On Saturday night Vanessa, Jenn, and I made our way to Haifa via the train. We had to arrive up north the night before because we had a seminar the next morning. It was the last of our education seminars and focused on minorities living in the Galil which is in the northern part of Israel. When I got to Haifa there were other OTZMAnikim who live in the south and went up north for the night too. A few of us went out for some ice cream. I didn’t want to buy ice cream, but I was told I had to. So really, I had no choice.
The next morning we woke up and Vanessa and I went for a run. It was the perfect start to our day. We then showered, got ready, and made our way onto a bus to go to our first stop near Carmiel.
Here we listened to a woman named Tzigalit. She spoke to us about the situation of minorities living in the Galil, and how they and Israelis interact with each other. There are three main ‘minorities’ living in the north — they are all Arabs, though have different religions of Druze, Christian, and Muslim. 20% of the population of Israel is Arab. 80% are Shiites, 10% are Christian, and 10% are Druze.
The basic history behind the situation starts in 1947 when the country was still Palestine and was ruled by the British. Both Jews and Arabs lived here and did not get along with one another. There was a proposal at the time for a Jewish and Arab state, and Tzigalit had showed us a map of what the country could have looked like if this happened.
In 1948 The War of Independence (as Israelis call it) took place — when Israel became an official state. Arabs call this year “Nachba,” in other words, “The Disaster.” A Civil War shortly occurred shortly thereafter which lasted a few months. In 1949 an armistice happened and the fighting ‘stopped.’ The map of Israel was re-drawn (which Tzigalit again showed us a different map to make it clearer) and the Jewish state was rebuilt. The result of this was one true independent Jewish state.
Arabs who stayed within Israel had the same rights and obligations as Israelis as they do today. The only thing they can not do is serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. Some Arabs are allowed to however. Non-religious Druze men can. The women would also be able to, though they choose not to because it is not in their culture to serve. We then spoke on the topic of Bedouins, who can also be members of the IDF. Many choose to because they feel less allegiance to Arab-Palestinians. Plus the army is a good job for them because they get paid and they enjoy taking part in it.
In 1967 the Six-Day war occurred and the map of Israel changed yet again. The Golan was taken from Syria and given to Israel, the West Bank to Jordan, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai desert to Egypt. At this time the Druze had a chance to become Israeli citizens but a lot of them said they did not want to. They still felt loyal to Syria and thought that one day it would be given back. It still belongs to Israel.
Today, for the most part the communities of Arabs and Israelis are segregated. In the school system one school is taught in Hebrew, and another just down the road is taught in Arabic. It’s also interesting to note that all Arabic schools teach Hebrew, but not all Israeli schools teach Arabic — though they are supposed to. One thing I learned while listening to Tzigalit was that most Israelis don’t meet an Arab until they go to University with them. Another example of segregation is within sports, the leagues are not combined.
We then spoke of the infrastructure of the different villages that Arabs live in. Currently there is still no zoning plan within them because famiilies own the land and won’t allow roads or schools to be built on it. Although Israel has a westernized standard of living (for example, having playgrounds built into neighborhoods), this hasn’t been displayed in Arab villages in Israel. Arab women typically stay inside their homes so they thus keep their children inside the home as well. This is just one example of many cultural differences between Arabs and Israelis and why it’s not the easiest thing in the world to live in the same country.
There are a few schools up north where Jews and Arabs go to together. Although it can get complicated. For example, the days of the week are different. In Israel the day of rest is Saturday (Shabbat), but in the Arab world it is on Sunday. However, because we are talking about the country of Israel here (a Jewish state) the children have to go to school on Sunday, whether they’re Jewish or not. They also have different holidays – how do you choose which ones to give off?
On Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s independence day) there is a morning siren heard throughout the whole country where everything stops for two minutes. In the schools there are also ceremonies and poems read all day. In the Arab schools it is like this day simply does not exist.
In the schools where Arabs and Israelis attend together, this was the one day where they were separated. But now, ten years after the building of the first school, they instead are holding a joint ceremony which is a bright way of looking towards the future and stopping the segregation.
On March 30 “Land Day” takes place in Arab villages. This is a commemoration where Arabs protest against Israelis and the confiscation of lands from Arabs to build towns and villages. If you go to an Arab village in Israel you may find yourself in an unpleasant situation. Though it really depends on the situation that year, how tense the two groups of people may be.
One story Tzigalit told us really struck me. In 2006 an Israeli Army patrol was ambushed by Hezbollah. Israel went to get the two soldiers who were kidnapped. During this time around 200 rockets were being struck into Israel every day in the north. People were sitting in shelters all day long. Many of the civilian casualties in Israel at this time were Arabs. One day in Nazareth (where the largest Arab population is found in Israel) a father was playing in his backyard with his children. A rocket soared in and killed both of his kids. When he was interviewed later on about what happened, he called his children martyrs and was Ok that they were killed because he was supportive of the cause.
After listening to Tzigalit we ate some lunch. We then headed to The College of Sakhnin where we met with Israeli-Palestinian citizens. The majority of them were girls who were attending college to become teachers. We sat in the way of ‘speed dating’ where we were able to talk one-on-one with them for about 5-10 minutes at a time. We were asked questions and then told to answer them with each other. I learned so much here and really felt like I was getting a true insiders perspective on the situation.
For many of these girls they have never even left their village. They thus feel that Israel is “boring,” which totally took me back because this country is certainly far from boring. Because we were American they felt they could tell more to us than they may be able to tell an Israeli my age. For this I felt very fortunate.
They said how in this country they do feel discriminated against. They have all the same rights as Israelis, but they can not serve in the IDF. Though when asked if they wanted to, all of them said no. One important thing to note is that all three girls I spoke to told me that they even with the discrimination and the feelings of separation, they know they have a better life in Israel than they would in any other Arab country.
One thing that surprised me during this time was how much they could not understand what we were doing in Israel. “Wait, I thought all Jews lived in Israel. There are Jews living elsewhere in the world? There are Jews in America?!” Once they realized we were Jewish they still couldn’t wrap their fingers around why we would want to come to Israel to volunteer. One girl in OTZMA said when talking with one of the girls she told her how she came to Israel because she feels connected to this place. But the girl could not understand — she said she feels connected to the land she lives on because her family has been there for over 300 years. “How can you feel a connection to a place you’ve never been?” She asked.
Although we do come from completely different backgrounds, and disagree on things, we all still very much got along. We also all got really excited when we talked about dating, being engaged and married, having children, and all of life’s little pleasures. If you take a step back from all of the complications of the world, you come to realize that everyone truly enjoys and gets excited about the same things. Coffee anyone?
After we left the school and went for a hike down a mountain and into the Druze town center of Pki’in. At the hike we stopped along the way with our tour guide to talk about where we were and to learn some things. At one point a girl in our group was speaking and as she spoke she yelled, “And that’s a BEAR!” We all jumped up really fast, Jeff even fell down the hill and started bleeding. Once we all calmed down we realized that bears don’t exist in Israel. It was quite a scary-turned-funny-real-quick moment. Another scary-turned-funny-real-quick moment occurred a little later when I was talking and didn’t realize Jeff was behind me. We then continued down the hill and played a trivia game. After that we ended up in the center of town and ate a delicious meal in a Druze restaurant. I ended the night with a stuffed belly.
The last three photos of this entry were taken by Vanessa Friedman.