Givat Haviva officials seek to make Israel a ‘shared society’ | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Givat Haviva officials seek to make Israel a ‘shared society’

          When Mohammad Darawshe, an Arab citizen of Israel, was 16, he participated in an encounter project created by Givat Haviva.

          This organization has existed since 1949. Founded by Israel’s kibbutz movement, it worked then to promote “coexistence” between Israel’s Jews and Arabs.

          It seeks to “provide the kind of Israel that was set to be in the Declaration of Independence,” said the organization’s chief executive officer, Yaniv Sagee, during his and Darawshe’s visit to the Milwaukee area in June. “A state that is a homeland for the Jewish people that is at the same time a home to all its citizens.”

          For Darawshe, who grew up in a village near Nazareth, that GH program was “where I met my first Jews,” he said. “It was a shocking experience for me — to talk to them, instead of just talking about them and criticizing them. It opened my eyes.”

          While still a student, Darawshe became a GH facilitator and worked on weekends. Today, he is Givat Haviva’s director of planning, equality and shared living.

          Moreover, as he and Sagee explained in their presentation at the home of Nancy and Max Samson on June 21, the organization has changed its focus from “coexistence” to creating “a shared society.”

          “The term ‘coexistence’ is not appropriate or relevant,” said Darawshe, who gave the majority of the presentation. “A horse and a rider” can be an example of coexistence, he said.

          “The key difference” between coexistence and a shared society “in my view is the notion of equality,” Darawshe said. “We adopted in our new strategy that it’s not enough to bring the communities together. We have to invest in the Arab community for capacity-building, to improve the social and economic and political and educational reality in the Arab community.”

Progress, problems

          Darawshe said Israel has made progress. For one, after some Israeli Arabs protested violently during the second Palestinian Arab Intifada (uprising) in 2000, the Israeli government in 2001 appointed the Or Commission, named for chief investigator Judge Theodore Or, to investigate the Israeli Arab situation.

          Darawshe said the commission found much evidence of how Israel’s Arab citizens — who today number about 1.7 million people, about 21 percent of Israel’s population — have been discriminated against and marginalized.

          For example, the commission described a mindset in Israeli police forces that regards Israel’s Arab citizens “as enemies to be controlled instead of citizens to be serviced,” Darawshe said.

          But the report and its findings were significant because “It was the first time Israel took time to think about the status of the Arab minority in Israel as a unique national group that has collective need and rights that have been neglected,” Darawshe said.

          In 2007 the Israeli government appointed an Arab to a cabinet position, Labor Party Knesset member Raleb Majadele as minister without portfolio, then minister of science, culture and sports.

          “This was not just about socio-economic equality, but also about power-sharing,” said Darawshe.

          And in 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a statement about discrimination against Arab citizens and said it has to end for the sake of Israel’s “national interest.”

          With this statement, said Darawshe, Israel “went out of the denial stage,” and doing that is “half the treatment” of any problem.

          Still, there are three areas in which work needs to be done, said Darawshe. First, there needs to be an “economic inclusion policy” for the Israeli Arab population, which produces only 8 percent of Israel’s gross domestic product and of whom 56 percent are “below the poverty line,” he said.

          Second, there is a “social hesitation” problem. Darawshe cited statistics stating that:

          90 percent of Israeli Arabs live in separate towns and villages.

          60 percent of Jewish Israelis “have never set foot in an Arab village.”

          About 68 percent of surveyed Jewish Israeli high school students said they are not willing to live in an apartment building if an Arab family lives in one of the units.

          “Israel has still not defined to itself what it wants to be,” Darawshe said. “What is a Jewish state? Does that mean it is not a normal state for non-Jews? That 21 percent of its population is stateless? Is Israel a technical home for them or also a homeland for them?”

          The third area is what Darawshe calls “political degradation.” “The political status of Arab citizens in Israel is reducing by the day, especially under the current government,” he said.

          He said that “23 anti-democratic laws have been passed in the last five years,” and “our foreign minister [Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beitenu Party] calls to reduce the demographic size of the Arab citizens in Israel,” an idea that “negates [Israel’s] Declaration of Independence.”

          The task of Givat Haviva is “to challenge this reality every single day, child-by-child and community-by-community,” Darawshe said. The organization has a budget of about $3.5 million, but “our mission requires almost double that, to say the least.”

          But ultimately, “To educate for a shared society needs to become [Israeli] government policy,” Darawshe said. “It should not be the work of just [non-governmental organizations].”

          One of the about 15 people attending the meeting asked Darawshe about whether Israeli Arab athletes on its international sports teams sing Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah” (“The Hope”). Darawshe said they do not.

          He said the national anthem is “very exclusive” because it represents 80 percent of Israeli society, not the whole.

          “One day, Israel’s Jewish majority will realize it will have to create space for non-Jews,” he said. “That requires maturity.” Israeli Jews will have to stop being “a majority with the mentality of a minority,” he said.