Ein Rafah Local Council Chair Alla Barhoum and Bible teacher and tour guide Hamutal Elbaz met in Shatil’s Leadership for Shared Society course. As a result of the course, they are developing a project to promote tourism to little-known Arab and Jewish communities.
Elbaz enjoyed the opportunity to “meet Palestinian Israelis as equals, but the deep discussions challenged me to the core,” she says. “Suddenly, I see I’m not as open as I thought. The dialogue made me realize what an important place my identity plays in my life. And that led me to understand the same thing about them.”
Barhoum and Elbaz are impressed with the course participants. “They are special, thoughtful, active people – Christians, Jews and Muslims with very different world views. I constantly learn from them,” says Barhoum.
Elbaz, who has been involved with Shatil in combating racism through the Jerusalem education system, praised Shatil’s ability to activate people: “Rather than tell us what to do, they see what our way is and help us to move forward,” she says. Barhoum: “The course is an incubator in which we increase our knowledge and skills so we can advance our own initiatives. The discussions about shared public space inspired me. I am now working to create a space in which members of Jewish and Arab communities in my area can meet.”
Karein Inuo was walking home one day in her Ashkelon neighborhood when she noticed older Ethiopian immigrants sitting on benches sharing their problems. She asked herself why no one addresses their needs. “I thought, these people sacrificed so much; it’s because of them that we’re here in Israel. And now they need us,” she says. Inuo decided to take action.
She began with a few elders in her living room. Five years later, the all-volunteer organization, Tzahai (Sun) for Ethiopian Elders, founded by Inuo and her mother with intensive guidance from Shatil, hosts 45 elders twice weekly in a community center where they work on traditional crafts, learn about their rights and receive guidance in addressing their needs.
Inuo also coordinates a Shatil-guided activists group that promotes Ethiopian community concerns in the Ashkelon municipality, where “we are not a priority,” she says. Inuo participated in a Shatil seminar on identities that she says gave her many insights and is involved in a Shatil-Tebeka anti-racism training.
As a public representative in a group that advises the Ministry of Absorption on Ethiopian affairs, she has contributed to policy change in many areas affecting the community. “Shatil taught me everything I needed to know to run an organization,” says Inuo. “Most important, the wonderful Shatil staff believed in us. And NIF gave us our first grant. It’s so important to give a voice to those who are seldom heard. Shatil does just that.”
Gadi Gvaryahu grew up in a politically moderate, Orthodox Jewish household. For years, he felt sad and frightened by the trend towards extremism in Israel’s Orthodox communities. An inflammatory book purporting to elucidate Jewish law’s relation to killing non-Jews published and endorsed by influential rabbis in 2009 was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The modern Orthodox NGO for which Gvaryahu works, The 12th of Cheshvan, launched Tag Meir (Light Tag,) a coalition of nearly 50 organizations that immediately responds to acts of incitement and racism (Tag Meir is a play on the words Tag Mechir, or Price Tag.) Well known for its organized public visits to Arab victims of hate crimes, the Coalition also visits Jewish victims of Arab terror, often in the company of Arab friends. Tag Meir is a member of Shatil’s Forum for Education for Shared Living, which advocates for the implementation of a government plan to educate children toward tolerance.
“Shatil is very intensively involved in Tag Meir’s work on all levels, from helping us enlarge the coalition to enhancing communication, to expanding the organization’s agenda,” says Gvaryahu. “NIF and Shatil understood the potential of a big forum like Tag Meir. They embraced us from the very beginning.”
At first glance, the Russian immigrant and Palestinian populations of Lod may not have much in common. But thanks to an NIF-funded and Shatil-guided initiative, Palestinian and Russian women in the city are finding common ground.
The seeds for Women Build a Shared Future, an initiative that brings together Russian and Palestinian women in dialogue, were planted when social worker Jenya Pukshansky, today director of the nonprofit Educational Bridge, saw her fear and distrust of Arabs crumble after sharing an office with a Palestinian colleague years ago. “I thought if I could create these kinds of interpersonal meetings, it would help break stereotypes,” she says.
Shatil connected Pukshansky with Samah Salaime Egbariya, also a social worker and founding director of Arab Women in the Center (AWC,) who suggested taking the Russian and Palestinian women through separate processes and then letting them decide if they wanted to meet together. After a year of separate meetings, the women began meeting together this year at Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam, an intentional community of Palestinian and Jewish Israelis.
Despite torrential rains one Friday, all the women showed up – and didn’t want to leave. “There are challenges, of course, but interest and curiosity and the desire for connection trump them,” says Egbariya. She adds that Shatil was there from the moment she founded AWC. And Pukshanksy says, “Everything I learned about community and organizational work – from A to Z – I learned from Shatil.”
Dr. Maged Khamra attributes his attachment to his native city as well as his cosmopolitan world view to his roots in a veteran Haifa family. His great-grandfather was mayor of the city from 1920- 1927. “Whoever comes to this city is welcome,” he says. Khamra was born in Haifa 12 years after 1948, but the “memory” of 70,000 Palestinian refugees leaving his beloved city is etched deep within him.
Together with a videographer in the Shatil-coordinated Creating Haifa Stories group, Khamra made a poetic documentary film on the subject which opened this year’s Haifa Stories Festival. The film expresses the refugees’ pain and longing. “We need to acknowledge each other’s narratives,” says Khamra. “Simple people have stories too and I can be a witness to their silenced voices.”
Khamra sees the annual Haifa Stories Festival, which is organized by Shatil and Bet Hagefen and attracts thousands, as a step toward a shared future. “It’s good that there is an organization like Shatil that develops the notion of Haifa as a shared city,” says Khamra. “Shared society is a deeper, more advanced concept than co-existence: It is about equals who share in decision-making and are part of the solution rather than the problem. This requires courage, hard work and mutual trust. Shatil understands this.”
Mohammad Khatiband and Michael Weingarten may not be typical Shatil activists but both jumped at the opportunity to join Shatil’s efforts to bridge the gaps in health between the north and center of the country.
Weingarten, associate dean of Bar Ilan University’s Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee, participated in Shatil’s first Northern Health Equity Leadership training and gave the opening lecture on the dramatic effects of economic and social factors on health. Khatib, a senior lecturer in the Tzfat Academic College nursing school, co-facilitated the second training. Both continue to be actively involved in Shatil’s Northern Health Equity Leadership Forum.
Although their childhoods could not have differed more – Weingarten grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family with one brother in the Golders Green neighborhood of London and Khatib as one of 10 children in the Arab Galilee village of Majd El Kurum – both men cared about values and justice from an early age. Both laud Shatil’s efforts in the north.
“Shatil is succeeding in activating Galilee residents and is changing the discourse about health in the north,” says Weingarten. “People in the Shatil course were quite amazing and participating in it was a wonderful experience. I am very impressed by what I see.”