While Arab: Stories of Daily Routine
the organizations working in the field of Jewish-Arab relations, there
are several that aspire to achieve maximum equality and even those that
go so far as to claim that they have reached true equality. The village
of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, Arabic and Hebrew for the "Oasis
of Peace," and its institutions are among the leading organizations
in the field of Arab-Jewish relations. Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom and,
in particular, its conflict management institution, the School for Peace,
have perhaps come closer to realizing equality than any organization
in Israel. This is precisely what has led us to question more and more
frequently whether this aspiration is at all an attainable goal.
twenty years ago, Arabs and Jews joined together to found Wahat al-Salam/Neve
Shalom, a community based on mutual respect and power-sharing, in order
to advance cooperation and challenge inequalities in Israeli society.
Located mid-way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, fifty families, half
Palestinian and half Jewish, all with Israeli citizenship, live in Wahat
al-Salam/Neve Shalom. The community is democratically governed by an
elected Secretary General and Secretariat (mayor and city council).
al-Salam/Neve Shalom has two main educational projects. Its Primary
School is the only K-6th bilingual, bicultural school in Israel, serving
over 300 Jewish and Palestinian children. The community's School for
Peace, has brought together over 30,000 Palestinians and Jews through
its conflict management workshops. Founded in 1979, the School for Peace
offers workshops, guided by a unique conflict management method, for
high school and university students, teachers, journalists, lawyers,
and others. Whereas other methods place emphasis on putting the conflict
aside, minimizing cultural identity, and getting to know each other,
our method emphasizes participants' awareness of the conflict, how their
identity relates to it, and confronting what it means to come from a
position of power or minority. We give participants the opportunity
to express themselves in a constructive setting and acquire the tools
to deal with the conflict. In this environment, they gain a greater
understanding of the conflict, confront the responsibility that they
have in it, and realize how they can exert a positive influence on it.
fifteen years, I have been active in the field of Jewish-Arab relations
though work with various organizations. After nine years in Wahat al-Salam/Neve
Shalom, this has become my life's work. I first came to Wahat al-Salam/Neve
Shalom in 1984 as a teenager, to attend a School for Peace workshop
with my high school class. It was a pivotal experience for me to meet,
for the first time, with my Jewish peers in a meaningful way. After
moving to Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom in 1992, I joined the staff of
the School for Peace. From 1995 to 1997, I was elected to a two-year
term as the Secretary General of the village. Afterwards, I returned
to the School for Peace, where I serve as a director, facilitator, and,
among other responsibilities, as a fundraiser.
intention in this article is not to give lessons from my individual
experience. Instead, I have chosen a few prosaic experiences from my
work that illustrate what an Arab must deal with when the power relations
between Jews and Arabs begin to change. I believe that these stories
can shed light on what happens when we put the aspiration of equality
to the test. The events that I discuss are a small sample from the hundreds
of similar cases that I could point to in our daily work. In fact, any
Arab or Jew with a developed awareness of the power structure behind
Jewish-Arab relations will be able to add his or her own stories to
the ones presented below.
begin with a classic example from last May, when I headed a delegation
of Jews and Arabs who went to Cyprus. The delegation went to meet a
group of Cypriot colleagues, who work on relations between Turkish and
Greek Cyprus, in order to learn about the conflict in Cyprus and exchange
information. I arrived at the Tel-Aviv airport with four other Jewish
and Arab delegation members. At the airport entrance, a guard stopped
us, looked inside our taxi, and asked for my identity card. He then
asked me to take my suitcase and accompany him to the guard booth. Without
explanation as to why I had been singled out, the guard proceeded to
search me, look through my suitcases, and interrogate me. I then returned
to the taxi and continued to conduct myself as the head of a delegation,
providing information about our planned program and trying to regain
their confidence and take control of the situation.
the terminal, I was among the first to arrive for a security check.
The security inspectors looked at my passport and asked me to step aside,
along with the other Arab delegation members. The Jewish delegation
members were invited to proceed. Our Jewish colleagues looked at us
apologetically as they passed, appearing to feel responsible for us.
Their expressions were of sympathy and concern. It made no difference
to the security inspectors that everyone in the delegation referred
to me as the group leader who could provide detailed answers to their
questions about our trip. I continued to be held aside, regarded as
a suspect by the officials and attracting the suspicious glances of
other passengers. In the meantime, I tried to make light of the situation
with a reassuring smile to my friends in the delegation. They either
joined me in trying to find humor in the embarrassment, or they looked
away. After going through the standard procedures of humiliation, I
was the last to arrive at the flight gate. There it was up to me to
return from my status of suspect to that of a delegation head, responsible
for my group and responsive to their problems.
second incident that I will relate occurred when one of the embassies
with which the School for Peace has contact received a new cultural
attache. We had close relations with the previous cultural attache,
who was very supportive of our work. The new cultural attache's office
asked us to receive her for a visit in order to acquaint her with one
of the organizations they support. I was her host, responsible for organizing
her entire visit. I greeted her upon arrival and presented the village
and the activities of the School for Peace to her. Afterwards, a Jewish
colleague, who I will refer to as Ella, joined us for part of the discussion.
To the best of my recollection, as well as Ella's, it was I who spent
the most time explaining our work. Towards the end of the visit, we
were joined for lunch by the village's Secretary General and head of
the village's Public Relations department, who are both Arab.
few weeks later, Ella received an invitation to a reception at the cultural
attache's house. The embassy called Ella to confirm her attendance.
Ella asked why I did not receive an invitation, explaining that we try
to send JewishArab representation to important events. She was
told politely that only people who met personally with the cultural
attache were invited. When informed that I was the one who primarily
received her, the woman at the embassy promised to clarify the matter
and get back to us. Two days later, the woman called Ella, explained
that the house was too small to accommodate more than one representative
per organization, and asked again if she would attend.
cultural attache had met the Arab Secretary General, the Arab head of
the Public Relations department, Ella, who had briefly joined the visit,
and me, the School for Peace's contact for the embassy. On an organizational
level, Ella was the least logical choice to receive the single invitation
to this event. In this case, Ella declined the invitation, pointing
out the importance of the mechanism that the village uses in choosing
its representatives. The embassy woman assured Ella that they would
try to more sensitive to the matter in the future.
months later, the embassy's actions exposed the price paid for our village
mechanisms. Overlooking or disregarding the previous incident, the embassy
again invited only Ella to an event at the ambassador's home, to be
attended by the person responsible for granting funds for JewishPalestinian
activities. The grant officer wanted to meet people active in the field.
According to the invitation, places were limited. Despite the fact that
fundraising is one of my responsibilities at the School for Peace, we
agreed that it was important that Ella attend this event despite our
irritation. After all, the potential for large funding was at stake.
It turned out that there was not a single Palestinian Israeli at the
name is Ahmad
next story took place when I was the Secretary General of the village.
One day, the office secretary received a phone call from someone who
said that he represented a group of artists who were organizing an art
exhibit. He explained that since their work was in the same spirit as
our community, they wanted to present the exhibit in Wahat al-Salam/Neve
Shalom. Though the office secretary is also Arab, neither her name nor
her accent in Hebrew awakened "suspicion." She told the artist
that he would have to speak with Ahmad, the Secretary General, and passed
the phone to me. The artist presented himself and the project, and then
asked my name again.
"Ahmad," I answered.
he asked. (Nahman is a Hebrew name. I must point out here that the telephone
connection was very good, without any interference.)
Ahmad," I repeated, "an Arab name."
. . . I see," he said, appearing to have been taken off guard.
From this point on he sounded confused and seemed to want to be somewhere
else. We agreed that he would call back after clarifying a few details.
He then politely asked if he could speak again with the office secretary.
He asked her again what my position was in the village and whether she
was sure that I was the right person to speak to about this. She reassured
him that I was.
few days later, the artist called again and asked to speak with Nahman,
the Secretary General.
Not Nahman. Ahmad," he was told.
continued the discussion where we had left off, discussing practical
details. He spoke about the positive exposure that this could bring
the village. The project in general sounded promising. Having just about
covered everything, he asked who he could speak with in order to finalize
would be me," I answered.
are authorized to close the agreement in the name of the village?"
was more than I could bear. Raising my voice, I told him, "With
me, only with me, and no one else's signature will be valid!"
was the end of both our discussion and the promising art exhibit. I
later learned that the artist contacted a Jewish director of another
village department in order to advance his exhibit idea. He neglected
to tell that director about his previous discussions on the subject
with me. When the director told him that he should speak first with
the Secretary General, the artist not too surprisingly disappeared.
The story of the artist reflects the difficulty and confusion that a
Jew in Israel experiences when faced with the prospect of dealing with
an Arab in a position of authority. This particular attempt to undermine
that authority was an extreme case. But I have grown accustomed to experiencing
much subtler variations of the same issue in my various positions over
our day-to-day lives, we regularly participate in events that take on
significance only when we analyze them in retrospect. I have attempted
here to examine the structures that make up JewishArab relations
by focusing on the routine and norms of our daily reality, consisting
of seemingly insignificant events and interactions, of which we are either
unaware or to which we generally pay no attention. These interactions
and events that make up our lives contain within them power structures
that are stronger than the ideology, desires or good intentions of individuals.
In the words of Whitney Young (1970), "Racism is not a desire to
wake up every morning and lynch a black man from a tall tree. It is not
engaging in vulgar epithets. These kinds of people are just fools. It
is the day-to-day indignities, the subtle humiliations that are so devastating.
Racism is the assumption of superiority of one group over another, with
all the gross arrogance that goes along with it."
Hijazi is a director of the School for Peace and previously served as
Wahat al-Salam ~ Neve Shalom
from 1995 to 1997. He was born in Tamara in Northern Israel. Ahmad first
came to Wahat
al-Salam ~ Neve Shalom
in 1984 as a teenager to attend the School for Peace with his high school
class. In that School for Peace workshop, Ahmad met with his Jewish
Israeli peers in a meaningful way for the first time. It was a pivotal
experience in his life. He trained as a School for Peace facilitator
and studied sociology and education at Hebrew University, where he obtained
a Masters degree. In 1992, Ahmad and his wife moved to Neve Shalom/Wahat
Al-Salam. Their son currently attends the village's bilingual, bicultural
by Bob Mark
was founded in 1970 by the Dominican monk Bruno Hussar, with the intention
of creating a place where the people of this land would live together
despite national and religious differences, and who would conduct
educational work for peace.