On any given weekend, the market of Jaffa is bustling with activity. Tourists wander the streets, stopping to browse the antique shops and boutique clothing stores. Animated conversations in Hebrew, Arabic, and English mingle, interspersed with bursts of laughter. The many restaurants and cafes offering a range of foods from all over the world are filled with young people and families. The atmosphere is lively, trendy … and at first glance, the picture of coexistence.
But sadly the day to day reality for those who live in Jaffa is very different.
Through a long history of displacement, immigration and gentrification, Jaffa has become a ‘mixed’ city of Palestinians and Jews, but its residents live in neighbourhoods largely separated by ethnicity, religion, and socio-economic status. Arab communities suffer disproportionately from poverty, drug use, gun violence and domestic abuse. In the space of two months last year, six members of the Arab community were murdered in Jaffa, four of them women.
This separation of Jews and Arabs extends to the educational system where Jewish and Arab students attend different schools. Even for those from families or communities who are politically centre/centre-left who are open to cross-cultural interaction, there are few opportunities for meaningful encounters with those of a different religion or ethnicity. And an atmosphere of fear and suspicion is reinforced by divisive rhetoric from politicians, on mainstream media, through social media, and often in the classroom.
sadaka-Reut: Arab-Jewish youth partnership
Sadaka-Reut (‘Friendship’ in Arabic and Hebrew) is an organisation of Palestinian and Jewish activists from Jaffa who recognise the inequalities present in Israeli society and are working to build bi-national partnerships through education programmes for youth and young adults. I went to visit them to hear more about their work in March.
I was immediately struck by the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere in the offices. The staff chatted to one another in a mix of Hebrew and Arabic (recognising the importance of being able to speak one another’s languages, the Jewish staff are learning Arabic; the Palestinian staff already speak Hebrew as it is the dominant language in Israel.) When Rawan, one of the Co-Executive Directors, walked in having just returned from a conference in London, she was enveloped in enthusiastic hugs and surrounded by questions about her time away.
I had been impressed by the way they describe their work on their website: As Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel, and as activists, we feel that it is our responsibility to correct the current reality. Our work is based on our sense of belonging to our people, and on the belief that partnership, solidarity and a joint struggle are the only way to secure real change and build a more just and egalitarian society. But it was only when I met them that I realised the depth of relationship these women have (9 women and 1 man work in the offices). It was clear from listening to them that they not only shared a common vision, they had also done the hard work of critical self-awareness and deep listening. The result was a conversation that directly addressed issues of discrimination and separation with a tangible sense of shared responsibility and concern for one another.
As five of us sat together (Rawan and Dina, the Co-Executive Directors; Lee, the Resource Development Coordinator; and Leor, an intern from California) and Lee outlined Sadaka-Reut’s theory of change (image below), I could see how they themselves embody the model they employ across their programmes.
They write in their Annual Report 2017-2018: The theory of change encompasses the process of transformation the participants go through. It begins from the individual-personal level, continues on the relational level as partnership continues to develop in shared spaces, and concludes in the cultural level, widening the circles of influence as they carry on the Sadaka-Reut model wherever they go in life — from their own families and communities and to the wider society.
I listened as they described their work, as interested in how they were communicating as what they were communicating. Confident and collaborative. Passionate and compassionate. Responsive and reflective. These are women of different religions and ethnicities who have created a space in which they can hear, respect, and challenge one another. And it was clear that they do not speak on behalf of ‘those who have no voice’; they are committed to a way of engaging which allows for the voices on the margins to be heard.
This is also reflected in the way they have written their Annual Report, with each section beginning with ‘The view from the margins’, followed by ‘What we’re doing about it.’
They recognise that the first steps through the theory of change — those which enable individuals to find their voice — must take place in the safety of a uni-national setting, where participants can explore issues unique to their religious/ethnic/socio-economic context. Only later in the process will facilitated bi-national conversations be meaningful and transformative.
More can be read about the specific programmes run by Sadaka-Reut in their Annual Report and on their website. Below I’ve included brief summaries and statistics (all taken from their 2017-2018 Report; click on images to open full size). Their main focus is on education, not political advocacy. They firmly believe that ‘any societal change must begin at the individual level and spiral out from there’. (This post continues below the images.)
Building a Culture of Peace
Community in Action
Partners in Shaping Reality
Tours of Jaffa
I have heard it said on more than one occasion by church groups visiting Israel and Palestine that they do not go to Jaffa because it does not present a ‘real’ picture of what is happening in the region, and there is nothing to be learned about the conflict there. They take the ‘coexistence’ they see on the streets as evidence that all is as well as could be expected in the current political environment.
But Rawan challenges this view: ‘Coexistence is eating humous together. Coexistence is not enough. We need to talk about the conflict.’
And so another aspect of Sadaka-Reut’s work is offering tours of Jaffa, asking the participants, ‘Is there coexistence in Jaffa?’ before leading them through the different neighbourhoods and telling the history and current reality from the perspective of the Palestinian residents, as an alternative to the Zionist narrative so often presented. For groups visiting, this is an invaluable way to learn more about the lived reality of the different communities in Jaffa.
I am inspired and challenged by Sadaka-Reut’s approach, which both recognises and honours the importance of community identity, but does not shy away from engaging in the sometimes difficult encounters and conversations necessary for societal change.
As our discussion came to a close, Lee said, ‘Education is key to conflict resolution. We are empowering youth to find their own voice and seek their own future.’
In a land where even many of the activist organisations and NGOs work only within their own communities, theirs is unique and important work which deserves recognition and support from those of us in the international community who share their vision of a just and egalitarian Israeli society.