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The economic reality of coexistence

Posted By Daniel Ben Tal On April 19, 2010 @ 12:00 am In | No Comments

Despite economic hardships, Jewish and Arab youth will continue their rare ongoing dialogue, promises the staff at the Givat Haviva Center for Peace.

Jewish and Arab teenagers taking place in activities at Givat Haviva.

The last decade may have been the most difficult in its existence, but staff at the Givat Haviva Educational Institute in Wadi Ara, which won a peace education prize from UNESCO in 2001, are not about to close their doors. “The [second] intifada hit us hard – but we’re not raising our arms and giving up,” Givat Haviva’s spokesman, David Amitai tells ISRAEL21c.

“Nowadays we have a more professional approach and management style. The budget has been balanced for the last four years. We have paid a price, but maintained our core, which is the most important thing,” he adds.

Givat Haviva is one of the oldest peace organizations in Israel. Set up in 1949, just a year after Israel itself was founded, the center, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last year, has been through war after war, but has never closed its gates.

The community was founded originally as the seminar center of the Kibbutz Artzi movement, a federation of 83 kibbutzim throughout Israel. Located on the site of a former British army base and near both Jewish kibbutzim and communities and Arab towns and villages, kibbutz members would come to the center to learn how to manage a dining room, run a laundry, study Arabic or engage in political activism.

Even in the midst of the troubles, Givat Haviva – which employs both Arab and Jewish teachers – is an oasis of calm, a rare bubble of coexistence where Jews and Arabs confront stereotypical perceptions and learn to accept the differences between them.

Ongoing dialogue

The community’s goal is to educate for peace, democracy and coexistence, and on any given day, you can see dozens of Jewish and Arab youths chatting together on the campus’s rolling green lawns, in a rare example of ongoing dialogue.

A number of significant coexistence activities are run at Givat Haviva through the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, which was founded in 1963. These include Face-to-Face encounter groups that bring together Jewish and Arab high school and university students; and seminars and field trips for people from overseas.

The Givat Haviva Art Center, a project supported by Swiss donors, promotes cooperation through art, with regular joint exhibitions by Arab and Jewish youth.

The campus also has a Library for Peace Studies – inaugurated in 2001 – which features thousands of titles (in three languages) devoted to the Jewish-Arab struggle.

Givat Haviva houses the Kibbutz Artzi archives and the private archives of the late peace activist Abie Nathan. It also runs the Noa/Nuha Center for Women and for Gender Studies, and a memorial center for the study and research of the Holocaust, set up in the early 1960s.

Givat Haviva’s troubles began in 2000 when the second intifada broke out. In October 2000, 13 Arab Israelis were shot dead by police, and a Jewish passenger was killed by a stone thrown from an Arab-Israeli village while he was traveling on the coastal highway.

The events sent shock waves through the peace center. School principals and parents became reluctant to send students to the center’s seminars and encounter groups, and participation plummeted even as the center won the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 2001.

Financial and political tribulations

As the intifada continued, Givat Haviva suffered both financial and political tribulations. The kibbutz movement itself was undergoing radical change as more and more kibbutzim were privatized. This meant painful cutbacks, staff layoffs and voluntary pay cuts. A smaller budget meant programs were redirected.

The Peace Center’s flagship project, “Children Teaching Children” (known in Hebrew as Yammy), was one of the first victims and the program almost collapsed. Founded in 1987, the two-year educational program – which was chosen to participate in EXPO 2000 in Hanover, Germany and as part of the Millennium Village exhibition at the Epcot Center, Disneyworld in Florida – pairs Jewish and Arab high schools, and has been incorporated into the curriculum at dozens of Jewish and Arab schools.

Faced with all these difficulties Givat Haviva made some serious changes to its organizational culture. “Income has become a central feature – every project must balance its budget. Not everything is to our pleasure, but this situation has allowed our activities to continue,” says Amitai.

The shift in approach came in 2006 when Haggai Halevy was appointed as executive director. “Five years ago people were scared to come – this forced us to change our economic stance,” explains Amitai.

The center began by renting out parts of its premises to outside organizations, including the Israel Defense Force.

“The army sends combat soldiers to the campus to complete English and Math matriculation exams,” Amitai tells ISRAEL21c. “Many of them come here to learn Arabic – those who learn the language serve as a bridge. We lever this to pass on the message of coexistence. Our agreement with the IDF is that the soldiers leave their weapons outside. We are part of the reality. Soldiers are also part of the reality.”

Expanded activities

In addition the center also brought on Roni Naftali, founder of the Mei Eden mineral water company, to take the Face-to-Face program under his wing. After serious losses, the program has gradually begun to build up once more. “Now we have over 3,000 participants every year,” says Amitai. “Ultimately, we want to reach all 30,000 11th and 12th graders in Israel. Roni has brought in Arab businessmen – this is an important precedent.”

Yammy has also managed to survive. “It still operates, but on a lower flame than a decade ago,” Amitai tells ISRAEL21c. “It is growing again, but slowly – it’s all a function of resources.”

Nowadays, private foundations fund many of Givat Haviva’s programs. The US embassy in Tel Aviv has been particularly important in raising federal funds for training public service employees from the Arab sector, thereby improving municipal services, says Amitai.

“This field has been neglected over the years, and we’re helping to close the gaps. This program will produce a knock-on effect of helping the general populace, as opposed to specific training courses,” says Amitai.

Givat Haviva is gradually making progress. The number and scope of activities on the campus has expanded in recent years. In particular, the number of youth movements and other groups from abroad is steadily rising. “There’s plenty of creativity and dynamism in the activities,” says Amitai.

This year a new branch of the campus started functioning in Sakhnin, an Israeli-Arab town in the Galilee. The branch is headed by Dr Razal Abu Rayah, who specializes in coaching and arbitration courses designed for the Arab sector.

‘The brand has proved itself’

In November last year, Givat Haviva celebrated its 60th birthday with an event attended by Jewish singer Ahinoam (Noa) Nini and her Arab counterpart Mira Awad, who sang in last year’s Eurovision song contest. The singers won the 2009 Haviva Reik Peace Award, presented by Givat Haviva, in recognition of their coexistence work.

“It was a highly successful event attended by many hundreds,” says Amitai. “It was an exciting day. The meetings were overflowing – we had to bring in more chairs. That day was the culmination of the process we’ve been through – and it worked like a clock. The brand has proved itself,” he exclaims.

“Now we’re looking forward to the next 60 years. When we return to the situation where Palestinians from the Palestinian Authority come to study here, we’ll be happier,” he admits.

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