Meet Doaa Diab-Abu Elhija: “Shared Society is a Dream – and a Strategy.”

In 2013, then 25-year-old Doaa Diab-Abu Elhija joined Shatil’s Haifa staff and simultaneously became a participant in Shatil’s Leadership for a Shared Society course. In the two years since, Doaa has become a leading activist for shared society, bringing together Jews and Arabs in in Carmiel and Upper Nazareth, and leading joint actions calling for restoring calm during the recent hostilities.

“I am Doaa Diab-Abu Elhija, feminist and social activist,” she wrote on a recent post on Shatil’s Shared Society Facebook page. “I call on the public, Jewish and Arab, not to get dragged into cycles of hate and violence… in times like these, we have to work together to calm things and to create a respectful discourse in order to promote a truly shared society.”

Doaa backs up her words with actions: On October 9 and again on October 16, Jewish and Arab members of the Carmiel activist group along with Women Wage Peace, the Galilee Forum for Civil Equality, and the Forum against Racism formed a human chain at a major intersection on Route 85, at the Western entrance to Carmiel opposite the village of Dir el Assad. The rally called for “calming the situation and rehabilitating the shattered trust between Arabs and Jews.”

“Many people who drove by slowed down to read our signs and to encourage us,” said Doaa, a primary organizer of the events. “Arab mayors came and shook our hands, people brought us drinks and ice cream. There was a real feeling of warmth. It looks like people want this.” The rallies drew significant media attention, with Doaa being interviewed twice on radio about the group’s activities and the concept of a shared society.

“The idea of a human chain was to show that what connects us is our humanity and that we have to fill in the missing links; to make heard the sane voices in the Galilee and in the country,” says Doaa. “At the end, we formed a circle and talked. We connected.”

A mother of two-year-old twins with an MA in gender studies, Doaa comes by her desire for Arabs and Jews to live together peacefully in the most natural way. For as long as she can remember, her family had Christian, Jewish, and Muslim friends and her home in Tamra was open and accepting.

“My parents’ emphasis on respect, manners and culture guides me till today,” she says.

Doaa finds great satisfaction in her job as shared society organizer at Shatil. “I’m working for something important,” she says. “I’m very connected to values — shared society, social justice, social change, solidarity – and these are the components of the shared life. Through my work, I feel I am creating change.”

While she has vision and hope, Doaa also is “frustrated and disappointed” by the current situation.

“We return to these situations of violence over and over,” she says. “We don’t succeed in getting out of it. It’s not a summer cloud that passes.”

Doaa’s consciousness about her own identity was raised on her 16th birthday when she became eligible for a state identity card.

“Instead of writing ‘Arab,’ they put eight stars on the card,” she says. “I thought, ‘What kind of nonsense is this? Everyone knows that eight stars means I’m an Arab. I wrote a poem that day about the complexity of my identity and my reservations for the way it was portrayed on the identity card. That was the beginning.

“I started going deeper. Asking questions. My mother told me she was made to wave an Israeli flag on Independence Day when she was little. My grandfather told me about our whole village climbing up a mountain from fear in 1948 and giving their weapons to the army. We didn’t learn about these things in school and it was forbidden to talk about the Naqba (the “disaster,” as Palestinians call the displacement that accompanied Israel’s founding.) I started to read, to go to marches and at the university I learned that there was an option to say ‘I am a Palestinian citizen of Israel.’ That represents me.

“I connect this identity with everything that’s happening today. It’s hard for Israeli Jews to understand the connection we feel to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. They don’t understand it’s a blood tie… I believe that for the conflict to be resolved and to create the basis for a shared society, the occupation must end.

“When conflict starts, the discourse of exclusion begins. It hurts. I was born here. I’m not going anywhere.

“I’m also frustrated because on the one hand, I feel so much respect and love from the Jews I deal with because I’m more connected to my humanity than to politics. But not all the Jews in Israel understand how complex our reality it, or the difficulty of our daily lives. I try to change consciousness on both sides.

“I know we can live well together, like we have in the past… without negating our identities. I know if a person would relate to the person opposite him as a human being, they would get along. Our humanity connects us.

“Shared society is a dream – and a strategy. It’s not like I can do something today and tomorrow I’ll live in a shared society. It’s a dream we have to invest so many resources and so much work in. First, both sides have to want it and have to get to know each other. If everyone brings his reality and his pain, we will connect.

“At Shatil, Arab and Jewish staff know how to speak deeply. We get to know one another on a deep level. We respect each other’s narratives, and accept each other’s right to be here, so it’s easier to work together.”

“There have been shared society and peace and brotherhood activities all over the country in recent weeks. I hope we can influence our leaders.”

November 2015