US Ambassador pays upbeat visit to Peace Center

Here the land - soil - is the tool for crossing the divide between Arab and Jewish youth.

richard jones 88 (photo credit: US State Department)
richard jones 88
(photo credit: US State Department)
As Ambassador to Israel Richard H. Jones believes that the Israeli-Arab community should be considered an asset to Israeli society, a potential bridge with neighboring Arab countries. Wherever possible he tries to deliver this message to both Israelis and Americans, explained the ambassador - who speaks Arabic as well as French, German and Russian - during a visit last week to the Givat Haviva Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, recipient of the 2001 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education. A number of programs aimed at empowering Arab community leaders and municipal workers, endorsed by the Arab Mayors Council and funded through the US State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) are held at the Wadi Ara campus. Studying managerial skills and innovative work methods provides Arab community leaders and municipal employees with all-important tools to develop successful initiatives, advance their professional skills and ultimately raise the level of services provided in their communities. In addition to theoretical training, personal and group processes, participants visit the governmental and other agencies that they deal with in their professional capacities. By natural process, a platform of exchange is created and maintained among Arab professionals, and the Givat Haviva project administrators hold high hopes of eventually creating an alumni network, thus attaining a much-needed positive multiple impact within the Arab sector. Through the continuation of networking and improved relations with governmental institutions, they hope to achieve their long-term goals of raising the status and improving the welfare of the Arab minority in Israel. Twenty-five Arab community leaders, municipal workers and Arab women counselors hailing from different regions of the country and representing participants in current MEPI-supported empowerment courses at Givat Haviva told Ambassador Jones that they have also learned a great deal from each other, and hope that other members of their communities will have an opportunity to follow in their footsteps. On hearing about the enrichment courses for Arab women, Ambassador Jones - whose previous postings included Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Tunis - said that if the status of Israeli-Arab women and civil rights in general were to improve, this would be a "wonderful example" for neighboring countries to also adopt freedom and democracy. Of special interest to Ambassador Jones were Arabic language newspapers, periodicals and other documents dating back as far as 1920, housed in Givat Haviva's Peace Library. "This one-of-a-kind archive of the Arabic language print media published in mandatory Palestine and the State of Israel from the early 1900s until present times is one of a number of prestigious and unique collections to be found in the Peace Library," explained library director Samira Mahmeed. The Peace Library is frequented by academics, university students and in-house Middle East, Arabic language and other course participants such as those on MEPI empowerment projects, as well as Israeli and overseas researchers. The library also houses the largest collection of materials on the Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel, and includes some exceedingly rare and unique materials. The collection of documents, articles and press cuttings is divided into over 900 subjects and sub-subjects, aspiring to cover all aspects of Arab society and life in Israel. The material is in Hebrew, Arabic and English, and the collection is growing daily. Among other significant collections in the library complex is a central collection created some 50 years ago that includes books and periodicals dealing with education, psychology and sociology, Judaism, Zionism and Israel, the labor movement in Israel and other parts of the world and the kibbutz movement. "Givat Haviva educates and acts to promote the values of equality and human dignity," Executive Director Haggai Halevi told the ambassador, who although familiar with some of the Arab and Jewish staff members and through them the work done by the organization, had not visited the campus before. "We acknowledge the reality that Israel embraces a wide range of ethnicities, nationalities and religions. We believe that in a true democracy, equal rights for all citizens are an essential component and our mission, therefore, is to contend with those pressing national issues that confront Israel's collective social conscience - and education is the most important contribution we can make to future generations," added Halevi. Ambassador Jones also visited Givat Haviva's flourishing Arts Center, housed in a large building left over from Mandate days when the peace education campus was a British army base. The Arts Center combines artistic creativity with an emphasis on peaceful coexistence and cooperation between all sections of Israeli society. Emphasizing acceptance of the other through the medium of art, which creates a bridge across cultures and peoples, Givat Haviva also boasts a number of visual outdoor exhibits from successful projects such as "Through Other Eyes," "Language of the Land" and "The Peace Tree." "Through Other Eyes" deals with dialogue, coexistence and questions of identity through the camera lens as Arab and Jewish tenth- and eleventh-graders learn photography skills and techniques while getting to know each other from a different perspective. The "Seeing You Seeing Me" project involves 15 encounters over a number of months and culminates with the students visiting each others' homes with cameras in tow - their photographs are later exhibited at the Arts Center and sent to exhibitions abroad. "Language of the Land" deals with a key issue of the Jewish-Arab conflict: land. Here the land - soil - is the tool for crossing the divide between Arab and Jewish youth as they build an environmentally friendly meetinghouse composed of earth and other natural materials. Tall and proud in the center of Givat Haviva's expansive campus stands the "Peace Tree," designed and sculpted by 30 Jewish and Arab teens from a towering century-old eucalyptus tree blown over in a ferocious storm. Ambassador Jones fittingly rounded off his visit to Givat Haviva at the site where Jewish and Arab youngsters chose to split their differences, preferring to concentrate on what they share in common and work from the ground up toward creating a symbol of togetherness for all to see above the trees of Wadi Ara.