Yaniv Sagee and Mohammad Darawshe come from two very different worlds, but they share some common goals.
Sagee is a Jewish kibbutznik, the son of a survivor who left Europe after the Holocaust, while Darawshe is an Israeli Arab who traces his family’s routes in Nazareth back 28 generations.
Dissimilar though they may be, they have a vision for Israel that is free of discrimination, a country in which Jews and Arabs share civic equality and where co-operation, not conflict, is the order of the day.
Both men play important roles in the Givat Haviva Center for Shared Society, a non-governmental agency that advances their goals by providing educational, cultural and other programming to Jewish and Arab communities in Israel. Sagee serves as its executive director, while Darawshe is the organization’s director of planning, equality and shared society.
Both were in Toronto this month to help celebrate Heart to Heart, a Givat Haviva program run in Canada in partnership with Hashomer Hatzair/Camp Shomria Canada. The program brings 20 Palestinian and Jewish youngsters to Canada each summer for a camping and educational experience.
An April 10 celebration at the Lula Lounge on Dundas Street West was sponsored by JSpace Canada, Congregation Darchei Noam, Congregation Shir Libaynu, Oraynu Organization for Humanistic Judaism, Givat Haviva, Hashomer Hatzair/Camp Shomria Canada and Peace Now.
Darawshe kicked off joint discussion with Sagee by noting his family’s multi-generational connection to his home. Despite frustrations, “we have no intention of breaking that in my lifetime,” he said.
Darawshe said despite experiencing discrimination and being treated as a second-class citizen he has chosen to challenge the status quo and change things for the better. His goal, he said, is to be an agent for social change and help prepare new generations of young people to do the same.
At the heart of the problem – “The mother of all evil in Israel” – is the country’s segregated educational system, he continued. A holdover from the Turkish era, it keeps Jews and Arabs apart. The absence of interaction allows negative stereotypes to develop. Polls show that a majority of children in each system hold racist views of the others, he said.
Givat Haviva recognizes it’s impossible to bus students from one community to schools in another, so it has promoted something else: the exchange of teachers.
Currently, there are 360 Arab teachers in Jewish schools, up from six in 2005, and in September 2014, there were 18 Jewish teachers in Arab schools, with the goal raise the number to 50 next year, he said.
“They challenge stereotypes by their mere presence,” Darawshe said. By seeing a real human being instead of a caricature, the other side is “naturalized” and “humanized,” he added.
A key focus of the endeavour is to promote mutual interests and the concept of a shared society. There will be disagreements, he conceded, but also discussion.
Sagee pointed to his family’s history in Israel, as well as that of his kibbutz, which is located in an area where 17 Palestinian villages once could be found. The year 1948, the year of Israel’s birth and the year his father immigrated to the country, was also the year of the Palestinian “Nakba,” or disaster, he said.
Sagee stressed Givat Haviva’s goal for a “shared society” in which citizens are equal. Currently, however, Jews and Palestinians are afraid to even visit each other’s communities.
Students who experience the Givat Haviva programs are potential agents for social change.
Sagee noted that the government of Israel supports Givat Haviva programming for a shared society. That has helped paint the organization as a legitimate movement worthy of public support, he added.
Givat Haviva was founded in 1949 by the Kibbutz Federation. It offers programming in a number of areas, including its Children Teaching Children initiative, a two-year civic study and encounter program that is part of the curriculum in Israeli schools. The goal of the program is to foster mutual understanding and shared citizenship.
On the municipal front, Givat Haviva fosters co-operation between neighbouring Jewish and Arab towns to address common goals.
Givat Haviva also offers programming that brings individual Arabs and Jews together to experience cultural activities, in the arts, films and tours.
And of course, there is Heart to Heart in which an equal number of Jewish and Arab teens visit Camp Shomria and hold discussions and educational activities that “challenge the traditional power dynamics at work in the region,” according to the Heart to Heart website.