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Eyas Shbeta: How it feels to be a Palestinian in Israel these days...

Thoughts about the situation in the country today

Wednesday 23 July 2014, by Eyas Shbeta

The whole world is aware of the cruel war that is taking place in Gaza at this moment. I don’t know if you are also aware of the terrible worsening of relations between Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel itself. The atmosphere in Israel today is extremely grave today and continues to change for the worse. I have lived through many wars and two Intifadas: I am not one who gets scared. Yet for the first time in my life, and my 34 years at Neve Shalom - Wahat al Salam, I feel scared to leave the village.

I wasn’t aware of what was happening to me and found that my schedule had suddenly changed. I wasn’t going to the gym, and I couldn’t make it to the bank to deposit the checks I needed to and I realized that fear has been instilled in all of us and racism is being nurtured in our country.

It all began when the Prime Minister responded to the killing of three Jewish youth by saying, “we (the Jews) sanctify life and they (the Arabs) sanctify death”. This has continued with the Foreign Minister’s yesterday calling to boycott Arab stores which express solidarity with the residents of Gaza.

A few weeks ago hooligans in Jerusalem marched through the streets chanting, “death to the Arabs”, and beat up an Arab worker who was going home. Today an Arab truck driver who stopped at a traffic light was pulled from his vehicle and beaten up. Arabs who work in public places and government offices are afraid to ride on public transportation. Today’s internet news reported that Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer at Bar Illan University called for, “raping the wives of terrorists”. Where and when will the violence end?

When I call my daughters and they are on the bus, they won’t answer the phone because they are afraid to be heard speaking Arabic. One of my daughters was on the train, and I stopped myself from calling her; I was afraid she would answer me in Arabic and what would those around her do or say. Karin, my third daughter is in America counseling a group of Jews and Arabs in the Boston area. I’m happy for all the children of NSWAS who aren’t in the country this summer…

I refuse to continue to live this way. Unfortunately, I don’t see the hope that has always been there. The situation is pushing me to become more extreme and fearful. I find myself defending people I never agreed with; agreeing to things that I would never have agreed with before. Yet I live here, I am part of this place, a citizen of this country. It feels like the lights are being turned off.

I am searching for something positive to say. Last week we organized a solidarity rally of Jews and Arabs in the Arab city of Tira, but today, I lack the words and the hope for living together that this created. I am not optimistic….

There is still an Oasis… and we are still looking for peace. With over 600 dead in Gaza and the war continuing without an end in sight, it is equally frightening that Arab Citizens of Israel do not feel safe on the streets.

Perhaps the country’s leaders would like all Palestinians to leave Israel for the "22 surrounding Arab countries", however I am here, and we will continue to remain here; we have no choice. We will continue - Arabs and Jews - to search for the strength to continue in our mission of living together as equals, sharing responsibility, land and our pain, while our educational institutions, which are needed now more than ever, work to change what is happening around us.

 
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Peace in the midst of Violence?







As you know, a significant escalation of violence has occurred in Israel/Palestine in the past two weeks.



In spite of these recent and ongoing developments, one fact remains the same: many Jews and Palestinians refuse to be enemies. Social activists from myriad organizations, associations, and movements are joining efforts to say "no" to violence and "yes" to a shared destiny. 



The School for Peace at AFNSWAS has initiated meetings with representatives from peace and human rights organizations. Their task: developing a new strategy for building a more powerful, unified movement, one that reaches larger and different audiences and maximizes impact and cooperation. Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam hosted these human rights organizations and peace activists at an emergency meeting over the weekend. Some 24 representatives of a wide range of organizations took part in the highly productive discussion and two initial activities were decided upon: the first will be a protest march in Tira this Saturday to be led by mothers against violence.



We will continue to inform you of our ongoing efforts to stand up for the humanity of all people affected by the latest awful developments, whatever "side" they may be on.  



Please stand with us in our continued efforts to work towards dialogue, cooperation, and a genuine and durable peace between Jews and Palestinians.  


July 16th Protest: "Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies"

 
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School for Peace Course taught at Harvard University


Intergroup dynamic in the course “Us and Them: challenges and possibilities in intergroup relations”


by Elinor Amit *

Between the years 2012 and 2014 I was the instructor of the course “Us and Them: challenges and possibilities in intergroup relations” at the Psychology Department at Harvard University. The course included both lectures and an in-class intergroup dynamic. The purpose of the intergroup dynamic learning about the psychology of intergroup relations by applying the scientific literature discussed in class to a real experience. In addition, it was an opportunity for the students to learn about their social identity, through a real interaction in secure conditions and guided reflection by the facilitators.

The dynamic was modeled after the School for Peace approach. The School for Peace, established at 1979 and located in Neve Shalom in Israel, is specialized in meetings between Israelis and Palestinians. Below I will first describe the structure of the course and the principles that guided the intergroup dynamic. I will then briefly describe a sample of the underlying processes that characterized the 2014 course.

In the dynamic we had 3 people in charge: Prof. Jim Sidanius and I facilitated the dynamic, and Dr. Emile Bruneau, the TF of the course, led the viewing group.

We had a total of 4 meetings for the dynamic. We had a total of 16 participants in the dynamic (8 “Whites” and 8 “non-Whites”), and about 20 students who were “viewers” and viewed the dynamic from behind one-sided mirror. The viewers watched the dynamic, transcribed the conversation, and conducted a guided analysis of the meetings.

Each dynamic meeting was 1.5 hours long. After each meeting, the viewers, Jim and me, had a conversation about the psychological processes underlying the participant’s behavior.

The classification of students to the “White” and “non-White” groups was done by the students themselves. The categories of “White” and “non-White” were chosen based on a short demographic survey conducted in the beginning of the semester, in which students were asked to report (anonymously) their gender, economical status, and ethnic affiliation. Again, the “White” and “non-White” definitions are subjective (for example, a person who is bi-racial could define herself as “White” or “non-White”, depending on their self identification. It was also suggested recently in a NYT article that a growing number of Hispanic people identify themselves as White (1), and we considered these self-definitions as part of the dynamic process and material to work with. In our class, the White group consisted mostly Caucasians and Jews, and the non-White group consisted Blacks, Asians, Hispanic, and Arab students.

During the dynamic meetings, students freely discussed any topic of their choice, as long as it was related to the relations between “Whites” and “non-Whites”. Thus, the focus in the dynamic was the social identities of the participants and the relationship between the participants as belonging to different social groups, and not the interpersonal relations between the participants.

We based the dynamic on four assumptions regarding intergroup dynamic, which were developed in the School for Peace. Those assumptions are: (1) The dynamic attempts to expose beliefs on which a person’s identity and behavior are constructed, and permit people to grapple with them; (2) The conflict rests on an encounter between groups (e.g., national, gender), not between individuals; (3) The group is a microcosm of reality and thus offers an avenue for learning about the society at large; and finally (4) The encounter group is an open entity, linked to and influenced by the larger reality outside.

The role of the facilitators is to facilitate a dialogue, based on these four assumptions. By uncovering underlying structures, the facilitators try to deconstruct oppressive structures in society. Jim and I tried to be supportive, yet challenge the participants with reflections about the power relations between the groups, and the ways participants from both groups dealt with it.

We had 3.5 meetings that involved dynamic with all the participants together. These meetings are emotionally charged. Therefore and based on the model of the School for Peace, we added half a meeting in which the White participants set with me and the non-White set with Jim, in two separate rooms. The purpose of the “uni-ethnic” meeting was to create a safe space for group reflections on the processes they go through in the “multi-ethnic” meetings.

Finally, we added a fifth meeting, in which the viewers set at the center of the room, and the participants set around them (the “aquarium” meeting). During this meeting, the viewers discussed their thoughts and insights about the intergroup dynamic they viewed. We also had an empty chair in the viewer’s inner-circle, in case a participant from the dynamic group would like to comment on something (which they often did).

The participants in the workshop belonged to the Harvard community, and were all undergrad students in their second, third, and fourth year of studies. Their ages ranged between 18-22 on average, and to the best of my knowledge all of them lived in the dorms. This fact, along with the fact that the workshop was very short – essentially only 4 meetings – made it very hard for the participants to openly discuss their opinions and feelings toward the relations between the groups. Indeed, often times the participants made an effort to maintain a friendly atmosphere in the room. This pattern of discussion served well the interests and needs of the White group, who benefited from the pleasant discussion by building positive self-image as moral, non-racial people.

Another characteristic of the workshop was the heterogeneous nature of the non-White group, which was the result of the heterogeneous nature of the class members. As mentioned earlier, the non-White group was a composition of various minorities, among them Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Arabs. These groups experience power-relations among themselves as well. Minority groups in the US hold different social and economical status (2). The fragmented nature of the non-White group affected the non-White participant’s ability to gain power and challenge the White group. They almost did not try to challenge the White group and ask them to acknowledge their personal responsibility for the discrimination in the American society. Instead, they found creative solutions such as saying that they (the non-Whites) or their parents chose to immigrate and therefore it’s their own responsibility, or that they do not feel they belong to the US anyway. Both groups did not experience these arguments as genuine, apparently. Indeed, by the end of the workshop participants from both groups declared that the “White group won.”

The fact that the dynamic was relatively short, along with the fragmented nature of the non-White group, might contributed to the feeling of the non-White group that they are “wasting their time” in the workshop. This claim, which was made on the third meeting, expressed a feeling of desperation that something could change in general, and following this dynamic workshop in particular. Unsurprisingly, the White group did not share this sentiment and many of them expressed an interest in the workshop as a venue to “learn about the minorities life, experiences, and opinions”. This position enabled the White group members to be emotionally remote, almost as if they are observing and not actively participating in the dynamic.

Anther strategy that the White group adopted in order to win the moral-superiority battle is to use other dimensions of intergroup relations in order to take the victim side. Such dimensions were gender relations, and SEO power dynamic. This strategy turned out to be quite effective in changing the topic and blocking the non-White group from bringing up arguments about minorities discrimination, especially given their own privileged status as Harvard students, and therefor an outgroup within their ingroup.

Despite of the challenges mentioned above, the participants managed to bring up and discuss loaded issues such as affirmative action and the very existence of power relations in the American society. The White group turned out to be heterogeneous and enabled their members to hold different views regarding the responsibility of the minorities in their success/failure (versus discrimination as the causal factor). The openness of the White participant’s to diversity of opinions in their group could be viewed as a sign of strength – a luxury of a strong, relatively homogenous group that is not intimidated by (carefully) exposing varieties of views rather than letting the dominant voice to rule.

In sum, the intergroup dynamic was characterized by relatively dominant White group and less dominant non-White group. This characterization could have been the result of the heterogeneous nature of the non-White group, the fact the dynamic was relatively short, or the fact that all the participants lived together in the dorms and therefore had a strong interest to have a pleasant atmosphere in the room and not start a fight. Despite of that, the participants still managed to bring and discuss challenging issues, and learn about their social identities as well as expose hidden power structures between groups in society, and challenge themselves explicitly with core questions such as the role of the majority versus the role of the minority in their social positions.


  • Elinor Amit participated in a joint School for Peace / Tel Aviv University course in 2000 – 2001.  She later attended the School for Peace Facilitator Training Course.


 
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SFP awarded $50 K grant by Journalists and Writers Foundation!

The Event

June 1, 2014: The School for Peace has won a $50,000 grant from Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) in Turkey, towards a joint project with the Ramallah based organization Tawasul, for teaching literature teachers. The School for Peace / Tawasul project was chosen as one of only 10 projects selected from among 1,179 projects submitted from 107 countries. The list was narrowed down first to 57 projects, and then to 17. (The process is described in the English-language Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman.) However the final decision was only made in Istanbul, after these 17 organizations presented their projects there, in the framework of a conference that took place between May 31 – June 1.

The conference, known as the Istanbul Summit, focused this year on women’s perspectives on the UN’s development agenda after 2015. The event brought together participants from key women’s and development organizations around the world. Nava Sonnenschein represented the School for Peace at the conference and award presentation. Commenting on the experience, Nava said that the weekend program was one of the most interesting and enjoyable events in which she has ever participated. “It offered excellent opportunities to meet from very fine people from around the world, and was very productive for networking with other organizations with similar objectives.” She was favorably impressed with JWF, by the calibre of those involved with the organization and with the quality of its literature. The School for Peace evidently won the grant because the project is so closely aligned with the purposes of the JWF.

The Grant

The Grant is intended to “support innovative conflict resolution and peacebuilding projects focused on preventing, managing and resolving violent conflict and promoting post-conflict peacebuilding”. The School for Peace/Tawasul were the only local winners this year, although the US-based “Alliance for Middle East Peace” (of which the American Friends of Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam is a member), also won a grant.

The Journalists and Writers Foundation

JWF is a non-governmental organization in general consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Founded in 1994, the organization aims to promote peaceful coexistence, love, tolerance and dialogue at global, regional and local levels. As such, it organizes events under various platforms, and in addition “holds award ceremonies to gain inspiration from for those who contributed to universal peace and worked hard for their fellow countrymen.”

The selected project

The grant money will be used to fund a joint project of the School for Peace and Tawasul: “Arabic and Hebrew Literature in the School: Teaching the Literature of the Other”. The project is intended to train Jewish and Arab teachers of literature (Jewish and Palestinian teachers in Israel and Palestinian teachers in the West Bank). It will be based on the anthology of short stories and poems by leading writers, which was developed and published by the School for Peace (“Two Peoples Write from Right to Left”). The grant will be used to train 60 Palestinian and Jewish teachers to use the book as teaching medium. The project will include three courses: two in Israel and one in the West Bank. Each of these will be composed of three elements: a three-day encounter workshop, a one-day uninational workshop, and a final three-day joint workshop in which the teachers will hear lectures by specialists in the literature of the two peoples. The teachers will conduct a simulation of a lesson, which members of the other people will observe. In the ensuing discussion, they will be able to receive feedback. As part of the course, the teachers will be required to prepare example syllabi. The project will help to address a situation in which schools provide no exposure to the literature of the other people. It will use an innovative means to create empathy and understanding between the two peoples.SFP Director Nava Sonnenschein with grant project poster

 
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Protest

  

July 14th Protest: "Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies"

 
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