Panel in partnership with the Education Department of the Jerusalem Municipality
Greetings: Dr. Udi Spiegel, The Jerusalem Foundation
Tamar Greidinger, The Adam Institute
Lecture: Dr. Cheli Halel Avraham, Education and Society Department, Ono Academic College
Chairs: Emanuel Zilberman, Deputy Director of High School Education, Jerusalem Municipality
Nabila Mena, Deputy Director of Arabic Education, Jerusalem Municipality
Speakers: Principals and educators from Jerusalem, whose schools participate in various educational programs, as listed:
Rabbi Arie Foxbromer, Principal of the Har-Nof elementary school (A Bridge of Educators)
Sana Atari, Principal of East Jerusalem girls high school (Directing Together)
Bar Harir, Principal of Ankori High School, City Center
Ido Plesental, Educational Coordinator, Sieff and Marks High School (In the Path of Dialogue)
Widad Naum, Principal of a new school for outstanding students in Beit Hanina
Sagit Kleiman, Principal of Keshet, elementary school for Conservative, Religious and secular students, (A Bridge of Educators).
Dr. Cheli Halel Avraham
We can judge the solidarity of a given society by its capacity for containing and providing a sense of belonging, welfare, and equality for all groups. There are three criteria that relate to such groups within the larger populace: the extent to which the group opposes the regime, the degree of cohesion and distinct identity within the group, and the extent to which the group is able to accumulate political power and resources.
Israel’s deepest rift is between the Jewish and Arab populations. About 250 encounters of peace education are held each year and 15% of Israelis have attended such an encounter. These meetings may focus on the cognitive, emotional, or behavioral spheres. Cognitive encounters cope with prejudices, and attempt to transform attitudes and perceptions. Emotional encounters strive to develop the ability to identify with the “other,” and behavioral encounters attempt to foster actual, hands-on collaboration.
According to the contact approach, when the different groups meet as equals and work towards a common goal, prejudices tend to weaken.
Over time, encounters take one of two forms:
- The Human Relations model: an attempt to develop individual and group awareness, reduce hostility and abate conflict. Facilitators channel issues to discussions on the personal level. For example: I am not a Jewish woman, I am Cheli. The goal is to get to know each other; familiarity dismantles prejudice and antagonism. The outcomes of such Jewish-Arab encounters are limited. The groups arrive with different expectations and different needs, which are not fulfilled in such a personal encounter. This model does not engage in social change, and the conflict is not addressed. Once the meeting is over, the reality of the conflict eliminates any positive effects the encounter may have had.
Studies show that in certain cases, personal encounters can be effective. Ongoing encounters (in contrast with one-time events) and meeting on equal ground are of critical importance. There should by symmetry between the weak and strong members of the group, as well as cooperation working towards a common goal. Institutional and community support are also important for the success of encounters. Without community support, such encounters will not bear fruit.
- The Task Group model: bringing people together to overcome a challenge. In this model, the encounters do not last beyond the duration and scope of the joint product, and failure has the potential to exacerbate the conflict. This model works well with children, as well as adults who wish to meet the “other” without dealing with the conflict itself.
The confrontational approach was developed in contrast to the human relations model. According to this model, the conflict should not be ignored, but brought into the encounter. This approach focuses on the collective identity and asymmetric power relations between the groups. Personal conflicts are transformed to collective ones. Participants represent their group. The minority can be heard and often power relations are reversed. The minority feels empowered, and there is no dissonance between the group and greater reality. Awareness of the minority position is raised. Yet such encounters can create distance, while amplifying the conflict. Members of the minority who are empowered during the encounter might experience dissonance when returning to the reality in which they are weakened. This model gave rise to the uni-national model. Each group strengthens its identity separately, and thus is able to listen to the other and work towards a joint goal.
There are also encounters that focus on life stories. This model encourages dialogue and fostering empathy, while avoiding arguments and disagreements. The conflict is brought into the group on two levels, the individual and the collective.
Greetings: Dr. Udi Spiegel, The Jerusalem Foundation
Changes are happening in Jerusalem’s education system, and this conference is an opportunity to present the encounter with the “other” while encouraging such initiatives.
Tamar Greidinger, Adam Institute
I have participated in many bi-national encounters and have learned from my Arab colleagues that you must open with a blessing, so I will start with a blessing in Arabic: your presence with us is good tiding. We can all benefit by learning about these educational activities.
We were invited to participate in the “Directing Together” program, which brings together principals from East and West Jerusalem. It is based on a model from North Ireland. We traveled there to learn about the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants.
Our training began last October, in period marked by tension between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem. Initially, the process was difficult, but we managed to overcome the hardships.
There was much excitement following the training in Ireland, and returning home, to reality, can be disappointing. Tell us about this gap.
We visited a few schools in Ireland. They too are taking small steps. Our difficulties are not that different. We believe that the staff and parents should be well-prepared before encounters with the “other.”
Our own differences became evident in Ireland. The language barrier and the conflict were present, even there. The first encounters between the principals were very loaded, which I think is a good thing.
Are Irish students more motivated to participate in encounters?
I can’t say, as we haven’t started with student encounters yet. Right now the students are enthusiastic. Naturally, those who join the project are interested in meeting the “other.” I’m optimistic.
“A Bridge of Educators” is the outcome of the successful “Schools in the Community” project, both run by the Jerusalem municipality. These are joint projects that enable encounters between different sectors – especially between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews. We wish to get to know the “other.” Not change ourselves, but to become familiar with them and their lifestyle.
We are still at square one – encounters between principals and staff members. The conversation is limited to the educational staff, and the students are currently not included. We believe the future of the city relies on educators, and thus hopefully will first foster friendship among ourselves.
What are your expectations? Rabbi Arie expects to make himself acquainted with the “other.”
I expect much more. We are embarking upon a joint journey. The first stage is acquaintance, but we intend to undertake a joint project. Men and women meet separately.
To what extent can each side bring itself fully to the encounter?
We didn’t have any pre-conditions or demands. The original plan was for men and women to meet separately. The first few encounters were mixed. Obviously, gender-separated encounters are easier. I assume that in the future there will be mixed-gender encounters. I want to be honest; no one is going to bend their rules or change their lifestyle. Rather, the goal is to get to know each other and find common ground. There are many commonalities, certainly in education. Good manners, road safety, honoring parents – these are shared values.
I agree with Rabbi Arie. The aim is to get to know the “other” and not to change. We believe this is possible, but this program does not include student encounters.
“This is Jerusalem” started 3 years ago, in memory of Shira Banki [a teenager murdered at the Jerusalem Pride Parade]. Jewish and Arab teachers were photographed together and organized an exhibition. This initiative developed into encounters between teachers. The program aims to acknowledge multiculturalism in the city, and its target audience is teachers. If they undergo meaningful personal processes, the effects will trickle down to their students. Teachers learn about themselves and develop the courage to raise difficult issues and discover what they have in common with each other. Teachers are the emissaries of change, without undermining their own identities.
How much space is allowed in the programs for students not identifying with the teachers’ positions?
I don’t think meeting another school is necessarily a leftist activity. I’m not the first social coordinator at my school to arrange encounters. My predecessor organized meetings with Druze and ultra-Orthodox Jews. The ultimate encounter is with Arabs, as my students recognize two distinct “others”: Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews. The students know my politics and know they can debate with me. There was opposition to the encounter, but my principal backed me and I had the help of the Adam Institute and the teachers. It became a school project. There were some uneasy reactions. Some students were unwilling to travel to Rahat [a Bedouin town]. Some parents declared their anti-Arab views. I don’t want to change their politics. One of the advantages of public education is the diversity of students. We take pride in the diversity among the staff at Sieff School, and the students are free to choose.
We want to understand how you can have your own ideology and facilitate ideology-oriented events, and still leave enough space for students with different ideologies, without creating a conflict. It is not easy when ideology and authority overlap.
I’m a political teacher. In many cases I try consciously to act against my ideology. The students know that everything is up for discussion and that’s what’s important. Opinions are legitimate and can be presented in class. I’m not an outsider, they know me.
It isn’t that simple. I believe we have to live together as equals. I know there is opposition in the school but I operate with transparency. It is legitimate to oppose such activities, but I believe in what I’m doing and am not afraid. I have had good experiences cooperating with Jewish schools. The students enjoy these projects. We assume they will object, but they enjoy themselves very much.
Widad, your school is new. Do encounters play a role in the school you envision?
Currently I am preparing the infrastructure for encounters. We have a Jewish teacher teaching Hebrew. There are teachers from different religions. Respect is one of our major values. The teachers are responsible for laying down the foundations for encounters. Children don’t come to school imbibed with hatred or resistance. It depends on what we project. We will have encounters soon.
Is the aim tolerance or partnership?
In the brainstorming stage, we debated discussing the conflict. My role is to create the platform, and observe how, in reality, borders are created. Maybe we can’t discuss everything with the students. If the group creates its own boundaries, outside of my control, then my agenda and positions become irrelevant.
“A Bridge of Educators” deals with the omni-present conflict in Jerusalem, between the secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews. To what degree are you able to influence the bigger picture?
Rabbi Arie, to what extent do you think these encounters can create tolerance towards secular Jews among the ultra-Orthodox? Are the concessions mutual?
Acquaintance in and of itself contributes to this significantly. These are educators, and word of the program spreads and resonates within the community. I am convinced its mark will be significant. We see ourselves as on a mission.
We believe getting to know each other will lead to tolerance. We are there because we feel that this is a pressing need.
Question from the audience:
Widad, different models were presented here. Which one would you choose?
I believe in both teacher and student encounters.
Why was “A Bridge of Educators” conditioned upon the exclusion of students?
These encounters are very loaded. The younger the student, the more preparation necessary. Currently we don’t think it will be beneficial.
Question from the audience
In reality, in what ways are the religious flexible, in secular-religious encounters?
Initially, each side felt it was sacrificing more. Personally I think the secular side is giving up more, but the ultimate goal is worth it.
Religious law can’t be changed. If we want to live together, we must acknowledge our commonalities.
Question from the audience
I am a school principal, and this is my first year participating in the “Directing Together” program. Do you have advice on how to address the Jewish-Arab conflict?
We must find ways to avoid canceling out the “other.” You must allow the participants to bring themselves fully to the encounter, and see which boundaries they establish. Don’t set them in advance.
Preparation and facilitation are important. Reality doesn’t adhere to models, it creates them. This was well demonstrated here: the audience wanted to discuss the conflict and the panelists wanted to focus on commonalities.
Jerusalem is complex and torn. The municipal education department has decided not to ignore the rifts, and to promote the various programs presented here. Good luck to everyone.