Parley hopes to learn Eilat's secrets in fighting violence

More than 400 cabinet ministers, Knesset members, mayors, heads of city councils, social workers, police experts, university professors and other professionals will gather this week in Eilat - the self-proclaimed city of non-violence - under the banner "Confronting Violence in Society." Those who attend the second annual conference, aimed at changing the way society views violence and devising ways to prevent it from happening, will hear about this southern town's pilot programs inaugurated just over a year ago by Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy to tackle the problem. "In order to fight violence in the community we must first change society's reaction to it," said Orly Innes-Koenig, a lecturer at Haifa University's School of Social Work and previously the National Supervisor for Family Violence at the Social Affairs Ministry and one of the conference's organizers. "The city has seen a fall of between 20 and 40 percent in the number of violent crimes since the program started, but it is still in its infancy and we expect even further reductions in the future," she said. "What we have done in Eilat, together with Mayor Halevy, is to start fighting violence at an early age," she explained. "We have implemented real programs such as offering guidance to parents of difficult children or creating after-school activities that will stop the youth from being bored. When young people have nothing to do, that is when the problems start." The project, which is sponsored by a range of non-profit agencies as well as the National Insurance Institute, aims to confront domestic violence, school violence and violence in the street whether it be between adults or youths. Some of the programs already in place include a community policing unit that cruises the streets and identifies trouble spots, guidance for parents on youth issues, an in-school program to create a calm environment and a special bridging forum to help individuals work through their differences with restraint. Among those scheduled to speak at the conference are Haim Messinger, head of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority and Asst.-Cmdr. Suzy Ben-Baruch, head of the police's youth department, who will talk about the expanding police programs aimed at combating youth violence in different locales.