Building a Shared Society One Activist at a Time

It began organically. As the town of Givat Ela – a Jewish community village of 2,000 in the north of Israel – grew, new neighbourhoods brought the community physically closer to the neighbouring Palestinian-Israeli town of Ilut. Many Ilut residents – mostly women – also find it convenient to come to Givat Ela to walk and young Ilut families enjoy Givat Ela’s playgrounds.

But some residents wanted more organised contact. “Some of us simply wanted to get closer to our neighbours in order to increase mutual understanding,” said Yael Fogelman, a founding resident of Givat Ela.

“We began planning a joint walk for our two communities in these beautiful surroundings we share,” said Yael, a social worker and graduate of the first cohort of Shatil’s Leadership for Shared Society course. The second round recently began with 40 participants.

Givat Ela residents began an initiative aimed at connecting the residents of the neighbouring towns. In order to get the initiative off the ground, Yael decided to join the Shatil course.

“The people, ideas and projects we were exposed to in the course helped me better formulate and develop this idea,” Yael said. “It widened my perspective as well as our small organising group.”

In the initial meetings, the focus veered toward problems with their Arab neighbours. Newer residents were bothered by the call of the muezzin. Others said they were upset by the smell of animal carcasses improperly disposed.

“It’s amazing to see the change in our group from before the Shatil course and after,” says Yael. “Shatil’s Mohammad Khalil, who guided the course, came to one of our meetings and completely turned our heads around. After listening to us, he noted that we were working from a place of condescension rather than collaboration. That had a strong influence on the group. Sometimes you have to give people a different pair of lenses through which to see. We changed our perspective.”

Since then, and with support from the Jezreel Valley Regional Council and the Ilut Local Council, the group hired NIF-grantee Givat Haviva to guide them in their efforts. Givat Haviva first did a survey of the two communities to determine people’s attitudes towards joint action. The results were mixed, but both communities’ leadership decided to run with the project. The next step was to form steering committees in both communities and the group is currently working on establishing one joint steering committee from these two groups.

Shortly after the course, a formal meeting with group members, representatives of the Jezreel Valley Regional Council, the Ilut Local Council, and the leadership of Givat Ela met at the office of the mayor of Ilut to officially launch the project.

“It’s a long, slow process, but we’re trying to do it right,” said Yael. “One thing I learned at Shatil: Things like this take time.”

Shatil’s’ Leadership for Shared Society course aims to create a network of Palestinian-Israeli and Jewish leaders who formulate and implement models and projects to promote equality and better relations among Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens. The course meets in both Jewish and Arab locales throughout the country. Participants learn from the successes and failures of other activists and build a network for increased impact.

October 2016