Neighborliness and its Relevance for the Future


5th Plenary Session: Neighborliness and its Relevance for the Future

In honor of Prof. Dr. Reemtsma, founder and director of the Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Research and Culture

Moderator:         Rabbi David Menachem, Rabbi of Rasko Neighborhood in Jerusalem;

Speakers:

Prof. Yfaat Weiss, Director of the Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Center, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem;

Prof. Amal Jamal, Head of International Graduate Program in Political Science and Political Communication, Tel Aviv University;         DSC_4436 copy

Adv. Michal Pinchuk, Executive Director, Assaf – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

Prof. Yfaat Weiss

I studied in Haifa. The second Intifada gave me a new perspective about the city I was born in. I belatedly understood that my childhood was more complicated than I had previously thought.

The first concept that was undermined for me in the second Intifada is “coexistence”. Haifa prides itself on coexistence and perhaps there are some aspects there for which it’s an apt description. There are aspects of cooperation, good will and positive encounters between Jews and Arabs. But the term co-existence is problematic. It paints or simulates an equal equation. The Equality which is indicated by this concept is problematic first in the numeric aspect. Only 15% of Haifa residents are Arabs.

In Haifa there is coexistence in the sense of shared living but there is an illusion and concealment. Mixed cities are not mixed in the meaning we portray to ourselves when we use the term. The term “mixed city”, like the term coexistence is misleading.

In my opinion, the term “mixed city” can be applied to cities under the British Mandate: Jews and Arabs living side by side under external government that mediates between the communities (even if it isn’t neutral). Using the term “mixed city” when there is no external ruler is inappropriate. The power now is in the hands of one of the sides.  One of the conflicting sides is now the ruler, following a war during which the other side fled or was expelled. Therefore the term is misleading and confusing, it makes us forget that actually the Jewish majority is living alongside remnants of the Palestinian community.

In Haifa there is another resident, “the resident who doesn’t exist”. This resident is embedded in space, the Palestinian resident that is not there, who has fled or was expelled. He exists in consciousness and memory, present in space. He affects the Arab and the Jewish residents differently. Many Jews ignore him. I suppose the Arab residents can’t ignore him. The Jew sees him only if he wishes to. These are “Diachronic neighbors”, not neighbors living side by side at the same time, but one after the other.  In Haifa there is a reality of synchronic and diachronic neighborliness. I believe that ignoring the absent resident is a mistake.

Jerusalem’s reality is different. In Haifa the Arabs are Israeli citizens. In Jerusalem neighborliness between Jews and Arabs is between citizens and people of a different status, blatant inequality. The structure of citizenship doesn’t allow for mixed concepts. Talking about multi-culturalism in this situation is inappropriate.

We must be honest on a conceptual level too. Jerusalem is an occupied city. We live together, this is the given situation. Can there be solutions for the city in the absence of political ones? I don’t know. But nevertheless, I am convinced that we will help ourselves if we clarify the concepts and are more honest. Let’s try to describe things as they are.

Adv. Michal Pinchuk

The goal of policymakers in Israel is opposed to the goal of the conference organizers, who aim at creating good neighborliness. The Israeli government declares that it wishes to make life impossible for asylum seekers in Israel. This principle is translated to policies on the ground and the “Holot” detention facility is the clearest expression of this policy. “The Prevention of Infiltration” Law declares it aims to drive asylum seekers out of city centers, to prevent neighborliness, to remove, cut contact.DSC_4409 copy

A grave report of the State Comptroller form May 2014 denounces the Israeli government for never forming a policy in regards to asylum seekers, except for operating the detention facility. The burden falls on residents living beside asylum seekers and on the municipal authorities. The local authorities try to deal with asylum seekers using various different methods. In Tel Aviv they try to contain them. Eilat municipality, on the other hand, declares it won’t provide services to asylum seekers staying there.

Equality produces good neighborliness. I am talking about basic everyday equality: services’ accessibility, the ability to make a living. Currently, asylum seekers in Israel have visas protecting them only from being expelled to their countries of origin. They are not entitled to Health or welfare services and have no right to work. The visa states explicitly: “This visa is not a work permit”. But actually, the government has promised not to act against employers employing asylum seekers. The law requires registering children in the educational framework, but we witness problems in this area as well.

According to the law, it is permitted to incarcerate people to keep them away from city centers for no longer than a year. The reason for this is unclear. Understandably, the damage to neighborliness is huge: those who were able to settle and create a supporting social network are uprooted from their reality, jailed in Holot for a year and afterwards have to start from the beginning. This is a destructive course.

Another issue is the physical conditions. There must be a minimal space that enables people to live side by side and not on top of one another or at the others’ expense. There is a need for minimal physical conditions for a dignified life.

I will focus on Tel Aviv which has the highest concentration of asylum seekers. In 2011 foreigners comprised 61% of the residents of the five central neighborhoods at the south of Tel Aviv (Neveh Shanan, Florentin, Shapira, Kiryat Shalom and Hatikva). The consequences for the veteran residents are significant. Not only the color but also the density has changed. In fact, the population has almost doubled itself with no adjustments to the infrastructure.DSC_4431 copy

There is no policy of spreading people out. For many years asylum seekers were simply sent to Tel Aviv, without guidance or planning. Once a community was formed in south Tel Aviv, more and more asylum seekers were drawn to that area. Israelis, as well as asylum seekers have more employment options in Tel Aviv. Recently 1,200 people were released. The visa they received stated that they are forbidden to reach Tel Aviv. This is the first attempt to direct the asylum seekers to other areas. Spreading out is not the actual problem. There is no point to it if there are no options for livelihood. Without rights it is very difficult to survive with no circles of support, and these are found in the bigger concentrations of the population.

On one hand, the state must channel resources to those neglected areas with a big concentration of asylum seekers. On the other hand, it must act intelligently and encourage a better dispersing of asylum seekers all over the country and this can be done only by granting rights. There will only be a chance for good neighborliness if asylum seekers are able to live in dignity, earn their living and receive health and welfare services.

Prof. Amal Jamal

I was asked whether I was going to speak in Hebrew or in Arabic. Arabic is out of place here. In this aspect, the conference in Mishkanot doesn’t present good neighborliness. I chose to speak in Hebrew to stress that this is the place of Hebrew alone. But still, I will open with an Arab proverb.  “The Neighbors and not the Clan” The traditional Arab society is built on coherent homogenous groups (families, extended families, clans), but the neighbor precedes the family. This is an ethical statement of the highest order. Loyalty to the clan is supposed to be blind, and still the Arab culture gives the neighbor precedent over the family. According to another proverb, you either reconcile with a problematic neighbor or you move. There is no option to eliminate the neighbor.

All the more in a colonialist situation; In Jerusalem there is coercion. Neighborliness can’t be forced; it must be built on good intentions, fairness and partnership. This is the only way to establish neighborliness. In Jerusalem, realization of the personal and collective identity is based on pushing the neighbor away, cutting the partnership with him. A city is in an open space with variances. It is built on civil ethics. Identity can’t be the basic and exclusive criteria to formalizing relationships with the other in the city.DSC_4417 copy

Identity is necessary. It exists and can’t be ignored. Mediation is needed considering the challenges the different identities present. In mixed cities, pushing aside the identity of the other reaches its peak, to the extent of the annulment of the other. There are ethics for neighborliness, and we have to observe them for neighborliness to materialize. Neighborliness isn’t physical existence in proximity. Today there is segregation, ghettoization, concrete blocks, more and more separations, more walls. The wall needn’t be physical; there is also a political culture opposing the ethics of neighborliness, making it harder for those with different intentions.

In the current state of power relations, alienation is strengthened. Daily politics intensify the separateness and lack of trust. The political and security reality is contrary to the possibility of mediation, deteriorating to terror. What brings a person to use terror? He is not only a victim of incitement. He is pushed to this place and responsibility can’t be shirked. The major challenge is to return a little of the trust and fairness between the sides.

Discussion

Question: What is the relevance of “Diachronic neighborliness” to Eastern Europe?

Prof. Yfaat Weiss

As communism ended, layers of ownership and memory floated across Eastern Europe. The absent neighbor is relevant there as well, but there is a major difference: in many cases in Eastern Europe the tenant we are talking about is no longer a part of the social fabric. These are societies that underwent ethnification. Poland for instance is a one-ethnic state. In Israel the case is different; the other is both absent and present.

Question: Neighborliness is a subversive term, almost exceeding the political discourse, and as such it enables different things.

Prof. Amal Jamal

My emphasis on the political aspect isn’t aimed at pushing the anti-establishment neighborliness. There are neighbors who insist on keeping the bridges between them, even against established policy. It exists and it is important to point it out. It is important to stress neighborliness as a subversive act or as presenting an alternative model to the prevailing one. In our reality, in the dominant political culture, good neighbors are seen as traitors and not as heroes. It is important to point this out and the responsibility of these agents.

Prof. Yfaat Weiss

Many efforts to separate are made from above. Objecting to it requires much action from the bottom. How much influence does a single person rejecting separation in daily life have? Tel Aviv is actively unaccepting of the Israeli government policy, this is some resistance. How much can the resistance of the private citizen influence bigger processes? This is a question.

Adv. Michal Pinchuk

Despite its image, the south of Tel Aviv in daily life is tranquil. There is a feeling of ease, living in neighborliness. Fraternity is created on the ground.

Question: Daily life has a different power from the political one. Perhaps this can serve as the point to from which to expand neighborliness. Perhaps we need to replace neighborliness with solidarity. Activism can create change in policies.

Prof. Amal Jamal

I don’t like being a doomsayer. I have high appreciation for what is happening on the ground. There are some good things happening. But don’t you feel we are regressing? Reality is strong. The wish to be present and to live is strong and arenas of mixed living have been created. But ultimately, there is a dominant model which dictates that you either accept subordination or you are segregated. With all due respect, Israeli society repeatedly chooses to go in the other direction. Perhaps reality is dialectic; perhaps times must be bad to become good. Maybe, only time will tell.

Adv. Michal Pinchuk

I’m optimistic. There is solidarity. When will it be translated into real change, into equality? I believe this is what we should aspire to.