Once the target of one of Israel's most horrific terror attacks, the northern city of Ma'alot-Tarshiha wants to become a leader in promoting coexistence between Arabs and Jews. On July 7, the mixed city plans on hosting its third conference dedicated to encouraging such coexistence.
"As a very unique city - the only dual municipality in Israel, Jewish and Arab, side by side but with very deep integration in many areasâ€¦it's actually very natural that Ma'alot-Tarshiha was chosen as the place for this kind of conference, said Mayor Shlomo Buhbut.
"As a matter of fact," Buhbut added, "we were the initiators of this event from the start."
Attending the coexistence conference will be a host of Israeli academic and political experts on interethnic relations, who will lecture and sit on panels that address the issues Israeli Arabs and Jews face in their often-turbulent relationship.
Though the conference will be attended by the likes of opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni, ministers Silvan Shalom and Avishay Braverman, as well as other members of the Knesset, it is open to the public, who are encouraged to attend.
"Real peace can be accomplished only between simple and ordinary people. Not by politicians," explained Buhbut. "In this kind of conference, people who mingle together see that they actually aren't different from the 'other side.' It generates a positive attitude and can overcome prejudice and misconceptions."
One of the major aims of the conference is "to get answers from the politicians," said Dr. Ronit Fisher, a professor of Holocaust studies at the Western Galilee College and one of the directors of the upcoming conference.
According to the professor, a paper summarizing problems and solutions relating to coexistence discussed at the conference will be presented to the government, with a strong request that the cabinet relate to and implement the paper's findings.
"We hope to create some changes," asserted Fisher, who added that as a Holocaust researcher, her involvement with the conference stems from her understanding of "what neighbors can do to each other."
Aside from coexistence, other issues that are specific to Israel's minority population will also be addressed.
The conference, at the Hacienda hotel, will begin at 8:30 a.m. and will end with musical performances from 7 p.m. to midnight.
In a related event, Thursday will see the first Hollywood screening of Their Eyes Were Dry - a documentary by Brandon Assanti that tells the horrific tale of the Ma'alot massacre.
On May 15, 1974, three members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine infiltrated the Netiv Meir elementary school in Maalot and held hostage 102 high school students and teachers from Safed, who were spending the night there.
During the IDF's attempt to rescue the hostages, the terrorists managed to murder 22 of the children. Five others, including, two Arab women, a Jewish man, his pregnant wife, and their 4-year-old son were also murdered by the terrorists as they made their way to the school.
Assanti, who is from a Jewish family in Los Angeles, produced and directed the documentary during his junior year at Loyola Marymount University. Buhbut is his father's cousin.
Buhbut, who will be attending the Hollywood screening, said, "The connection between the movie and the conference is a strong statement that the terror didn't win and didn't jeopardize the healthy relationship between Ma'alot and Tarshiha residents - Jews and Moslems and Christians."