AN ANCIENT sheikh’s tomb on the road to Wadi Ara..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Furious disagreement and criticism is justified regarding Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman’s, and Minister of Education, Naftali Bennet’s evil and dangerous statements about the residents of Wadi Ara, are justified. Precisely in such a sensitive period in terms of politics and security, we should be able to expect them to behave differently towards Arab society in Israel and look beyond their electorate and the upcoming ballot. At a time when we need to mend the rifts and act to create a genuine partnership, the ministers instead attack the few ties that still exist between the Jewish society and the Arab society in Israel. It is with “those people” that we work and create a shared life. They are an integral part of us. They are not terrorists. Instead of proposing a boycott, it is possible to offer a different horizon in all areas of life.
In this spirit, last week, in that same Knesset where Lieberman and Bennet sit, we presented the “Road Map for a Shared Society”. This plan, written with the assistance of 70 experts and researchers representing the diversity and variety in Israeli society, concludes a year-and-a-half process of writing and public hearings, resulting in 25 concrete proposals – proposals that can be carried out for the advancement of a shared society as soon as tomorrow. The expert group worked on recommendations in five areas: education; economic development; government and governance; land use; cultural representation and restorative processes.
Instead of assuming the continuation of the problematic and discriminatory “status quo” between us and Arabs, it is possible and feasible to propose new directions, allowing the Arab society in Israel full partnership in the decision-making process, and full political and professional representation, to the benefit of the whole of Israeli populace.
For example, in the areas of government and economics, access to financial tools at banks and other financial institutions for Arab entrepreneurs should be expanded; platforms for cooperation between local governance and non-profits on topics unique to the Arab society should be created; economic projects between the business sector and Arab local authorities should be encouraged; and integration of Arabs in academic programs aimed at government positions should be promoted.
In the much disputed field of land use, allocation of land for master plans was recommended, with the aim of building large neighborhoods for tens of thousands of residents in Arab localities. In mixed cities where more than 3,000 Arabs now reside, the local authority should provide public areas for Arab neighborhoods on par with the conditions existing in the Jewish neighborhoods, and establish educational institutions and multi-cultural institutions to be shared by Jews and Arabs.
And above all else, education. The education system today must be the spearhead of transformation, as educators are our most significant change agents. We must focus on them, beginning with the foundations of training. Shared living makes up a tiny percentage of continuing education, with less than one percent of all credits in this area. With the exception of a few isolated courses, teachers have not been trained to lead multi-cultural dialogue. And in classrooms? Up until now, shared life curricula fill desk drawers instead of classrooms. Ongoing encounters, not one-time events, must be made possible; encounters with Arab society – from kindergarten age to academia, with a basis of tolerance, personal familiarity, and enhancing trust.
This brief sampling emphasizes how much is attainable. The Road Map is shelf-ready for government officials in all the relevant ministries and offices. Violent protestors in Wadi Ara are a small and dangerous minority. The vast majority of Arab society needs a different and honest conversation, not racist generalizations to escalate alienation and incite the region.
In the spirit of the Defense Minister’s declaration, I call on all Israeli citizens to do the exact opposite: come to Wadi Ara en masse. There is nothing to be afraid of. You will be warmly welcomed. Come shop here – it is inexpensive and inviting. Come eat here – it is delicious. Give the residents of Wadi Ara the sense that they are very much wanted in this country that is their home. Come to Wadi Ara to see how a shared society is actually being built here, providing security to both peoples who live here. This is my response to Yvette Lieberman. Unlike him, I actually know Wadi Ara.The author is CEO of Givat Haviva, the Center for a Shared Society in Israel.
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