Focus on Issues Beyond the Negative Stereotypes

Israeli Jews and Arabs are working together to help the country’s youths see beyond the negative stereotypes which inhibit contact and understanding between its Arab and Jewish citizens.

Here, on the campus of the Givat Haviva Center for Advanced Studies, surrounded by kubbutzim and Arab villages, young, trained adult guides lead mixed groups of Arab and Jewish teenagers along the path to discovery about each other.

Givat Haviva workshops for Jewish and Arab youth began in October, 1983, according to Froike Oren, who leads the workshop program. In less than a year, Oren, who has a degree in Middle Eastern history, said the workshops have brought together, in groups of 20, more than 500 young Israeli Jews and Arabs for four-day periods during which they share a classroom, dining room, dormitories and recreational facilities.

The site for the workshops is the Givat Haviva Educational Center, located in the Sharon valley about 10 miles from the Mediterranean, midway between Haifa and Tel Aviv. It is situated in Israel’s “triangle,” an area with a heavy concentration of Israel’s 700,000 Arabs — and close to the West Bank where some 800,000 Arabs live.

The Center was founded by Hashomer Hatzair, the 71-year-old Socialist Zionist movement, and its Kibbutz Artzi Federation, which represents 83 of Israel’s 230 kibbutzim.

ENCOURAGED TO RECOGNIZE EACH ORHER

“In normal Israeli life, there is no integration between Arabs and Jews,” the 45-year-old Oren said, during an interview in Givat Haviva’s Jewish Arab Institute, where he is a faculty member. During the four days which the teenagers share with each other, Oren said they are encouraged to “recognize each other” as individuals and as Arabs and Jews.

“For a Jew,” the Tel Aviv-born Oren said, “Arab means a sometime enemy who may want to kill him. For an Arab, Jew means ruler who sometimes wants to remove him from his home.”

The program brings the teens together in groups of about 10 Jewish and 10 Arab youths. Each group is lead by both an Arab and a Jewish guide.

There are currently 10 guides for the workshop groups, five Arabs and five Jews, whose average age is 23 years. They are usually, but not always, university graduates. Leading the program’s year-long guide training is Abed Abu Wasal, a 40-year-old youthful looking Israeli Arab from the nearby village of Kfar Qara. Wasal, like most of the guides he helps train, is a teacher, having been at his own village’s elementary school for 20 years.

ONE OF THE CHALLENGES

One of the first challenges faced by guides, Oren said, is getting the youths to address each other by their names. Oren, who lives on a Kibbutz near the Lebanese border, said this is a big hurdle to overcome, often requiring a pained and deliberate effort on the part of students and guides to accomplish.

By the second day of the four day-long sessions, Oren said the teens have usually shared with the group their feelings about what it means to be Jewish, Moslem, Arab or Christian Arab teenagers living in Israel.

On the final day, the guides are expected to lead the group in a discussion about the political problems presented by Jewish-Arab relations in the Jewish State, within an Arab Middle East.

The program costs $20 per day per student to maintain the participants in the workshop, Oren noted. It cost about $1,000 for the 50 weekly training sessions for guides. He said that the guides are not charged for their training while students are asked to pay only what they can afford.

Oren said the workshops receive no money from the Ministry of Education. The non-profit Givat Haviva Educational Foundation has provided most of the workshops’ funding, with some help from the Tel Aviv-based International Center for Peace in the Middle East.

Jewish schools and Kibbutzim which send their students to the workshops provide some money, while Arab villages partially subsidize Arab students.

SEEKS WIDER SENSITIVITY TRAINING

Oren said that there is a need to educate teachers in Israel to be sensitive to stereotypes hindering Jewish-Arab relations. He said he wants Givat Haviva’s workshop program to evolve into the teaching of that sensitivity on a much larger scale.

The rewards for the guides in Givat Haviva’s workshops are not financial, with guides paid only $150 per year for their part-time work at the center.

Why do Oren, Abu Wasal and the others labor against massive odds, reaching only hundreds of Israel’s hundreds of thousands of youths who grow up deprived of the opportunity to see that Arabs and Jews do not have to view each other as enemies?

Oren mentioned watching Jewish and Arab girls weeping at the end of a moving session or witnessing Jewish and Arab students exchanging addressess. According to Oren: “This program is our very small, very moderate, answer to the political problems of Israel.”

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