For too long we've been told about "us" and "them". . .
. But there can be no "them" in America. There's only
In the long run our existence here as a Jewish state is
based on our desire and our efforts to bring about coexistence.
It is our duty to nurture the values of tolerance and
mutual respect; to foster a culture which accepts the
decisions of the majority, while respecting the rights of the
Once a fire breaks out whether by accident or intention
the impact on life and property can be devastating. The best
firefighting techniques and the most courageous firefighters can limit the
damage, but the best defense against the destructiveness of a
conflagration is prevention. The same is true for human conflict. It is
possible to resolve disputes, sometimes before they escalate into
violence, sometimes only after hostilities, but the ideal is to create
a tolerant society where conflict does not exist, or at least does
not intensify to the point of violence. This should remain our goal
and our dream, but, realistically, the next best solution is a
community where everyone coexists. As The Abraham Fund explained in
its directory of Israeli coexistence projects:
Coexistence is the minimal, least demanding way
for people to relate to one another positively. It is not
the same thing as love. It may not even be the same
thing as friendship. To the contrary, it is an expression
of distance, and an acknowledgment that boundaries
will remain, that the possibilities of misunderstanding
will never completely disappear. It is informed by an
attitude of "live and let live" and that is precisely its
message. Coexistence is an ideal without illusions.
Its objective is not the seamless union of opposites, but
a practical relationship of mutual respect among
opposites. . . . In a pluralistic society, ethnic and cultural
differences are not abolished. They are legitimated,
and society strives to guarantee that the law will be
blind to them.
By promoting coexistence, we may not prevent human
"fires," but we can reduce the risk of them occurring, and minimize the
intensity of those that occur.
The recognition, implementation and enforcement of the
right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness codified in the U.S.
Constitution are necessary but not sufficient for coexistence. Despite
all the work that has been done, and is being done to resolve
conflicts in the United States, tensions, intolerance and violence persist.
Prejudice and intolerance are certainly not unique to
American society; nevertheless, the intensity of hatred in the United
States, and the violence it spawns, is deeply disturbing. According to
the FBI, nearly 8,000 hate-crime incidents were reported in 1995.
Sixty-one percent of the incidents were motivated by racial bias; 16
percent by religious bias; 13 percent by sexual-orientation bias and
10 percent by ethnicity/national origin bias. Some of the problems
may be attributed to extremist groups. Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazi
and Skinhead organizations operate in every state of the union.
More than 300 hate groups are scattered throughout the United
States, according to the Klanwatch project of the Southern Poverty
Law Center. Still, these relatively small organizations cannot be
blamed for all the tensions that exist between Whites and non-Whites,
Blacks and Koreans, Blacks and Hispanics, Jews and Blacks, gays
and "straights," religious and secular and other identifiable groups
The crimes are serious enough, but what is perhaps more
alarming are the attitudes of others toward these acts. For example, a
1990 Harris survey asked high school students what they would do
if confronted with a racial incident. Nearly half (47 percent) said
they would either join in or feel the group being attacked deserved
what it was getting. The results are particularly shocking given the
fact that most people, even in anonymous surveys, are reluctant to give answers that might be construed as bigoted.
A neglected aspect of crime prevention is prejudice
reduction. Though not hopeless at the adult level, the best chance for
preempting conflict and fostering tolerance is among children. As
schools around the United States become increasingly diverse, the
challenge of promoting coexistence and training teachers to
manage multicultural classrooms will continue to grow. Moreover,
despite the increasingly hostile policies toward immigrants, this nation
will remain a melting pot, and conflicts between adults of
different religions, races and ethnic groups will undoubtedly endure.
Israel has no magic solutions for eliminating conflict;
however, Israelis have their own long, painful experience with similar
problems and have developed innovative approaches to promote
coexistence that offer lessons for Americans.
The Israeli Experience
The United States has not solved its problems in more than
200 years; therefore, it should not be surprising that Israel has not
resolved its intergroup conflicts in its short 48-year history.
Moreover, unlike the United States, Israel has faced a daily fight for
survival against neighbors seeking to destroy it. This reality has meant
that the needs of minorities living within Israel's borders were
neglected and internal conflicts allowed to fester.
Israel is a small nation, about the size of New Jersey, with a
population of fewer than six million people. More than 80 percent
of Israelis are Jews, roughly 15 percent are Muslim, 3 percent
Christian and 2 percent Druze and other groups. Israel has fought six
wars and had numerous other military engagements with its
neighbors and terrorist organizations, but relations between Jewish and
non-Jewish citizens of the State have been remarkably free of
violent confrontations. Israel has devoted an extraordinary amount of
effort to prevent "fires" because everyone understands that a serious
one could burn down the entire country.
When Americans think of Arab-Jewish relations, they
usually have in mind Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza
Strip. Though many of the Arabs in Israel call themselves Palestinians
and sympathize with the struggles of the Arabs outside the borders of the State, they have a distinct identity and have chosen to accept
minority status as Israeli citizens. Israeli Arabs also have very
different life experiences than Palestinians in the territories, who are
locked in what has commonly been referred to as a conflict between
two peoples over one land. Arab citizens of Israel have enjoyed
the freedoms of a democratic society, such as the right to vote,
freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, whereas the Arabs in
the territories have lived under occupation, with all the hardships
that entails. Other Palestinians have lived in Arab countries with
few, if any, liberties.
The Arab citizens of Israel have been loyal, peaceful members
of the society since the founding of the State. Thus, the level of
hostility that exists between Jews and Palestinians from the
territories does not pertain to relations with Arabs within the "Green
Line" (i.e., those living inside the pre-1967 borders of the State).
Nevertheless, mistrust and misunderstanding are characteristics of
the relationship between Israeli Arabs and Jews. Though many
Israeli projects seek to foster coexistence between the Palestinian and
Jewish peoples, those described in this study focus primarily on
building bridges between Jews and Arabs who share the common trait
of citizenship in the State of Israel.
As in the United States, all Israeli citizens are assured equal
protection under the law. Israel does not have a constitution, but
is governed by a series of Basic Laws that encompass many of
the principles in our Bill of Rights, which have been adopted by
Israel's democratically elected legislature, the Knesset. Israel's
Declaration of Independence is also considered a constitutional document.
It clearly enunciates the principles of freedom and equality:
The State of Israel . . . will promote the development
of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will
be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace . . .
will uphold the full social and political equality of all its
citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will
guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education
and culture. . . . we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of
the State of Israel to . . . play their part in the
development of the State, with full and equal citizenship. . . .
Many Israelis, like many Americans, find the promise of
equality is not always matched by the reality. Arabs in Israel have
suffered economic and social discrimination. By virtually any measure
health, education, welfare Jews are better off. One reason is
that government spending has historically been significantly higher
in Jewish municipalities than Arab ones. In addition, Arabs have a
far more difficult time getting university educations or jobs.
Legally, Arabs are differentiated from Jews in one significant way, they
are not required to serve in the military (Druze and Bedouin
citizens do serve). The reason for this distinction was primarily to spare
the Arabs the uncomfortable requirement of going to war against
their fellow Arabs (who might be relatives). Practically, this policy
has limited employment possibilities for Arabs in Israel because
military service plays a major role in the career opportunities of
Many inequalities have been meaningfully reduced in the last
few years. This has been a major objective of the Israeli
Government. Though noting a number of areas where more needs to be
done, Sikkuy's 1994-95 Annual Progress Report, "Equality and
Integration," found "significant progress in the elimination of
disparities" in Interior Ministry budget allocations to municipal authorities;
in resource allocation and employment in education; in
National Insurance child allowances; in the level of service in Arab
localities and in the quality of health services.
The distinctions are not only economic. With the exception
of a few cities, Jewish and Arab communities are largely
segregated, with each group living in its own villages and attending their
own schools. It is important to note that this is the preference of
both communities. By maintaining a separate school system, the
Arab students can study in Arabic (which, along with Hebrew, is a
national language) and emphasize their culture whereas the
Jewish students study in Hebrew and focus on Jewish culture.
This separation means the two groups have little interaction.
For example, according to Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (see
pg.18), 83 percent of Israeli Jews have never visited an Arab home,
even though they live no more than a 15 minute drive from each
other. As a report by Givat Haviva (see pg. 35) notes, "This
separation reinforces the barriers that obstruct good communication and understanding and fosters ignorance and suspicion between the
two communities. In addition to this physical separation, there is a
strong history of stereotyping and ethnic generalizations."
According to the National Association for Mediation in
Education (NAME), more than 5,000 dispute resolution programs are
used in schools across the United States, so the concept is widely
accepted. In looking to Israel, the idea was not to discover
the solution to conflict. The belief was that Israel had been forced to confront
the issue of coexistence since before the State was established and
that some of the lessons learned there might be applicable America.
In recent years, especially, a wide variety of programs have
been created to promote coexistence in Israel and encourage
professional work in the field. The methodologies employed in several
projects have already been adapted to address conflicts in places such
as Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia. Though some
Americans in the field are familiar with techniques used in Israel,
the programs are not widely known and some of the more
innovative methodologies have not been tested here yet. Moreover, most of
the coexistence projects in the United States are aimed at schools.
This is true in Israel as well; however, many Israeli programs are
designed for adults and could be adapted for use with older Americans.
NAME lists the following objectives of conflict resolution
programs in the United States:
Increase students' self-esteem.
Promote the appreciation of diversity.
Improve students' communication and analytical skills.
Prevent the escalation of disciplinary problems.
Improve the communication among students, faculty and
Increase the willingness and ability to solve conflicts among
staff, students and parents.
Develop cooperative relationships between the school and
parents in resolving students' school problems.
The Israeli programs have similar goals, but three different
philosophies have emerged for achieving them. One school of
thought can be described as the "encounter approach." It holds that the
key to understanding is bringing Arabs and Jews together for
relatively short, intense encounters and forcing them to confront their
prejudices and the issues at the root of the conflict.
A second school favors an "experiential approach," and
believes it is not sufficient to talk about coexistence, you have to
practice it. Proponents argue that it is naive to believe that deep-rooted
conflicts can be resolved by discussing them over a few days, or
worse, by beginning with dialogue, prior inter-ethnic hatreds tend to
be reinforced. This school's approach is to bring Jews and Arabs
together over a long period of time and to concentrate on joint
activities of mutual interest. The philosophy is that understanding is
built by seeing the other group as human beings with similar feelings
and interests and that, over time, the contentious issues will arise
and participants will know how to resolve them, or, at least, accept
The third philosophy approaches the problem more
indirectly. This school emphasizes the importance of teaching the
principles of democracy as a means of fostering tolerance. The
programs described here are not mere civics lessons about the workings
of government, but courses explaining the concepts and their
implementation. "Teaching for democracy," Nivi Shinar of the
Adam Institute (see pg. 80) says, "is education for recognition of the
equal right of all people to freedom."
Americans can learn lessons from all three approaches. Much
of what Israel has to offer is training for teachers who are
interested in learning proven techniques and strategies for promoting
coexistence. In fact, several organizations have already provided this
assistance to other countries.
Almost 300 organizations in Israel doing work related to
coexistence are described in The Abraham Fund
Directory published in 1992. The book divides programs into 22 broad areas and, more
generally, under the rubric of Intergroup Relations, Protection of Rights and Services. The Directory served as the starting point for
screening organizations that appeared to be doing work that was
particularly innovative and might offer lessons to Americans interested
The Directory's 273 programs were pared to about 90. In
addition, 21 newer projects, developed since the directory's
publication, were considered for inclusion in this report. This roster was
reviewed by The Abraham Fund's co-founder, Dr. Eugene Weiner,
whose familiarity with the projects allowed him to further refine the
list. Letters requesting information were subsequently sent to the
directors of 48 programs and the author made site visits to 12 of
these in January 1996. On the basis of the personal observations and
documentation provided by the project directors, the following
report was compiled, describing 20 programs that have unique or
innovative aspects from which Americans can learn.
Some programs are described in far greater detail because
organizers provided more information and/or have devoted greater
energy to documenting their methodologies, so the length of a
description should not be construed as an indication of a program's
novelty, utility or endorsement by the author. Also, clear lessons
are not always discernible from each project; nevertheless, the
model or approach may warrant emulation. Finally, some
organizations have already developed proposals for adapting their approaches
to other countries; most have not. In the latter cases, the Israeli
organizers are interested in working with American partners to
explore ways to share their experiences and methodologies. The list is
not exhaustive, and we encourage greater research, but the
programs included here are representative of the novel approaches Israelis
have developed for promoting coexistence.
The study is divided into five sections.
Section I describes the Israeli government's involvement in
promoting coexistence in the schools based on its view that this
should be a component of the nation's public policy. The fact that a
special unit in the Ministry of Education was set up for this purpose is
an indication of the seriousness with which the subject is taken and
may offer a model for state and local governments, as well as school boards.
Section II describes five "encounter" programs.
Section III is devoted to 12 programs utilizing the "experiential approach."
Section IV presents two projects for teaching democracy.
Several projects do not fit neatly into these categories, because
they involve components of both the encounter and experiential
approaches, but they are described in the section that best
represents their general philosophy.
Section V summarizes the lessons learned from the different
Israeli approaches to promoting coexistence.
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