With a fragile truce in place, what's in store for coexistence groups?

By TORI CHEIFETZ
January 19, 2009 23:37
2 minute read.

 
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"It's a bit too early to say what the implications on the ground are, but we are going to figure out what to do," said Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of The Abraham Fund Initiative, in response to the question of how coexistence groups within Israel will deal with the end of Operation Cast Lead and the start of a fragile truce. "Many in the Israeli Arab community wanted to protest against the war and its horrors and express their pain for the massive loss of life [among] their fellow Palestinians in Gaza," he said. "On the other hand, many Jews do not understand why their Arab fellow citizens of the State of Israel cannot see themselves first and foremost as Israelis, and justify Israel's right to defend itself." This was the crux of the issue, he said, with the end result being that "the divisions have gotten deeper." Be'eri-Sulitzeanu believes that the impact of the war in Gaza will be very similar to that of the Second Lebanon War, and that the current crisis will have major implications on coexistence inside Israel. The Abraham Fund Initiative, which works to advance coexistence and equality among Arabs and Jews in Israel, plans to work with other coexistence organizations to help answer the question of what needs to be done to heal the wounds. The creator of Heartbeat-The Jerusalem Youth Music Project, Aaron Shneyer, acknowledged the difficulty of dealing with the current situation. "There are conflicting feelings among coexistence groups. Some people say back up and others to work harder." Heartbeat had planned to hold auditions for their Music Project later this month, but the plans have changed. "We are postponing recruitment," Shneyer said. "The Palestinian community is still furious right now." Still, he hasn't given up hope that the situation will improve. "These kids, they want to do something. It's uncomfortable now, but it will get better." Shneyer, whose pet project is a six-member band made up of Jewish and Arab high school students, acknowledges that tensions could run high in the age group that he deals with. This tension was heightened, he said, with the use of social networking programs such as Facebook and MSN Messenger. "It's a great thing that the kids are able to communicate this way," he said, "but things are often misunderstood and misinterpreted on the Internet, as English is not the first language for many of them. You can't replace looking someone in the eye." "There is a sense of more tension," admits Be'eri-Sulitzeanu, referring to an Abraham Fund program of teaching Arabic in Jewish schools, "Some of our teachers have reported a growing number of students are not comfortable with learning [the] Arabic language and culture at this time, and a growing number of students are not going to class." He added that "a few verbal encounters between Jewish students and Arab teachers have been recorded." For Alma Vardari-Kesler, a board member of Hagar: Bilingual Jewish-Arab Education for Equality, which works with kindergarten and primary school students in Beersheba, the dynamic of the situation is different. With everything that has gone on, she said, "The most important fact is that we still manage to keep an atmosphere for discussion and debate." For Vardari-Kesler, the war has served to stress the importance of coexistence organizations. "It emphasized the importance of developing these kinds of places where people can still meet," she said.

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