Israel - Day 7
Up early to run. There is a big difference between a Shabbat morning and a working morning. The Sunday work day is always a reality check that we are in a Jewish State.
We woke up and learned about the deaths of too many soldiers. As our tour guide said, there are parents burying their children throughout Israel this morning. Some of my colleagues went to an anti-war non-violent protest last night. They said it was a small protest and there were as many police people as there were protesters. A completely opposite reality to what is going on in France right now. Because of the extreme anti-Israeli sentiment and the violent protests, the French police don't even feel safe protecting anyone at those demonstrations.
We began the day by driving up north to the Ecological green house at Kibbutz Ein Shemer. They pair with other organizations to promote co-existence between Arab and Jewish Israelis together. It is a school that brings together all Israelis.
A young woman (23 years old) who just graduated from law school in Israel spoke to us about what it means to her to live as an Arab Israeli (she was in the midst of a day fast because of Ramadan) . She does feel Israeli, yet the tension between her cultural Arab community and her Israeli community are in conflict. When she preserves the Arabic community it is preserving the culture of the enemy. The question is always where is their loyalty!? Are they trust worthy?
She talked about the fact that being in Palestinian communities is challenging for her too.
She would like to be an Israeli, just an Israeli. Yet she doesn't identify with the Israeli flag nor the anthem. The combination for her is confusing. The gap becomes bigger when they don't serve in the military. They have the choice and when they don't they are again treated as second class citizens. Although it is a social taboo in their own communities if they did serve.
The solution to dealing with this has been civilian service. In the past it was an option for religious Jews. They wanted it opened up to Arab Israelis. It is 2 years of volunteer work. It started off as 4 people and now it is 20,000 Arab Israelis serving in this capacity. The majority being women. This happened over 14 years. This is accepted and there is no taboo in either community. It allows them to have the same "status" as people who complete military service. More doors open up. There are certain jobs that you can not even apply to unless you have done military service. Applying for scholarships, applying to schools, all of these areas get opened up to the people who do the service. The organization helps match them up to do service in an area they want to explore. By doing this she feels that she is contributing to the society and not taking from the society. She is working towards having all Arab Israelis do this service.
In university there was an Arab Israeli faction that played a role in student government. For example there are no exams on Ramadan. But the age differential between the students was an impediment to socialization. Arab Israelis go to university at 18 if they don't do community service and 20 if they do. Jewish Israelis start university usually at age 24-26.
She grew up in different educational systems. She grew up separate from Jewish Israelis. She created stereotypes in her mind and when they finally interact, the prejudices are so great that they are hard to overcome. She feels that more integrated schools at a younger age will help this integration.
Some of the questions we asked...If there becomes a Palestinian State how will that effect the Arab Israeli communities? Her feeling is that most Arab Israelis live in a bubble and don't want to engage in this whole discussion.
How can you balance being a Jewish State and being a democracy? She feels you can't.
We then got an explanation of the Ecological center. The goal here is education. Kids come every week to learn here. It gives kids something to do with their hands. They can see, feel, be completely connected to the whole world because of the energy within specific plantings.
Try to teach teamwork, that money and ego don't matter. They work sitting around round tables. 2 groups of Arab and Israeli's working together. Most groups are learning side by side not as an integrated group. It is much easier to work with an integrated group that is younger.
They are going to have an exhibit at the West Side JCC in Manhattan in the
We went far up north, past Haifa to a small Galilee Druze village in Sajur. About 3,000 people. They believe in one god and that all the people are equal. Their flag has 5 colors. The green is about the land, they don't believe in the government. Where they are born is the land they relate to. The red is about the blood. They are not afraid of dying. They believe in resurrection, but always remain Druze. White is a pure heart. Yellow is the color for the wheat. Blue is about god.
We watched a cooking demonstration with the kosher police observing. What I mean is that the mashgeah (the rabbi observing the kosher status of the restaurant) was there to make sure the restaurant is kosher. We watched pastry making, a rice dish and stuffed zucchini. They asked us all to participate, with gloves of course!
We then sat down to a multi-course Druze meal. Lunch at Galileat, the eggplant was great! Lee loved the meal.
We journeyed to Shorashim-the Good Neighbors Program-a lecture on Jewish Arab relations followed by structured discussion with Palestinian residents of the Galilee followed by and Arab-Jewish circus performance.
Sigalit lives in Shorashim. Jews and Arabs live separately. First time they meet is around the age of 20+. So the mistrust between the 2 groups is ever present. When there is conflict, most people retreat into their own community. She went shopping in an Arab community last Shabbat at a market which is usually filled with Jews and it was empty. There is fear on both sides. During this sensitive time, instead of talking we are withdrawing more. Jewish Israelis are fearful of the riots in their communities. Arab Israelis are fearful of coming out of their communities wearing hijab (the traditional Moslem garb) and having their kids be accessible to settlers. Whether either of these things are actually happening is unimportant. The rumor mill is high!
We then met with Arab kids from the village. The two kids who were in our group were articulate and so open to conversation. Rebecca is 14 and has an Arab Moslem Father and a Romanian Christian Mother. They met when her father was in dental school in Romania. Silam is 18 and has a mother who wears a traditional hijab. We went around telling our ages and when Lee said 66, the girl was shocked!! She thought he looked really good. In his 50's at most. I think Lee might be doing his next sabbatical in Diralasad :).
We had a very sweet conversation about their daily lives. They talked about the music they like, what they do over their vacation, what social media they are involved with, what they want for their future, if they were going to do the national service we learned about earlier in the day. They sounded quite like cultural Jews in the US. When they began to ask questions, the guy Silam wanted to know how our friend Josh got his big muscles!
When you drive around you can tell an Arab village from a Jewish one because of the roofs. Jewish communities have red roofs, Arab communities have no roofs, so they can build up when their children marry. These kids live with their parents until they marry!
The concept that continually is reinforced is without integration there can be no dialogue between Arab and Jewish Israelis. With the increased superstition on both sides there is no ability to change these prejudices. As a result the situation becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
We just learned of the many more deaths on both sides. How will this ever change?
The last experience we had today was a wonderful program for children. Arab and Jewish Israeli youth come together to train and work on circus performances. They come all year round 4 days a week. They had a visiting group from St. Louis who was here to work with them for 2 weeks. So you had a wonderfully mixed group of kids who adored each other and learned to work collaboratively. This is what I was referring to earlier. There needs to be integration for anything to change.
The resources they have are limited. The mats are awful. Many of my fellow colleagues, myself and Lee are going to help pay for a new set of mats for them to practice on. Such a small thing for the great hope that these kids will bring about peace,
We had to leave the Galilee because our guide was told that there was going to be a funeral in the evening near where we were and the traffic would be unbearable. What a horrible situation.
We had a late and quick dinner on the pier, thankful that there was a whole day with no sirens. Every restaurant, shop, and walkway is nearly empty. The tour season for 2014 is over for Israel.
The slice of the reality. Much love.