When Khaled met Niva

The Jewish youngsters were more relaxed. They laughed. They wondered whether to write that they love chocolate. The Arabs teenagers sat in their circle, leaning forward. From time to time they consulted with one another.

15 February 2002

Ori Nir

Jewish and Arab youngsters at Givat Haviva

At the beginning of the second day of the meeting between 11th-graders from the Sakhnin High School and 11th-graders from the Leo Baeck School in Haifa, Suhad from Sakhnin dropped a small, quiet bombshell into the dialogue room. When there is a terror attack, she said, I feel hurt for the people who are injured. But I'm also a little bit happy, because I support the struggle of the Palestinians in the territories. 

The Jewish youngsters, who met last week with their Arab peers under the auspices of the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace at Givat Haviva, tried hard not to let Suhad's remark disturb the friendly atmosphere that had been created during the previous day. During an entire day they had become acquainted, personally and culturally. There was even subtle flirting. 

When Suhad said what she said, the Jewish youngsters refrained from responding. Only afterwards, with the encouragement of the moderator, Ayoub Aamad, did they demand explanations from her. Niva, an empathetic and well-spoken girl with flowers entwined in her hair, asked Suhad: "I really don't understand. Tomorrow I could die at a bus stop, on my way to school. Would you be glad? I could be injured and suffer terribly from the injuries until I die. Do you get how scary this is - to know that on the way to the grocery store someone could blow up and kill you? To know that there are Arabs here who want us to get out of here, who think that this country should be only for Arabs? This scares me. I want to live, to live here. I like living here." 

Suhad listened quietly, and replied quietly: "So why are you going ahead and bombing civilians and children in the territories? They are also scared. They also want to live." Then she said to Niva that she is also afraid, when she sees a Jew wearing a skullcap. 

The meeting took place in one of the rooms of the Mordechai Anilevich Memorial Study Center for Teaching the Holocaust at Givat Haviva, opposite a wall that documents the Jewish resistance movements to Nazism in Europe during World War II, laden with large pictures of Jewish fighters in France and partisans in Yugoslavia. "This is the room they have chosen for us," commented Amar the moderator wryly, before he opened the morning workshop. 

The first exercise in the workshop was the preparation of an identity card. Each student was given a piece of paper, pens and colors, and was asked to prepare an identity card for himself in any way he chose. Khaled drew a dove with an olive branch, and wrote his birth date. Niva drew the spring and nature. Orianne wrote that she was born in Israel; Sex: Female. Khali wrote: Citizen of Israel; Place of residence: Sakhnin; Sex: Male. Sharon wrote that he likes swimming and soccer, Gilad wrote that he likes all kinds of sport, and Mohammed wrote that he was a Muslim Arab and plays mid-field on the youth team of Bnei Sakhnin. Shahin wrote: Male; Nationality: Arab; Resides in the State of Israel. None of the students from Haifa wrote "Jewish." 

The group identity cards the young people prepared were also different from each other. The Arabs sat in their circle, leaning forward. From time to time they consulted with one another about whether to write "Palestinians" or to mention Palestine, whether to write that they are Israeli citizens or that their citizenship is Israeli; whether to write Israeli first or first Palestinian; whether to note that they are from Sakhnin. 

The Jews were more relaxed. They laughed. They debated whether to write that they love chocolate. They quibbled over whether to write that they love basketball, and that they speak Hebrew. During the entire meeting, the Jews were more open, and louder. The Arabs, for the most part, made an effort to please. 

At the end of the process of preparing the group identity cards, the two groups gave the moderator large pieces of paper that combined texts and drawings. At the bottom of their page, the Arabs drew a large and colorful Palestinian flag, and above it they wrote tersely: "Nationality: Arab. Citizenship: Israeli. Town: Sakhnin. An Arab group that lives in the State of Israel." 

The Jews' paper was headed with the title: "Leo Baeck Students." It had a drawing of the globe with an arrow pointing to the Haifa Bay, leading to a sketch of the school grounds. Under the sketch was written: Citizenship: Israeli. Nationality: Jewish. Ages: 16-17. Favorite Foods: Ice cream, chocolate. Know how to speak Hebrew and English. We have all visited countries outside of Israel." 

In the discussions that developed the differences between the outlook of the Jewish youngsters and that of the Arab youngsters were also very clear. The Arabs found it difficult to compromise on questions of identity and symbols. The Jews had no problem with changing the national anthem to one that would reflect universal values. 

These encounters are held as part of the civics curriculum. Principals and teachers from Arab and Jewish schools can choose whether they are interested in participating in the program of encounters, and in what format to hold them. In quantitative terms, Givat Haviva is the most active organization in the area of such encounters. Not long ago the center won the UNESCO Peace Prize for 2001 for its activities in bringing together Jews and Arabs. These activities include mainly dialogue encounters and the exchange of views, as well as projects in the areas of art, community work and more. 

After the events of October, 2000 [in which Arab Israelis were killed by police fire] there was a brief hiatus in the encounters. Within a few months the activities were renewed with greater emphasis on single-nationality forums, and a short while later the binational encounters started up again, but with several significant differences. 

"After the events we realized that we would have to do some in-depth work in these encounters," says Dr. Sarah Ozacky-Lazar, the director of the center. It was clear to all the members of the staff, as well as to the other organizations engaged in bringing together Jewish and Arab youth and adults, that henceforth the meetings would serve more for discussing the rents between the two peoples than for becoming acquainted and enjoying one another's culture. It was also clear that there would be a need to deal with hesitations on the part of parents, teachers, principals and students about the meetings and the confrontation with the other side. Jewish parents and teachers are hesitant about sending students to Wadi Ara, where the Givat Haviva campus is located. Arab parents are hesitant about sending their children outside the Arab locales, and Arab teachers and principals are worried about the implications of confrontations with Jews. 

In the small room at Givat Haviva the students from Sakhnin came back in after the break for another workshop. The moderators, Ayoub the Arab and Benny the Jew, increased the dosage of the conflict but among the hormone-driven youngsters there was quite a bit of contact. In this workshop, the students were divided into mixed groups, in which they were supposed to discuss controversial issues (the right of return, changing the national anthem, military or civilian national service for Arabs, a state for all its citizens and so on). In the group that Niva and Suhad were in they were supposed to talk about constitutional issues, but the discussion diverged at once to the subject of terror attacks and and the question of the establishment of a Palestinian state. Niva and Suhad argued. Khaled, a tall, handsome boy, remained silent throughout most of the discussion, and stole looks at Niva. 

There was a lot of action in the neighboring group, three assertive Jewish girls and two bashful Arab boys. When they tried to reach agreement on the right of return, Orianne and Keren proposed that Ala and Jasar could find a home in one of the 22 Arab states. The two Arab boys, amused, recommended that the girls go back to Europe. In the end they agreed that the return would be to the territories of the Palestinian Authority, and that compensation would be paid to those who prefer not to exercise this right. 

Before they solved the problem of the national anthem, military service and a constitution, one of the girls asked Jaser how to say "Stop, or I'll shoot" in Arabic. Then they scribbled something on a scrap of paper and giggled. Among other things they wrote in Hebrew and Arabic: "There is no real love without a French kiss." 

After the lunch break the students asked the moderators to let them hold an open discussion with the whole group. Each of them was afraid to be the first to speak. Finally, Niva opened the discussion and said that she would like to understand what her peers from Sakhnin felt, what bothered them as Arab citizens of Israel. The discussion veered into other channels. There was not talk about the delicate situation of the Arab citizens of Israel but of the conflict in the territories, of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, of the terrorists and the explosions. Suhad demanded: "Why is killing Palestinians a good thing and killing Jews a bad thing? You go in with tanks and kill children." Sharon replied: "There's no such thing - tanks don't kill children." Mohammed responded: "No, they just knock down houses." Everyone laughed. 

Niva took a flower from her hair and gave it to Khaled. "This is just because you're simply sweet," she said. Then she entered Khaled's phone number into the memory of her mobile phone, and wrote hers down on a scrap of paper. Khaled found a camera and asked someone to take a picture of them together. Niva hugged his waist, and he blushed, and she said: "I don't know. Maybe it's not okay, maybe it isn't done where you come from," but she hugged him anyway and smiled a big smile. The two of them promised to stay in touch. 

One of the girls in Niva's class saw this and said to another girl that she "can't believe" how Niva gave Khaled her phone number. She was so shocked. Niva is apparently sick, she said. She loves Arabs.




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