting a different picture of this reality, but what we see is that both Arabs and Jews want to live better together, side by side. Having said that, its quite natural that the public does not want to live alongside those they perceive as a security threat, who they fear."
So how does one overcome that fear?
"There is fear of the unknown, which reflects a reality of a segregated life thats been the case since the founding of the state. Today, 92% of Jews and Arabs live in completely segregated townships. The 'Roadmap for a Shared Society' doesnt aim to force people into an alternate reality, but rather strives to create communication and ongoing dialogue between the two camps. I believe that small steps like these are the ones that will ultimately build trust long-term. Once people will get used to seeing more Arab doctors in their hospitals, more high-tech workers in their offices or a greater number of Arab students in their universities, that communication will happen more naturally. If we focus on these small successes, they will drive a willingness and an eventual desire to be exposed to more controversial issues. The more this will happen, the sooner we will get to create a state and a way of life that reflect our own reality, instead of just the vision of a given politician."
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