The Sir Harry Solomon School of Management at Western Galilee College in the northern seaside city of Acre (Akko) is an unexpected symbol of hope during tense times.
The college as a whole is a model of coexistence. Reflecting the general population of the Galilee, approximately half the students are Arab and half Jewish. Of the 186 students studying economics, logistics, IT management, marketing and other business-related disciplines at the three-year-old School of Management this year, 59 percent are Jewish and 41% Muslim, Christian or Druze, nearly half of them female.
First-year student Adam Ben-Kiki, 26, tells ISRAEL21c that when you walk across the campus you see women in burkas, secular Jews and Arabs in urban wear, and religious Jews with tzitzit (ritual fringes) under their shirts.
“It’s amazing; it’s what the world doesn’t see about Israel,” says Ben-Kiki. “I don’t see any conflict here whatsoever.”
More than 200 guests came to the campus in early November to inaugurate the new Kaye Family Building for the School of Management, constructed with the help of $9.5 million (£6 million) from the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) in the United Kingdom.
The three story edifice has a stock-exchange transactions simulation room, computer rooms, auditoriums, classrooms, an outdoor amphitheater and an art gallery. Such state-of-the-art facilities are not taken for granted in the Western Galilee, where 45% of children live below the poverty line and job prospects for young people are slim.
Key UJIA philanthropists flew in for the opening, joining VIPs such as Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog (Labor).
“We are the only philanthropic partner with the Israeli Ministry of Education for this project,” UJIA Chief Executive Michael Wegier tells ISRAEL21c.
“One of the things we are very aware of is the dearth of decent managers in the Galilee in the private, public and nonprofit sectors. The people earning undergraduate degrees here will help upgrade the quality of middle-level managers for the entire system. An undergraduate degree is an absolute game-changer for economic sustainability.”
The coexistence piece was important to the donors and to former UJIA Chairman Mick Davis, who was the driving force behind the project, he adds.
“They understand that you cannot raise the standard of living for just one group, but for the entire society,” Wegier says.
Ben-Kiki says he looks forward to using what he learns to “polish the hidden gems of the Galil [Galilee]” and in the meantime enjoys the multicultural atmosphere. Between classes the other day, he had trouble printing a document and turned to a fellow student who happened to be an Arab woman. “She helped me out and we had a few laughs.”
Ben-Kiki already experienced cultural diversity up close during his years in the army. “What I love about Israel is that it’s an equal-opportunity system. You get drafted and here are your bunkmates — Christian, Arab, Ethiopian. In those three years we learned to see beyond religion, gender and color of skin. There shouldn’t be any problem because at the end of the day we’re all seeking better lives.”
‘We get along very well together’
Third-year Druzi student Ameer Shakur, 36, agrees. “I always say that the IDF is the place where everybody learns to live with everybody else. On the campus here, I can get to know them in an academic setting, where we all have the same tasks and studies. The management of the college does everything to make every student feel at home.”
Shakur, a building inspector, says his two older brothers and many friends preceded him at the college, and he hopes his degree will enable him to rise to the management level where he works.
Lottem Barbie Levy, 25, a Jewish third-year student, runs a small cake-making business. She left the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to go to culinary school, and then met Miri Sarid, academic manager of a Western Galilee College program for empowering women in economics and management, established by the Cherie Blair Foundation. Sarid inspired her to enroll in the management school in its first year.
“In our country we have a lot of conflicts between Arabs and Jews, and I knew this college had a lot of Arab students, but I didn’t worry about it,” Levy tells ISRAEL21c.
She relates that during Operation Protective Edge her mother was very afraid about her being on a mixed campus.
“But I told her school was safer than home, that we get along very well together and we don’t talk politics here. If I were not in this school I would not have had the opportunity to find out about Druze and Muslim women. It has really connected us and I have learned a lot about the Arab girls. I think if they put us in charge, there wouldn’t be any wars.