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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

I have lived and worked in Dearborn, Michigan for 14 years. We have one of the largest Muslim populations outside of the Middle East. Come to my city and meet my friends. You will find yourself surrounded by peaceful, loving, and tolerant people, many of whom also happen to be Muslim. I wouldn’t want to raise my kids anywhere else.
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Janet HughesJanet Hughes left this poignant comment on our Facebook page in response to our recent post on the varied voices of Muslims.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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When a Jewish Kibbutz Neighbors an Arab Village: 50 Years of Cooperation in Israel

by Bethany Firnhaber, Rosalina Nieves, and Robyn Carolyn Price

The relationship between Arabs and Jews in Israel has been strained by failed peace agreements, suicide bombings, and the construction of a separation wall — all which have fostered fear and anger on both sides.

Since Israel became a state in 1948, the road to peaceful coexistence has been, as many people in the region describe it, complicated. Somewhere in the midst of the conflict, however, are two communities — one Arab and one Jewish — that for years have shared a well, harvested crops together, and attended each others’ weddings and funerals.

Map of Meiser and MezerKibbutz Mezer, a collective Jewish community, and the Arab village Meiser are located less than a half-mile from each other and from the “green line” border with the West Bank.

Their relationship began in the early ’50s when Kibbutz Mezer was established. Unable to find a viable water source of their own, the new kibbutz relied on the generosity of its Arab neighbors, who allowed them to share their own small well. In gratitude, Kibbutz Mezer shared with Meiser tips for navigating the new Israeli bureaucracy.

Both communities say that, in time, respect and even friendships grew. And not even the murder of a family at the kibbutz by a Palestinian extremist on November 10, 2002 could dismantle the peaceful relationship the two communities share.

The video above is a tale of Mezer and Meiser, communities that have lived side by side for over 55 years, offering a model of what peaceful coexistence in the region might look like.


Bethany Firnhaber Bethany Firnhaber is a Los Angeles-based freelance reporter and photographer who recently received a master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Southern California. She is most interested in reporting on issues of social responsibility and human rights, especially across cultural and international borders.  
 

Rosalina Nieves Rosalina Nieves is a master’s degree candidate in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Southern California. After graduating from Purdue University, she began her career at WFLD-TV (FOX) in Chicago. Since that time, she has worked at KABC-TV and is currently an assignment editor at CNN’s Los Angeles bureau.

Robyn Carolyn PriceRobyn Carolyn Price is native of Los Angeles, California. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from New York University, and studied in Florence, Italy. She is currently a master’s degree candidate in the Specialized Journalism Program at the University of Southern California. Her specialization is American politics and its effects on marginalized communities.

Read more about their reporting in Mezer and Meiser on their website, We would also like to include a link to the projects’s website, Coexistence in Israel: A Tale of Two Cities.

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Canada’s Tent of Abraham: Jews Extend Qur’an to Muslims

by Habeeb Alli, special contributor

ch'town mosque.
A Charlottestown mosque in Canada invites all. (photo: level 5 vegan/Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)

I’m thrilled again to have been a part of recent history. While someone burned the Qur’an in the United States, another presented us with a Qur’an in an expression of solidarity. I told this to my congregation during a Friday service and they were all moved by the gesture.

For the eighth year, an exercise of interfaith exchange between Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Ontario has progressed in good faith — and the gift of the Qur’an was this year’s highlight. The Abraham Festival in Peterborough originated on the premise that all three faiths have a common heritage, which needs to be explored and shared. Walking through the symbolic tent of Abraham — referring to the biblical prophet’s tent, a place of hospitality and engagement with strangers which was open to the four winds — in order to enter the St. Andrew’s United Church gave attendees the sense that history can be relived, even in a modern-day setting.

Dr. Dan Houpt, a Jewish partner, facilitator, and doctor who has been keen in bringing the three faiths together in Peterborough, presented the Qur’an to us Muslims during the festival last month. He first suggested the idea to his Muslim counterpart and co-founder Elizabeth Rahman, who then consulted with the Canadian Council of Imams about the gift. Rahman is a convert from the UK and first became active in the community in the 1970s, with her late Indian husband.

The Muslims Students Association at the nearby Trent University hosted the Friday service, on the first day of the festival this year, so that Christian and Jewish neighbours could observe the presenting of the Qur’an. Houpt offered some thoughts on the gift, stating, “It shows we stand with [Muslims] in solidarity,” and then added that this offering “shows it’s a terrible act to burn a holy book.”

I offered my gratitude and reminded the audience — comprised of people of all three faiths — that it is a tribute well received on behalf of all Muslims and that the desecration of any holy book is an attack on all Holy Scriptures. I also reminded them that this act was in line with a historic tradition when the Muslim Ibn Rushd, Jewish Maimonides, and Christian Thomas Aquinas learnt from one another’s works in 12th-century Spain, which even John Paul II recognised as being of significant historical importance.

This year’s theme of the Abraham Festival was forgiveness. Many facilitators were present to share what their faith offered on the subject of forgiving others. In my speech, I told attendees that “forgiveness is an interesting topic because you often need it for people you love the most. The person you love the most can hurt you the most. And forgiveness lightens the burden.”

The presentation of the Qur’an by the local Jewish community was a way to show goodwill and remove any misunderstanding and hurt that Muslims may have experienced in today’s unfortunate atmosphere of Islamophobia — something Jews can relate to given their long years of dealing with anti-Semitism.

I also told festival goers that recently a group of Jewish people had donated money and time to build a mosque in Toronto. Television producer Kenny Hotz will highlight this daring project, the Peace Mosque, in his documentary to be shown on the Showcase Television channel this spring.

Rahman was recognised during the event and I handed her a card of appreciation along with the Qur’an, which she will use during her tours to the area’s schools and prisons. Muslims have been overwhelmed by and thankful for this token of solidarity, for such is the tradition of Abraham.


Habeeb AlliHabeeb Alli is a freelance writer for The Ambition, a scholar on allexperts.com, and the author of 12 books on Islam.

A version of this article was published by the Common Ground News Service on May 10, 2011. Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Life Together: Arab-Israeli professor in Galilee Partners with Jewish University in Jerusalem to Deal with Diversity

PART THREE: OVERCOMING STEREOTYPES IN THE COLLEGE CLASSROOM

by Christin Davis, USC graduate journalism student

Manal YazbakProfessor Manal Yazbak (photo: Christin Davis)

Manal Yazbak looks down when she remembers the treatment that some of her Jewish teachers meted out to Arab students.

“Some lecturers mistreated us once they knew we were Arabs,” she said of her experience at The Hebrew University, where she earned a doctorate in Education Management. “One proficiency teacher was very rude to us. And it didn’t matter how hard we tried, she gave us bad marks.”

In the Jewish state of Israel, Ms. Yazbak is a member of the minority. Arab citizens of Israel comprise just over 20 percent of the country’s total population. Ms. Yazbak felt the physical and ideological separation of Jews and Arabs in Nazareth while completing her teaching practicum at a Jewish elementary school.

“In their teaching, they ignored the existence of people living in Israel before the state was created,” she said. “They said the Arabs are ‘violent and try to kill us.’ It really bothered me because it was like brainwashing.”

Now as a professor at Sakhnin Teacher’s College in the Galilee — which includes mostly Muslim and Christian Arab students — Ms. Yazbak instructs a course on dealing with diversity for second-year students in the English department. The class is taught in partnership with the David Yellin College of Education in Jerusalem, and comprised primarily of Jewish students.Yazbak_ChurchOfAnnunciation02

Wearing a sharp red pea coat, Ms. Yazbak, 40, pushed her shoulder-length russet hair behind her ear. In a chic eatery not far from the Well of Annunciation, where Christians believe Mary learned she would bear the son of God, Yazbak conveyed a devotion to teaching students how to deal with the “other” and promote a peaceful resolution to her nation’s conflict. With a self-control that is not riled by or indulged in extreme emotions, she said she believes this outcome is possible despite a number of her own failed friendships with Jews.

“The [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is endless, but my hope is to raise awareness of human beings,” Ms. Yazbak said, “so that between ethnic groups and religions we can tolerate each other.”

Yazbak’s own experiences with the “other” rarely had happy endings. Growing up in Nazareth she and her siblings spent time with her father’s best friend, a Jewish man from Ra’anana. The two met while working together in a car factory. Having daughters about the same age, the two fathers and their families spent Saturdays together, often barbecuing and taking trips to the water. Ms. Yazbak attended an Arab junior high school that partnered with a Jewish school for activities. She said they even had sleepovers at each other’s homes. But neither experience bred lasting relationships.

"The truth is we didn’t make real friends,” Ms. Yazbak said, “but it was nice while it lasted.”

She later lived in Jerusalem for eight years while attending university and made friends with a few Jewish students. They studied together, but didn’t maintain contact following graduation. “There wasn’t email or mobile phones then, so we didn’t keep in touch,” she said.

According to Ms. Yazbak, hers is the only course in Israel that focuses on teaching diversity. She said some education is directed toward multiculturalism or social issues, but no other class instructs future teachers in how to reduce stereotypes and interact with people who are different than they are.

“We changed the name of the course a couple of times, but we chose Dealing with Diversity since it includes all the themes of conflict resolution and bias awareness,” Ms. Yazbak said. “The ‘other’ could be any other, not necessarily the Jewish other. The key is interaction.”

The one-year program — conducted in English to put both groups on equal footing — is aimed at developing student awareness of bias and stereotyping as well as teaching skills for conflict resolution. It incorporates activities, theoretical material and application, and is currently in its third year.

At the end of the first semester, students from both colleges meet together in Jerusalem. They discuss their own identity and the personal experiences that led to a desire to teach. Yazbak said by highlighting this similarity in career choice, students see commonality between themselves and their Arab or Jewish counterparts and start to reduce stereotypes.

They then divide into groups of four — two from each college — and decide on a topic for a collaborative project. During the second semester, groups prepare a presentation via online meetings. The projects require group research, discussion, negotiation, planning, and compromise, and then are presented in a final combined meeting at the end of the academic year in the Galilee. Previous projects presented strategies for classroom conflict resolution skills and using language to prevent conflict between pupils.

“My students haven’t met Jewish students before, and the opposite is true for the Jewish students,” Ms. Yazbak said. “The Jewish students are astonished when they see we’re not living in tents. Meeting together produces a change of attitudes — even the food and atmosphere helps gain better understanding of the other.”

After the final meeting in 2010, an Arab student thanked Ms. Yazbak for the opportunity to meet Jewish students with no enmity and said, “Together we learned about conflict resolution, an emergency need for the new generation.”

The course has had its challenges. In its first year, the initial meeting came just after the Gaza Operation; in the second year, it began the week following the Gaza flotilla incident. Both events, Yazbak said, made the Jewish students fearful of visiting the college in the Galilee.

“The Jewish students are easily affected by the political situation in the country, which means they want an excuse not to come to Arab cities,” Ms. Yazbak said. “They are always threatened. Those who did come learned that political disagreements did not rule out collaboration on a human level, nor did they overshadow other areas of commonality.” She said it’s important for these teachers in training to receive this kind of education so that when they one day lead a classroom of young people they can have a positive influence in eliminating stereotypes about Jewish and Arab people.

“The political situation in [Israel] discourages me sometimes, but I believe in peaceful resolution. It’s the only way since other alternatives exercise all sorts of violence,” Ms. Yazbak said. “Coexistence is a hard question, but [in this class] we want to understand each other.”

Photo (bottom): The Well of Annunciation in Galilee by Christin Davis.


Christin DavisChristin Davis is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Southern California, and the managing editor for Caring, a magazine focused on social services produced by The Salvation Army.

This series is part of a collaboration between On Being and the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism in an attempt to add to the public’s understanding of the diversity of stories of daily life in Israel and the West Bank.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Life Together: Haifa Cultural Center Builds Community Among Arabs and Jews

PART TWO: CHIPPING AWAY AT STEREOTYPES THROUGH SHARED INTERESTS

by Christin Davis, USC graduate journalism student

Assaf RonAssaf Ron (photo: Christin Davis)

“I was raised in a pluralistic house,” said Assaf Ron, a Jewish man from Haifa, Israel. “An Arab was not cursed, he was a person.”

In a country where separation — even physical walls — between Arabs and Jews is common, Mr. Ron’s perspective stands out. News headlines included the murder of a Jewish settler family in the West Bank as Ron, 51, sat in his Haifa office, flooded by a strong sea breeze. Mr. Ron discussed his work as the executive director of Beit Hagefen Arab Jewish Center, a nonprofit cultural center in Haifa. Though he has no written job description, Mr. Ron said his overall role is to promote a need for mutual respect between people, specifically Jews and Arabs.

“My definition of coexistence is normalization, to respect the other’s narrative,” Mr. Ron said. “This is the biggest and hardest step on the way to coexistence.”

Beit Hagefen, according to Mr. Ron, is a “window to a multicultural community” where Jews and Arabs interact together. Despite living in the same city, he said, the two groups do not interact, so the center encourages and facilitates connections through activities in the local area.

The center has an art gallery, a library, and an Arab theater. It recently began a women’s walking club, a program bringing Arab and Jewish families together in each others’ homes, and a photography class that allows for young people to connect through their work. Founded in 1963, it is a non-profit organization supported by the Haifa municipality; the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport; and private donations.

HaifaBeit Hagefen cultural center in Haifa. (photo: Christin Davis)

“It is important to me to have people respect and accept the other, no matter his religion, nationality, or education,” Mr. Ron said. “There is only one way to live a good life on this globe — share resources and respect differences among people. I truly believe it is in my power to convince people of these ideas.”

Before coming to Beit Hagefen, Mr. Ron, who has a master’s degree in public administration from Haifa University, was the executive director of the department of education for the regional council in Gilboa, a rural area bordering the West Bank. Functioning much like a superintendent does in the United States, Mr. Ron oversaw seven Arab and six Jewish schools, often bringing together the teachers for collaboration. In his current position, Mr. Ron overseas the departments of Beit Hagefen, initiates new projects, raises funds, networks, and coaches the staff.

Mr. Ron works closely with Ulfat Haider, the program manager at Beit Hagefen and an Arab woman. Together, they promote “neighborliness.” According to Mr. Ron, this means, “We don’t have to agree about everything. If Palestinian is the way you define yourself, it doesn’t mean you want to do anything to me.”

He acknowledged the ever-present Israeli-Palestinian conflict but said that at Beit Hagefen “we reduce the level of fear and hatred and increase the understanding of the other’s narrative. We try to reduce stereotypes.”

HaifaA mother and her son play outside Beit Hagefen community center. (photo: Christin Davis)

It’s an ongoing effort, as Mr. Ron learned when his son came home, excited to have made a new friend. Mr. Ron asked his son if he wanted to invite the boy to their house. “’Are you crazy? He’s Arab,’ my son said,” Mr. Ron recalled. “Can you imagine? My house is one of coexistence, but he still gets this from the outside. Why couldn’t we invite him over?”

Mr. Ron does make clear that he supports a Jewish state, “but not a Jewish state that is against civil rights for all people,” he said. “Ask Arabs, they want to live here because it is a democracy — even if it is not completely equal now,” Mr. Ron said. “We are an ethnic democracy. Jews have some benefits above the rest. In the eyes of the world, this is racism…sorry. My answer might be different if there was democracy in the Middle East. But right now, with the hypocrisy of terrorism, I’m too frightened.”

Assaf RonI trust the Arabs that live in Israel,” he said. “They choose to live here. But you can always find one or two people that are not trustworthy.”

Mr. Ron said he doesn’t consider himself that different from other Jews but has “more structured views and general tolerance.” His friends, however, question his work toward coexistence.

“People call me naïve,” he said. “I insist on being naïve… It’s just believing in people. I learned that if you respect people as human beings and hear their story, most will respect you as well.”


Christin DavisChristin Davis is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Southern California, and the managing editor for Caring, a magazine focused on social services produced by The Salvation Army.

This report is part of a collaboration between On Being and the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism in an attempt to add to the public’s understanding of the diversity of stories of daily life in Israel and the West Bank.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Life Together: Bereaved Families Create Social Media Space Aiming at Reconciliation and Not Protest

PART ONE: EXPERIENCING THE OTHER ONLINE

by Christin Davis, USC graduate journalism student

Abuawwada and Barnea Siham Abuawwada and Aaron Barnea (photo: Christin Davis)

With a set goal in mind, social media moves people. This is especially true in our heavily networked world where social media is enabling the spread of popular revolutions across the Arab world — protesters organizing via Facebook groups and Twitter campaigns.

The Parents Circle Families Forum, an organization of more than 500 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost immediate family members as a direct result of the conflict, now has a plan to use social media as a tool, not for protest, but for reconciliation.

Their Crack in the Wall (CITW) campaign connects Israelis and Palestinians in order to share stories of the “other side.” The aim, according to group member Aaron Barnea, is to break down psychological, if not physical, barriers between the two peoples. The project is set to launch this June.

Mr. Barnea’s youngest son was killed in 1999 while serving his mandatory duty in the Israeli Defense Forces. While explaining the trauma of his loss in a Jerusalem meeting, Parents Circle member Siham Abuawwada, a Palestinian from the West Bank, took Barnea’s hands into her own, “I am so, so sorry for your loss.”

At the age of 14, Ms. Abuawwada took on the responsibility of raising and caring for her five siblings after her mother was first arrested and periodically jailed in subsequent years. In 2000, her closest brother was shot in the head at an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank. “All of us have a broken heart,” she said. “I don’t have to forgive or forget, but I have to understand the other.”

The idea is to determine how to “translate rage into human words and find a path to work together,” Mr. Barnea said. ”We have a deep feeling that what happened to us shouldn’t happen to other people.”

While mourning for his son, Mr. Barnea said he realized that Palestinians were also demonstrating against the conflict and had lost their beloved. “They were talking the same language of peace. It was a shocking, enlightening new experience,” he said. “As an organization, we give the ‘other’ a human dimension, which is necessary to create the belief that reconciliation is possible, and fundamental to peace. With social networks, we can create an open discussion with millions of people in the region.”

CITW follows the organization’s 2002 initiative, Hello-Shalom-Salaam, a telephone hotline and voicemail system that allowed Israelis and Palestinians to engage with each other. Since its launch, the project has recorded one million minutes of dialogue.

In a virtual venue, CITW offers the space for individuals to express views and tell stories from their community, which will be immediately translated into the other’s language — Arabic or Hebrew.

Mr. Barnea said CITW is not an effort to promote one narrative or the other, but simply to portray to people that there is in fact another side. By targeting youth, Parents Circle hopes to move both peoples toward understanding and dialogue.

“It is necessary to create a belief that reconciliation is possible,” Mr. Barnea said. “Not only is it possible, but it is fundamental for any peace agreement. Without reconciliation, there is no peace.”


Christin DavisChristin Davis is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Southern California, and the managing editor for Caring, a magazine focused on social services produced by The Salvation Army.

This series is part of a collaboration between On Being and the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism in an attempt to add to the public’s understanding of the diversity of stories of daily life in Israel and the West Bank.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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We Must Pay Attention to the Quiet, Counterintuitive Possibilities: Mohammad Darawshe and Children of Both Identities

by Krista Tippett, host

It’s been difficult for me to answer the simple question: How was it?

"Moving." "Mindblowing." "Disheartening." "Emboldening."

These are some of the contradictory words that immediately come to mind when describing our 10-day reporting trip in March to Jerusalem and the West Bank. None of them do justice to the complexity of what I experienced. I have barely begun to make sense of it all. We expect to create several shows from the encounters of those intense days on the road. And I suspect that creating them will be my way of working through what I learned and how it has imprinted me.

This complexity of Israeli-Palestinian realities — I can only use that word in the plural now — is precisely the challenge. Of course, I knew this intellectually, politically, and historically, but I am always interested in looking inside and beyond those categories for the human landscape of pain and joy, hope and fear, imagination and possibility.

Everything that I thought I grasped about these peoples revealed itself as far too simple. Familiar categories of identity like left, right, and center; Arab and Jew; religious and secular; Israeli and Palestinian do not suffice. Just as complex are sensitive designations such as “settler” and “refugee.”Krista with Mohammad Darawshe

This multiplicity of Israeli-Palestinian identities is a theme that will run through the shows we are producing from this trip in the coming months. We have, I think, a wonderful and fitting beginning in Mohammad Darawshe. He is a dignified and moving voice of one of the least-noticed groups of people who inhabit these ancient lands. His very being confounds familiar distinctions and necessitates daily coexistence. He is Israeli and Palestinian, like 20 percent of Israel’s population. It’s a both/and proposition, not an either/or. He speaks both Hebrew and Arabic. He is both Muslim and a citizen of the Jewish state.

I am a bit embarrassed to confess that I had never really grasped the story of Arab citizens of Israel even as I’ve delved into other more visible layers of history that have shaped the Israeli-Palestinian present. How many of us have heard the story of the approximately 150,000 Palestinians who, in 1948, stayed home?

Today, Mohammad Darawshe has about 6,500 relatives in his hometown of Iksal, located near the town of Nazareth. His children are the 28th generation of his family to live there. When Arab armies attacked the fledgling state of Israel in 1948, most of the inhabitants of his village did not become refugees but instead took refuge in nearby mountains. And when they returned to their homes after the last shot had fallen, they found themselves citizens, as he puts it, of a new sovereignty, fellow citizens with yesterday’s enemies.

Arab citizens of Israel have lived in an uncertain and tense relationship with larger Israeli culture, as a whole, ever since that time. As a collective, as Mohammad Darawshe points out, they are often viewed with suspicion, a suspicion in some cases deserved. But he represents another possibility entirely. He understands Arab citizens of Israel like himself as a bridge between Israelis and Palestinians, and the larger Arab world. Interestingly, he asserts, the Arab world is largely unaware of the existence of Palestinians with Israeli passports, just like the rest of us.

And, in a very real sense, the ordinariness of Mohammad Darawshe’s pursuit of a constructive place in the ongoing drama of this region is what makes him, and others like him, so notable. As co-director of a civic organization called the Abraham Fund Initiatives, Mohammad Darawshe’s daily work revolves as much around getting more women from his community educated and employed as around navigating security issues with Israeli military officers.

The flip side of being what Mohammad Darawshe calls “children of both identities” in a land of conflict, after all, is the threat — and the very real recurring sense — of being politically orphaned. With the same passion with which he insists that he and his people stayed home and will remain home, Mohammad Darawshe insists that Israeli Jews have also come home, and that their children have a right to the same safety and prosperity he wishes for his own. These are simple human assumptions that have been impossible to reach in the multinational peace negotiations of the last three decades. Yet for Mohammad Darawshe, they are simply the shape of daily, civic survival.

In his presence, I recognize dignity, courage, and humility, qualities not much represented in the contentious narratives that emerge from this region. And if he can muster these qualities, surely we can meet them by paying attention to the quietly counterintuitive possibilities he and others embody.

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