What is our Starting Point? Student Surveys from the Activist Seminar
Every year Mahapach-Taghir hosts a seminar for students volunteers involved with all 7 Mahapach-Taghir Learning Centers. Our student volunteers come from all over Israel, from different religions, ethnic groups and socioeconomic class. This seminar provides the students with the socio-political context, pedagogical skills and knowledge of Mahapach-Taghir to more effectively work for social change in their respective communities. In an increasingly segregated Israel, the seminar also provides an opportunity for Palestinian and Jewish students to get to know one another and cross cultural and social boundaries. The seminar is just the beginning of a year of growth and learning for students. Throughout the year, local community coordinators facilitate student and community learning days to increase civic and community participation of student volunteers.
In order to track student growth throughout the year of activities, we asked all participants at the seminar to fill out a pre-survey. The survey was completed before formal programming began at the seminar. The same student group, more or less, will fill out the same survey at the end of the year. Following the analysis of the surveys, the staff of Mahapach-Taghir came together to discuss the results and interesting trends. We are using these results to help guide student learning activities throughout the year. We gathered some of the more interesting results of the survey below.
- Belief in Palestinian-Jewish partnership
Students were asked to rank their belief in Palestinian-Jewish partnership on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being no belief at all and 5 being a high belief. In all, participants held a high belief in Palestinian-Jewish partnerships. While we were happy to discover such a high belief in partnership, in our experience this is not indicative of the general Israeli public. All students at the seminar opted to join a Palestinian-Jewish organization and attend an event that included Palestinian and Jewish students and community residents.
Another interesting finding is that surveys filled out in Arabic expressed a higher belief in Palestinian-Jewish partnership than surveys filled out in Hebrew. As the oppressed group in the conflict and the group that is most often the victim of racism and incitement within Israel, it is not surprising that Palestinian students are more willing to believe in partnership. As the Palestinian activist Nabila Espanioly said and Fida Abu Dbai, the Palestinian Co-Director of Mahapach-Taghir often repeats, “we don’t have the privilege to give up hope”.
- Best form of Palestinian-Jewish partnership
Students were asked to choose the best of 5 options describing Jewish-Palestinian Partnership. Overwhelmingly, both Arabic and Hebrew surveys indicated that the best form of partnership is “working together towards a common goal”. Surveys in Arabic were more likely to indicate a belief that meeting someone or participating in dialogue with someone from the other national group is the best form of partnership (44% percent of Arabic surveys, in comparison to 14% of Hebrew surveys). However, Hebrew surveys were 10% more likely to indicate that learning about the other’s culture is the best form of partnership. This is not surprising, as Jewish culture is hegemonic in Israel- for example all Palestinian students speak Hebrew, while very few of Jewish students speak Arabic- and therefore Palestinians are forced to learn about Jewish-Israeli culture.
As community organizers, we encourage students to bring a critical and political lens to the community work we do. We hope to work with our students to practice active partnership that goes beyond meetings and dialogue. Throughout the year we will challenge our students on what true”שותפות” or partnership means in the context of a Palestinian-Jewish movement for social change.
- Discrimination in Israel
Students were asked to rank how much they agree with the following statement, “Today there is no more discrimination in Israel. Everyone who really wants to can succeed no matter if they are Arab, Jewish, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi and no matter where they are from”. Hebrew surveys were more likely to indicate that they disagree with the statement. 64% of surveys in Hebrew answered 1 or 2 (that they disagree with the statement), in comparison to only 33% of Arabic surveys. Only four students gave a ranking of 5 (that they agree very much). Of these four, all were women and three were Arabic speakers.
Surprisingly, it was the population more affected by oppressive and racist systems within Israel-Arabic speakers- that was least likely to recognize the existence of such systems. According to most social categories- health, education, economic- Arab women are the most marginalized population in Israel. This feedback from our students is a needed reminder about the importance of exposing the unjust systems that frame our society and of empowering marginalized community members to organize for social change within their communities.
In December, Mahapach-Taghir brought together 140 residents and university students volunteers from all over the country to learn and grow together at our yearly, overnight activist seminar. This seminar is one of the most important events organized by Mahapach-Taghir and is unique in that it brings together Jews and Palestinians; Jews, Druze and Muslims; students and mothers all with a focus on partnership and solidarity.
The seminar included lectures, workshops, and seminars on a wide range of topics. These were presented both by local Mahapach-Taghir coordinators and guest experts from a wide array of NGOs in Israel. Particularly thought-provoking was a lecture by Marcello Wexler. He focused on the way the Israeli educational system exists within a system of inequality that makes it hard for children from marginalized communities to succeed in school. By exploring inequality on a structural level, Wexler encouraged participants to think past laying blame on parents and community members and rather challenge the educational system. Women activists and mothers from Yad Eliyahu noted that Wexler’s lecture helped them see similarities in the negative experiences of their children within the educational system. It also inspired students to think of creative ways to engage and encourage children in Mahapach-Taghir Learning Centers who struggle academically.
While most of the enriching and social activities took place in mixed-community groups, the seminar also created space and time for intra-community reflection and dialogue. Coordinators facilitated group reflection and helped to translate some of the theoretical frameworks presented in workshops and lectures into the local experiences of our communities. This time was particularly meaningful as the community groups were comprised of student volunteers and residents. Students learned from the experience of residents and residents explored together with students the best way to coordinate the Learning Centers, community campaigns and community days.
In an increasingly segregated and hostile sociopolitical climate, the importance of seminars that allow for sharing across boundaries cannot be stressed enough. One student from Tel Aviv University who attended the seminar noted that this is the first time she has been in a learning environment with both Jews and Palestinians. While students and residents came away with new skills and perspectives learned in workshops, seminars and discussion groups, much of the learning took place in less formal environments. For example, after dinner, Mahapach-Taghir coordinators hosted a Community Coffee Night. Participants were split into random groups. They were offered a menu of questions and discussion topics to explore as a group.
Over coffee, tea and cookies, participants discussed their first loves, their political views, their dreams and more! While seemingly trivial, activities like these humanize “the other” and help to create a sense of unity and solidarity. By communicating open and honestly, we grow our communities from just our geographical surrounding to a community of activists all over the country working together for social justice.
A group of Arab and Jewish Mahapch-Taghir activists came together to craft a unified statement about the war in Gaza. In this time of deep sadness and pain, words can seem meaningless in the face of loss of life and destruction. However, we at Mahapach-Taghir understand the power of voices coming together- in mourning and and in hope- to demand an end to the violence. Here is an excerpt from the Unity Statement:
We, at “Mahapach-Taghir” wish to change the rules of the game. We wish to build an alternative that rejects the dichotomy of “us” and “them,” confronts oppression and does not accept it. We come with a proposition for dialogue which creates solidarity between communities. We choose to be partners and not enemies…
Through our pain, worry, fear and anger, we refuse to be helpless. We are not willing to obey orders to be silent, nor will we surrender to silencing. We choose to speak out our diverse voices, to take a stand regarding the separation, racism, hate and violence annihilating our routine life, particularly in times of war. We view all of these elements as part of a long-term discriminatory, institutional policy of neglecting communities in the geographical and social peripheries. In the face of the “divide and conquer” policy of a government that abandons its citizens and incites them against each other, we propose an alternative. Our alternative is discussion and forgiveness based on recognition and respect for every individual’s religious, national and ethnic identity.
Click HERE for a pdf of the full Unity Statement
Solidarity in Times of War
The past weeks have been difficult for all of us, Jews and Palestinians: a violent war is being waged in Gaza, causing thousands of civilian casualties. The Israeli civilian population is also under threat, especially in the south. The war in Gaza has also brought about a rise in racism and violence inside Israel that is incited by the media and political leadership. Incidents of racist violence include physical and verbal attacks on Palestinian citizens of Israel and protesters against the war, job loss among Palestinian and Jews who protest against the war, and many other forms of persecution.
At this moment we at Mahapach-Taghir feel that Jewish-Palestinian partnership and solidarity, our greatest values, are in jeopardy. As an organization doing grassroots work in both Jewish and Palestinian marginalized communities in Israel, we witness first-hand the pain of both populations. We, the Jewish and Palestinian men and women activists of Mahapach-Taghir, will not remain silent about this violence. We will promote our values of partnership and solidarity and oppose this violence between peoples. We will continue to work toward a world where human life is valued above all.
During these weeks we continued to work to build solidarity and end violence. Activities in July included:
1. The students and residents of our Tamra community internally raised 25,000 ILS to fund relief for Gazan children hospitalized inside Israel. 20 women and men from the community visited Palestinian children at the Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv, and distributed the donated money as well as gifts. The gifts were given to both Palestinian kids and Israeli kids (Jewish and Arab) in different sections of the hospital. Palestinian families from Gaza were also given a small donation of 400 shekels each to support them during their stay in Israel. The visit ended with a playful atmosphere as the volunteers from Tamra entertained children and their families on the hospital patio.
2. Despite the tense situation, the community of Florentine in Tel Aviv, which includes both Jewish and Palestinian women, arranged an internal meeting of activists last week. With the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, the rising death toll in Gaza and in Israel, and a rise in violence against Palestinians inside Israel, the meeting was not easy. Discussion focused on how to maintain partnership and solidarity during these tense days and on ways for dealing with the violence inside Israel. By the end of the session the women were feeling grateful for the meeting, hugging each other and agreeing to continue working towards their shared interests. Similar meetings were held in our Tamra and Yaffat al Nassera communities, and a meeting is scheduled to take place in our Jerusalem community as well.
3. Mahapach-Taghir signed a public statement published by The Abraham Fund Initiatives together with 14 other organizations, objecting to the rise in racist incidents and incitement against the Arab community in Israel. The statement ended with a call to the Israeli government to “…advance an immediate halt of the war and to reach a long term political solution. Also, the government must immediately attend to the destructive, racist currents that are threatening Israeli society. The government must take responsibility, and act firmly and consistently against incitement and violence directed at the Arab minority in Israel.” The statement was published in both Hebrew and in Arabic.
National Conference Celebrating International Women’s Day
Activists from all over the country met in Tamra, a Palestinian city in northern Israel on Tuesday, March 7th. In honor of International Women’s Day, the conference was a celebration of some of the amazing successes of the women from our communities around the country.
Hani, a representative of the new steering committee in Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem, presented the successful efforts of their steering committee as well as her productive meeting with the Jerusalem municipality to discuss the needs of the neighborhoods. This is not an easy task especially in such a large city and Zahava, a more veteran activist from Tel Aviv reminded her that she can have even more impact if she goes with a group of women to the next meeting. Shoshi, a veteran activist from Kiryat Yovel presented the research paper she wrote as part of her bachelor’s degree on the impact of Mahapach-Taghir. Shoshi completed this degree as part of the “Second Opportunity” program that she organized with other Mahapach activists.
An activist from Yafat El’Nassera activist spoke about their “community bank”, a system they have instituted to provide women on the steering committee with a measure of economic independence. Each woman brings 20 shekels to every weekly meeting, and at the end of the month one woman gets to keep the collected money for her own discretionary fund. The success of this collective initiative created a strong impression on all those present at the conference.
The women of Yafat El’Nassera further demonstrated their work by teaching a lesson on basket weaving, an art they have been studying and perfecting as a group for several weeks. They hope to begin selling these baskets soon. Women from all of the communities and their children joined together, weaving reeds under the guidance of Yafat El’Nasera’s steering committee. By the end of the evening attendees had the beginnings of a hand-woven basket and a the impression of amazing work being done in our Mahapach-Taghir communities. The evening was a reminder to everyone present that the activism of women in Mahapach-Taghir is helping to create the radical change that we envision for our world.
“Sister, Where is the Periphery?!” Conference
Mahapach’s Kiriyat Shmona and Maghar communities held a conference on February 25th called “Sister, Where is the Periphery?” at Tel-Chai College, continuing two years of co-operative work between these two communities. 120 people attended the conference, including students, residents of the two communities, and partner organizations like the Center for Peace and Democracy, the Dikant Academic College of Tel Chai, the Tel Chai Student Association, the “Finger of the Gallilee” Youth Center and others.
The conference opened with words from a representative of Tel Chai college and Fidaa Nara Abu Dbai, the co-director of Mahapach-Taghir. After their exciting words there was a guest performance by “The Tel Chai Ensemble,” followed by a panel on “Civics-Economics-Politics.” The panel included a diverse array of voices, Arab and Jewish, male and female. Following the panel there were breakout discussion groups on social justice issues including advancement through the welfare system, economic co-operatives, Arab-Jewish partnership and more. The conference raised questions about the diverse challenges of cooperative life in Israel’s northern periphery. Several conclusions were drawn from the discussions, including the need to create a shared Palestinian-Jewish identity for the Gallilee, to work on cooperative initiatives, and to use shared knowledge of the area to the advantage of the region (for instance, information about natural resources). Participants in these fascinating discussion groups hoped that such actions would influence the Knesset to prioritize the concerns of the northern periphery.