Our dialogue program at Jerusalem’s Azrieli College of Engineering is especially unique. The students that participate in the program are from both Palestinian and Israeli nationalities and live in a political situation that is extremely complex and frequently oppressive. Therefore, the dialogue in the group tends to be challenging, but we think you already understand that challenges are our thing.
This is the fifth year that we are operating this program, but only recently have we been able to incorporate a weekend seminar which enabled a deeper conversation on the situation in the city and some quality time between the participants.
We began the seminar with a tour of Beit Safafa, led by geopolitical researcher and tour guide Eran Tzidkiyahu. We toured the streets of this Palestinian neighbourhood, which is sandwiched between Jewish ones in order to witness the day-to-day lives of the residents. At the end of the tour we even got lucky enough to enter the local Mosque before Friday’s prayers.
This experience gave us the opportunity to debate some elemental questions about life in Jerusalem, and specifically the common and differing aspects of the students’ experiences there. We asked them about fear: What do I feel when I enter a neighbourhood with a population of a different religion or nationality than mine? Is this fear justified? Do the experienced differ if I’m Muslim or Jewish? We also raised some questions regarding the differences in the neighbourhood’s level of maintenance or neglect. It was fascinating to hear the students’ input on these matters.
We then made our way to the hotel in Kibbutz ‘Tzuba’, in which we stayed for the weekend. There we met Mohammad from the NGO ‘Kulna’ (‘All of us’), which creates communal spaces for informal cultural events. He walked us through the inspirational activities that they are initiating, and tried to explain how through events like sing-alongs, musical shows and even backgammon tournaments, ‘Kulna’ succeeds to introduce Israeli and Palestinian residents of the city to one another.
We talked about the benefits of these kinds of communal cultural activities, and the great accomplishments that one can reach through them But we also talked about the situations where these activities aren’t sufficient on their own, but rather need to be accompanied by other measures.
We started the second day of the seminar by touring the Kibbutz. We discussed the history of the kibbutz movement, the major social and cultural projects that it produced, and its lack of success or even desire to initiate multicultural activity. Questions arose about the cultural bubble surrounding the kibbutz movement including about the benefits and drawbacks of this isolationist approach. We also examined how the residences of ‘Tzuba’ have impacted or are impacted by the political and cultural divide in Jerusalem.
Following the tour, we set down for a conversation with Muhammad Juda who came from the Arab town of Kalkilia in central Israel to talk with us. He facilitated the most fascinating talk about the different psychological influences of multicultural gatherings upon its participants. Together, we’ve investigated the distinctions in the reactions between a member of the hegemonic culture, exposed to unfamiliar other cultures – and the reaction of the other, a member of a minority group.
Oda, an Arab participant, told us from her experiences in the seminar:
“I had a lot of fun! I’ve learned a bunch of things I didn’t knew about the Jewish religion, and even some things I’ve never learned about the Muslim religion, which I practice. The meeting gave me the opportunity to ask about the Jewish prayer, which I witnessed people practice when I worked as a waitress but never had the courage to ask”.
Eviatar, a Jewish participant in the program, wanted to emphasize the importance of the free time granted to the students in the evening:
“During the seminar, some uncomfortable and delicate questions were asked, though during the free time we got to talk about topics that don’t include politics, no religion – nothing. It was just simple fun. Nothing created more impact on the group than this…”
The seminar was an important addition to the program. We would like to thank Or and Gili, who are responsible for coordinating the program at the college who insisted on adding the seminar; to Aiad and Bini – our amazing facilitators, and of course, a great thanks to our brave participants, who proved that dialogue is possible, even in the most complex situations!