Opening Gala Evening
Introduction and Greetings: The Jerusalem Foundation and the Adam Institute.
Conversation and Discussion with Authors: Dorit Rabinyan and Ayman Siksek
Moderator: Liat Regev
Introduction and Greetings
Liat Regev: Welcome everyone and good evening. The conference on mixed cities was planned before what has been happening in mixed and other cities in Israel in recent weeks. There is something symbolic in the conference taking place now during the current situation that signifies hope and optimism.
“City of Tomorrow – Shared Living in Mixed Cities of the Future”, organized by the Jerusalem Foundation and the Adam Institute, is the third in a series of conferences that address the issue of life in mixed cities. The conference examines life in mixed cities in light of the many changes that have been taking place in Israel and across the world as a result of economic, political, social, technological cultural and other processes. The increasing movement of refugees and migrants, economic globalization, national conflicts and more are changing the urban space in an unprecedented way. All these changes demand renewed thinking and a brave, in-depth public discourse on urban planning in mixed cities. Experts at the conference and practitioners in the various fields that characterize life in mixed cities will assist in creating a long-term vision to enable an examination of and preparedness during current processes.
Later on we will converse with the authors Dorit Rabanyan and Ayman Siksek: In their words, Ayman comes from the mixed city of Jafffa, Dorit comes from the sterile city of Tel Aviv. I wish everyone an enjoyable evening.
I invite Mr. Daniel Mimran, representative of the Jerusalem Foundation, Executive Director and member of the Board. This year, the Jerusalem Foundation is celebrating fifty years since its founding, and this conference is a part of the celebrations.
Mr Daniel Mimran, the Jerusalem Foundation: Guests that have come from close and far, including from abroad, good evening. A Jewish midrash (parable) tells of ten measures of beauty that descended on the world, nine of which were taken by Jerusalem. As someone who was born and lives in the city, I agree with the words of the midrash, but also permit myself to add an additional line: ten measures of complexity descended on the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem.
This is a difficult time for the city’s residents, and the importance and relevance of the conference, under the heading of “Mixed Cities”, has in recent days, been unfortunately reinforced.
Living in Jerusalem is to live in a mixed and therefore complex city, a city in which different groups of people live that are characterized by significant differences between each other: cultural differences, religious differences, national differences. Mixed cities pose a big challenge to the government, both the central and local government, including municipalities, as well as the residents that live in them. It is not easy to give each group the feeling that the city is its home in exactly the same way that it is the home of the other.
Indeed, Jerusalem poses many challenges for us. Being such a charged city, the challenge is to try to create shared living, harmony, tolerance and respect between its different populations. If we succeed in doing this, it will be the most beautiful city in the world, where the fascinating human mosaic that composes it and lives in it in peace will carry a message of hope to the whole world.
This is also the reason that we are here this evening, at this conference, the initiative of the Jerusalem Foundation.
Since its inception, approx. 50 years ago, the Foundation set itself the objective to act to promote tolerance and understanding between the different populations in the city. We search for many ways to enable all the groups that compose the city to live in it together, in minimal tension and conflict. On the other side of the coin, we try to minimize the gaps and to make services accessible to every group. Despite what is happening here, we still believe that this is possible and we do not despair of hope. We prove our faith in it through dozens of projects that touch thousands of lives in the city: Jews, Muslims and Christians. We also believe in empowering the different groups to be involved in city life and to take responsibility themselves.
The city is in fact all of us, over eight hundred thousand residents that are all intertwined. No population sector can live without the other sector; every one of us everywhere that needs services, that buys, benefits from tourism, be it educational services, health or municipal services: We live together. Each one needs the other side. True, these days are a little difficult and there are those who are reluctant to come. But this will subside. We need to be optimistic. We must hope that it will subside in a few weeks. Life is stronger than any tensions and eruptions. We have experienced this in the previous intifadas as well as today, during the current surge of violence. My late father died a few months ago. He was born in the Old City (of Jerusalem) and grew up there. One of the things that I am proud of is that I am the eighth generation in Jerusalem. One of the first things he did after the Six Day War was to go back to the Jewish Quarter and search for his house and roots. He left the Old City at the age of 18, in 1948. One of the best things he did was to search for the friends with whom he used to play soccer – Muslim neighbors with whom he grew up in the alleyways of the Old City. They kept in touch for years. I was a young boy when we were hosted by them. They came to our house, there were shared meals, and they stayed in close contact for many years, continuing their childhood friendship in the Old City. That life is stronger than any eruption, than any flame that is sparked. Ultimately, we all understand that we need to live together.
I hope that we, together with all the participants at the conference, can produce insights that will help us continue our work in the city for the sake of all of our future.
I want to thank a special man that helped us in organizing this conference for the third time: Prof. Jan Philipp Reemtsma, from Germany, who through the Hamburg Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Culture, supports numerous initiatives that encourage tolerance in the city. He is among the recipients of the Teddy Kollek prize that was awarded in the Israeli Parliament and is a greatly accomplished man who helps the Jerusalem Foundation and the city’s population. I want to thank our partners in the running of the conference, Leah and Uki from the Adam Institute, the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, our house that is hosting us here and my colleague at the Jerusalem Foundation, Dr. Udi Spiegel. I wish all of us a fruitful and successful conference, and quieter days. Thank you.
Uki Maroshek-Klarman, Adam Institute: Good evening everyone. Thank you very much Daniel.
More than a year ago, the Jerusalem Foundation and Adam Institute teams of staff began planning the conference. This time, we decided to explore visions of mixed cities of the future that will allow us to think of new and creative ideas for how to deal with adversities in these cities. We sought to provide a space for integrative thinking about questions in the various fields that compose shared living: education, environment, computing, neighborliness and exclusion. We planned to look at the private experiences of mixed families and urban planning in the public space. We hoped, as the cliché goes, to turn crises into opportunities. And as another cliché unfortunately goes – life goes on regardless of plans. While we were planning the conference some of the mixed cities in Israel found themselves again in a bloody stage of conflict between Jews and Palestinian citizens and residents of Israel, and between citizens of Israel and refugees that live with us. These difficult times have affected many of us. They have called for a need to reexamine the basic values of the sanctity of life and human rights. Many people asked us if we planned to cancel the conference. It was clear to us that the conference would now be a statement; the conference would now be our modest contribution to change, change in promoting human dignity, equality and cooperation between individuals and groups in mixed cities.
The preparations were honestly a source of comfort and hope for us. The fascinating speakers that will participate and the ideas that they bring with them to improve the situation in mixed cities, renewed our optimism and motivation for action.
We hope that like us, the audience this evening and those that will be with us over the next couple of days, will listen to what’s being said and hear the call for change.
I would like to make a heartfelt thanks to our partners from the Jerusalem Foundation, to the management of the Jerusalem Foundation, and to Mr. Reemtsma for his donation to this and all previous Mixed City conferences.
To the steering committee of the conference, to Dr. Udi Spiegel, to Liat and Tali and of course to Irene Pollak, Director of the German desk, and to Alan Freeman, Deputy President of the Foundation.
A special thank you to our guests from abroad: Ms. Marina Neophytou and Ms. Meray Diner that have come to tell us about their experience in divided Nicosia. To Prof. Monterescu that has come from Hungary and who will expand our knowledge on what is happening in mixed cities in Israel and across the world.
To our friends at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies that have been a partner throughout our three Mixed City conferences.
To those who have been responsible for public relations, to Anat Wollenberger who assisted in research for the conference and to the Adam Institute team of staff that put in a tremendous amount of effort into planning the conference.
Thank you very much to everyone for joining us. I wish all of us an interesting and insightful conference.
Conversation and Discussion
Moderator Liat Regev: Ayman Siksek is an author and literary critic. He was born in Jaffa and still lives there, and in Ayman’s words, he grew up in a family that until 1948 was among the strongest in the city. Until recent years, there was a road in Jaffa named after his family, and the Siksek mosque is still standing in the city. Ayman was educated at the French school and completed a degree in English literature in a different mixed city, here in Jerusalem. Multi-culturalism is evident in his writing. He writes only in Hebrew. His first book, “To Jaffa”, was translated to German and Arabic.
Dorit Rabinyan was born in Kfar Saba to a family of immigrants from Iran. She wrote the bestsellers, “Our Weddings” and “Persian Brides”, books that have been translated into 15 languages across the world. She was awarded the Wiener Prize (1996), the ACUM Prize for Creativity (2008) and the Levi Eshkol Prize for Creativity (2000).
In addition, she wrote the script “Shuli’s Fiance”. A year ago her third book, “Living Fence” awarded Rabinyan the Bernstein Prize (2015). It was published in 25,000 copies, granting it gold class status.
Rabinyan lives in a city that in her words is “the sterile city”, Tel Aviv.
Ayman, how have the last couple of weeks been for you?
Ayman: Recently, Jaffa has witnessed many changes and experienced violent events. In recent years, there have been changes in the way it is being perceived in Israel. Jaffa has become more trendy, more up market, more Jewish. But over the last couple of weeks, I think for the first time, I have felt that it has become scary for those outside of it. It is being perceived as threatening because of the demonstration that took place in the city. It has been very difficult. It is my home and the fear of Jaffa is fear of me, of my family and of the people with whom I grew up.
Can you describe to us what you have been through personally in recent weeks?
It is identical to what happens in every period similar to this one, a great sense of despair. All the things that we speak about and work towards, like coexistence and cooperation – the feeling is that in fact, they don’t have a chance.
What does it mean to be an Arab resident of Jaffa during these couple of weeks?
A feeling of the desire to get out of Jaffa; how I am perceived as Ayman; how Jaffa is perceived.
Do you feel that you are automatically labelled as a Jaffa resident?
I am automatically labelled as Arab in Israel, but in the last few weeks, it has definitely intensified. One of the things that strengthened my belief in the importance of this evening was the good decision to open it with two authors, because literature is perhaps one of the only places where you can put yourself and the reader in the eyes of someone else.
Dorit, is Tel Aviv Sterile?
Dorit Rabinyan: That is a judgemental word. It’s better to say homogenous, a city where it’s possible to walk around and tell yourself that you are in another place, not necessarily in the Middle East, a city that very much keeps itself to itself, to its Jews. I will try to complete the question that you presented to Ayman – in the last couple of weeks there was fear of what might happen. The demonstration in Jaffa recalls another October, when the demonstration turned into something big and terrible. The fear is that all the forces that are keeping daily reality as it is will erupt and the region will reignite.
Our city is called “Tel Aviv-Jaffa”, a name that isn’t sterile. Is the experience of a sterile city perhaps because of the geographical division?
Dorit: There is something white and Ashkenazi about Tel Aviv, something satiated. Its image and representation is of a bubble, and this is true. Tel Aviv keeps itself to itself, including its liberalism but also its opacity and disorientation with reality. As someone from Tel Aviv, every time I am in Jerusalem, not just in times of crisis, I tell myself that this city is a miracle because days go by when there is no news and nothing happens in it. This is what is needed to open the news: Today nothing happened in Jerusalem.
Populations that live in such intimate closeness and proximity and where there is tremendous controversy between them concerning the past and future, to whom it belongs, where history begins; there are existential questions for each group. The city is divided into sectors, and we need to be grateful every day that all the conscious tension is not erupting.
Ayman, why do you write in Hebrew? Is that the language with which you grew up?
Ayman: It was an unconscious decision. I didn’t decide that I am going to write in Hebrew. In the neighborhood in which I live and at home, people spoke Arabic and Hebrew. Therefore, it was natural to me and this is one of the implications of growing up in a mixed city: being bilingual. For me, learning Hebrew was not a process like learning English. Hebrew for me is natural.
Ayman: No. That representation scares me – representing Arabs of Jaffa. I don’t think it’s true and I don’t think it’s possible. If you take a group five Arabs from Jaffa, you will receive at least 18 different opinions.
Do you want people to say that you are an Arab from Jaffa or Ayman Siksek, resident of the city of Jaffa?
As you introduced me at the start.
Is this one of the reasons you write in Hebrew?
Ayman: It is in order to reach those who don’t write Arabic. One of the failures is that Hebrew has taken over on both sides and Arabic has been pushed out, from school too. It is not compulsory to learn Arabic anymore, even on the street signposts on the streets. Arabic has become marginal.
Dorit, I thought about what you said about Tel Aviv being sterile. Ayman speaks about mixing. He wants people to describe him as a resident of Jaffa and not as an Arab. Are you also in favour of complete mixing between the two populations?
Dorit: I was brought up in the Zionist establishment and as such I have internalized the profound message underlying the Zionist concept. The concept of differentiation is a Jewish concept. We arrived here, to a life of Jewish sovereignty after spending two thousand years in exile in different and strange environments.
We have always memorized the principles of differentiation – we separated between the sacred and the profane, between day and night, between meat and milk. The message of differentiation is intended to convey the fact that we are separate; indeed living among other nations, but separate from them, in order to avoid assimilation. As such, we have kept going. We have married among ourselves and we arrived here as a people that keeps itself to itself. Now, we are among an Arab population, some of us live in mixed cities, and the question is whether we can continue with this differentiation.
Are you in favour of this separation?
I am in favour of separation. To be from Jaffa is like the consciousness that there was before nationalism. If we think about my book, “Living Fence”, it is a principle of good neighbourliness. Good neighbourliness starts at barriers.
In cities too?
I have never lived in a mixed city. When I go to Jerusalem, to Haifa, even to Ramle and Lod, I am amazed every time at the mixed and integrated living. At the same time, I realize that there are barriers that cannot be seen. There are barriers of consciousness at the level of education, which I cannot see from a one or two day visit. There are still two populations living among one another. My book “Living Fence” is about two Middle Eastern citizens who live in New York, an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man. The book focuses on the micro, but it is possible to deduce a collective message from it too.
Do you believe that there can be coexistence in a mixed city?
Dorit: When the book was published, someone wrote on Twitter that the story of Mahmoud and Moral, the mixed couple, was intended as a public relations stunt, to sell the book. The story of this mixed couple is the assimilation that we were educated against, and that Zionist education emphasized avoidance.
Do they manage to maintain the separation in the book?
Yes, because the living fence exists in the Israeli consciousness. The young woman is an outstanding product of this education.
Ayman, how do you feel about what Dorit says?
Ayman: It is interesting to hear but difficult. It is difficult to think that such a glorious history emphasizes separation. It raises the question of whether all the nice words about coexistence are realistic, and if coexistence is possible.
Coexistence doesn’t contradict what Dorit said, she pointed out only differentiation.
Ayman: It is interesting that Dorit didn’t grow up and live in a mixed city. Barriers in a mixed city are impossible – not only in language but in every possible way.
What are your opinions regarding the barrier in Jerusalem?
Dorit: It is not a bad thing. It protects us. A barrier in my opinion is a door that shields. One can open and close it.
Ayman, are you at peace with the wall in Jerusalem?
Ayman: No. One must ask what happens to the people that it doesn’t shield. The protection is not for both sides, this is not what the barrier is supposed to do. As someone who has grown up in Jaffa, every attempt to set up barriers is doomed to failure. It divides inwards.
Arabs and Jews can live together, but will there always be something in the consciousness that separates?
Ayman: In my opinion, it doesn’t matter. As long as we manage to live together, whether at school or work, it doesn’t matter if there is something in our consciousness.
But it is physically materialized externally.
Ayman: I am against such a barrier. Barriers don’t protect us. We have one famous barrier, and it didn’t create good neighbours.
Dorit: I perceive myself as part of the peace camp and I want to ask, honestly, is it true that, possibly, the Israeli subconscious doesn’t just long for peace, but also fears peace? Could it be that the need for separation from the space is rooted in fear of assimilation? Is it possible that Israel knows that as long as it lives by the sword, it is living a Jewish life that separates itself from the Arab space?
I want this piece of land to be Jewish for me. For me, Zionism is to want to believe that there will remain a democratic Jewish majority within the 1967 lines. Peace means solidarity, harmony. The space in which we live is becoming more extreme and it’s okay to be a humanist and a patriot.
Ayman, you said that Jaffa is no longer Arab Jaffa. How is that being expressed?
Ayman: The buildings of Tel Aviv have become closer. They are new and luxurious. When I grew up in Jaffa, people that married and raised a family could buy an apartment. These were Arab citizens. But now, today, people with whom I learnt can no longer buy an apartment and they are forced to move out of Jaffa because it is too expensive, too trendy. It’s impossible to stay there.
What is your opinion regarding assimilation?
I am not scared of assimilation. In my opinion, it is the only option. It is true that there is strength in differentiation, but in my opinion, there is more strength in assimilation. But it scares more people, including Arabs. Dorit recalled October 2000. Consequently, young Arab Israelis were motivated to show solidarity with Palestinians and their goals. In my opinion, Israel caused this: Israel’s actions in the territories. Also, the policy against Arabs in Israel itself motivated Arabs like me to show solidarity with the nation and with Palestinian history, like by finding the language that has been lost.
Dorit, Ayman speaks about the mind, how it differentiates, and about solidarity with Palestinians in the space around us.
Dorit: I think that it’s possible to live a mixed life with two populations, like in Jaffa, without either one of them losing their sense of self. My fear is the aspiration toward a binational state, because I fear assimilation and loss of a sense of self.
We will now move on to books. What is the background of your book “Living Fence”?
Dorit: Like the protagonist, I lived in New York and I got to know a group of people from the Middle East. This was the first time I felt the need to make an effort with and become close to Palestinians, and that’s because we were on foreign soil, relieved of responsibility of the disputed land. We spoke English, there is no occupier and no occupied and there are universal representations. It was an emotional and cathartic experience. For the first time, I felt that I wanted to draw a self-portrait. It is possible to draw portraits in many ways: through the concept of the homeland, through the experience of exile, through the experience of being estranged, with a lack of belonging, suddenly things became clearer to me, regarding the space to which I belong.
In literature, the question is who am I, it is an exploration of identity. There is something exciting about an encounter between Palestinians and Israelis overseas – something electrifying; A sense of closeness of people who grew up in a shared space and who are similar to each other. How do we get to know people who grew up with us in the same space? There is something in this dialogue that was emotional for me. This encounter is translated in the book as a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man. The climax is actually in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, on the beach that divides the two cities – Manta Ray. But I emphasize that it didn’t interest me to write a love story. I drew a love story precisely in order to draw opposition to the possibility of such a love story.
Out of fear of assimilation?
Dorit: Many of our decisions are rooted in fear, inhibitions and avoidance. I wanted to locate the inhibition of fear, to describe a love story that’s impossible, and in such a story there needs to be someone to believe in. Here, in the story, this person is the Palestinian man, Hilmi. He is the dreamy character. He is the artist, the universalist and the one who dreams of a binational state. The Israeli woman is prudent and hard on herself.
Ayman, tell us about the background of your story, which also contains a love story.
Ayman: The story grew out of lists that I wrote around the year 2005, during the period when Jaffa began to be interesting, when people wanted to know what was happening there. In my book there is also a love story between an Israeli woman and an Arab man, born in the city. It didn’t interest me either to write a love story despite the fact that everything I write is a love story. The protagonist is occupied by the question who am I. This is a difficult question, and in his case, the case of my protagonist from Jaffa, it is a question to which the answer requires recognition of assimilation, of being divided and of being mixed. It is to be a mixed city within yourself. It is an internal mixed view.
As the Jews invaded more Arab territory, did you write more about yourself as an Arab?
Ayman: Yes. There is an Arab-Jewish theatre in Jaffa that only put on small plays in Hebrew, but in recent years there are many groups who have been teaching Arabs of Jaffa Arabic, because Arabic was forgotten. They teach Arabs Arabic, both literary and colloquial.
Dorit, where were you born?
Dorit: In Kfar Saba. I also lived in New York and in Berlin. I lived in Jerusalem for one year on Shmiriyahu Levine Street in Jerusalem. There, I wrote my most “Persian” book, “Persian Brides” when I had a daily view of the Holocaust memorial from my window.
Liat, Closing Remarks
I have not lived in a mixed city and have not met Arabs. People that live in mixed cities do not need this conference, rather people that live in cities that are not mixed. The Arab identity threatens them in particular. Life in Jerusalem is not simple and I hope that it will stay a complex city, just not complicated.
Questions from the Audience: Why is the male protagonist in both stories Arab and the female protagonist Jewish? In my opinion it stems from the fact that an Arab man can marry a Jewish woman, for him he is not compromising. But if we want real coexistence, I would want to read about an opposite story, about an Arab woman marrying a Jewish man.
Dorit: I avoid linking my story with the narrative of occupation, and I assume that the presentation of these protagonists stems from the traditions in which these couples live.
Ayman: I didn’t give a thought to why the protagonist is a male and not a female Arab. We draw portraits and it was easier in the book to write about a male Arab protagonist. This aside, in reality, I know Arab men that have married Jewish women.
Final question, Ayman: You grew up in Jaffa and studied in Jerusalem. Is this the same experience?
Ayman: No. Beyond the fact that whoever was born by the sea will always stay by the sea, I must say that it is not the same experience despite the fact that both Jaffa and Jerusalem are mixed cities. I found it difficult to feel at home in Jerusalem, despite the huge warmth of the two communities here. I also wish for Jerusalem that it will be mixed and complex but not complicated.
Regarding my name: There used to be a street called Siksek as well as a mosque with the same name. In Islam, it was a custom to give family names to people according to their occupation, and the Siksek were the shephards. The literal meaning of Ayman is the right side that in Islam is identified with the pure and the divine.
Liat: Thank you very much to both of you. I hope you feel at home.