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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.
Anonymous asked:
First, I just want to say I love the show and Krista you deserve a noble peace prize for the work you do. I have been really enjoying all the pieces stemming from your trip to the Middle East. I just read an editorial from the NYT that resonated with me and just wanted to share it with you'all :-)

Here is the link : http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/25/opinion/25friedman.html?_r=1&smid=fb-nytimes&WT.mc_id=OP-SM-E-FB-SM-LIN-LFT-052511-NYT-NA&WT.mc_ev=click

Thank you for saying so. We’re working hard at presenting many voices from this region and hope we’re adding value to the news reports and political discussions taking place. But, when it comes to shows featuring Israeli and Palestinian voices, the metrics for visits to the websites and podcast downloads for these types of shows dip — often quite dramatically — in the weekly trending graphs.

Online Pageviews for OnBeing.org

We realize numbers aren’t everything, but we do ask ourselves how we can frame and promote these shows differently to attract more ears and eyeballs because we know that these alternative perspectives are worth hearing. Plus, they are so very interesting and relevant to our own lives.

If you have ideas, please help us. We are game for great ideas.

With regard to Thomas Friedman’s column, his idea of West Bank Palestinians peacefully marching all the way to Jerusalem is talk that ignores the realities and logistics of the situation. Mr. Friedman admits that it’s crazy (sorta?), but it’s even crazier than it sounds. But his larger point of building on the idea of Tahrir Square and the Arab Spring is not lost on us either.

—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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Multiple Narratives and Many Truths about the Same Facts Emerge If We Only Listen

by Krista Tippett, host

I first discovered Yossi Klein Halevi in the early days of this program. I picked his book Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist off the shelves of the public library and was riveted by this son of a Holocaust survivor’s journey into, and then beyond, violent rage.

In the 1970s, in Brooklyn where he was growing up, he got very close to a charismatic rabbi who inspired his followers to bomb Soviet embassies to liberate Jews in that now-vanished empire. A deeper connection to the spiritual core of Judaism drew him out and took him to Israel. And there, in heady days of the Oslo Accords of the 90s, he undertook another kind of journey inward and outward — an experiment in religious empathy.

He sought knowledge of the religious others in his land by way of their devotional lives rather than their religious, political, or civic identities. He prayed with monks and nuns and sheiks. He knelt in prayer with his skullcap on in Palestinian mosques. He came, as he described it, not merely to revere but to love Christianity and Islam.

And even as Yossi Klein Halevi was testing — and defying — the border crossings between faiths, the Oslo process was unraveling under bad faith and broken promises on both sides. The second intifada in the early years of this century made Yossi Klein Halevi’s project unthinkable. It also ultimately brought an end to the simple freedom of movement and human contact that had made it possible. Meeting him in person for the first time as a guest in his home in Jerusalem earlier this year — I looked out his window at the wall that obscured what was once an expansive view of desert and of the Palestinian West Bank.

Krista Tippett and Yossi Klein Halevi

During our days in Israel and the West Bank, of course, we also experienced that same wall from the other side — from Palestinian refugee camps and communities where it has sliced life and dreams apart. In this newest most tangible representation of the divide between Israelis and Palestinians, a quintessential characteristic of multiple narratives about the same “facts” emerges. For one side, the wall signifies security and safety; for the other, separation and oppression. Both reactions to it are valid on some deep level.

"There are no facts here," someone said in our early days in Jerusalem. Yossi Klein Halevi admits the maddening intensity of life in a place where the abyss between different interpretations and enactments of the same history, the same facts, obliterates any sense of shared reality, much less a basis for dialogue or peacemaking.

Yossi Klein Halevi — with his own personal wells of integrity and eloquence, of grief and despair — asks provocatively how the dynamics of the Holy Land could be any less dramatic, any less extreme, on their way to whatever resolution, whatever “miracle” they must be leading towards. The Jewish story, after all, is a test case of intimacy with God; Jerusalem in particular is a crucible of sacred sites and stories that trace dispersed glimpses, as he understands it, of “different faces” of God. Yossi Klein Halevi calls this a city where not just religion but the essential human story is played out with a particular intensity. It is messy like the Bible is messy. Like human life, it is treacherous and purposeful at once.

I can’t help but correlate this observation with a conversation I just had with a great astrophysicist, Martin Rees. He recently ended a term as the president of Britain’s Royal Society, the academy to which Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Stephen Hawking have all belonged. And after more than four decades immersed in the study of complex phenomena in the cosmos, Rees freely contends that human beings are the most complex systems in the universe. It is far easier to make definitively true statements about the constitution of stars, he says with no irony, than about dieting or child care. Imagine the Holy Land, then, as a kind of human, geopolitical black hole: space becomes time and time becomes space. Here land becomes memory and memory, land.

I can’t sustain this analogy for long, though. The Holy Land is not a place from which no light can escape. I was captivated by the human courage and long-term (if not short-term) hope that digs roots there right alongside conflict and the death of dreams. In my conversation with Yossi Klein Halevi, as with my recent conversation with the Arab-Israeli civic leader Mohammad Darawshe, I experience an incredible counterintuitive weight of human dignity and possibility.

Israelis and Palestinians both said to me, applying different words but kindred visions, that what is needed — indeed what is underway, however painfully slowly — is something like a human evolution, a maturing of people and peoples. They and I hold on to that promise, even as they also see that history progresses here one step forward and then at least two steps back, with severe trauma on both sides all along the way. To be merely hopeful would be foolish.

Yet somehow — as Martin Rees helps me take seriously — the very complexity of a Yossi Klein Halevi, or a Mohammad Darawshe, is redemptive. It complicates my hearing of the news from this region. The future is always, undeniably and everywhere, a far more fluid, expansive, and surprising thing than we ever take for granted. And as I’ve heard from diverse Israeli and Palestinian conversation partners across the years, the rest of us serve the possibilities of now unimaginable futures when we insist on seeing lives of dignity and courage amidst more prevalent images of despair.

About the image: Yossi Klein Halevi and Krista Tippett speaking in his offices at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. (photo: Trent Gilliss)

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The Literature of Conflict in the “News” Lags Behind the Human Story

by Krista Tippett, host

A Cobbler Repairs a Pair of Boots in the Old City of JerusalemA cobbler repairs a pair of boots in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: Nancy Rosenbaum)

Since we went to Israel and the West Bank, I haven’t been able to read the news from those places in the same way. Before, it generally depressed me. Now I find it painful with a more personal edge.

But on a profounder level than that, I am made crazy by the incompleteness — the narrow lens through which reality in this most intense of human and religious places is filtered. We often only get one side of something that has countless sides, at least more than two. Or we get the tail end of a story that is multi-layered and can’t be told validly without something of its beginning and its middle. And always, in the West, we are focused on what is happening at the tip of the iceberg — the high-level, political arena of negotiations, of votes, of posturing.

So there were big news flashes recently that Fatah and Hamas are resolving to work together. But that did not happen because they had a change of heart. While we were there, thousands of citizens marched on streets of Palestinian cities, inspired by the Arab Spring in Egypt, calling on their two governments to grow up, talk to each other, and better represent their people. That story was buried, understandably, under other unbelievable headlines that week: a Japanese reactor that looked ready to melt down, Saudi tanks rolling in to squash demonstrations in Bahrain, the early days of a Libyan revolution.

I’ve started to look with extra vigilance for pieces of writing that tell more of the truth and suggest more possibility.

Sari Nusseibeh Speaks with Krista Tippett in His Office at Al Quds UniversityThis commentary in the Guardian, while fiercely partisan towards the Palestinian cause, also reveals that what we digest as “news” lags behind the real human story on the ground. I’d also recommend a slim, remarkably thoughtful and readable book in a very different tone by the Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, What is a Palestinian State Worth? (I also interviewed him, in East Jerusalem, and we’ll turn that conversation into a show later this year.) As one reviewer wrote about Nusseibeh’s book, “There is nothing like it in the literature of this conflict. Every year thousands of articles and blog posts are produced about how to end the conflict. They all feel stale. This book does not.”

The truth is, the “literature of the conflict” is limited by its focus merely on conflict and high-level solutions.

A larger truth that increasingly grips me, as my Israeli conversation partner Yossi Klein Halevi says, is that there is something at stake in the Holy Land that gets at what makes all of us human. It matters, and it matters that we aspire to see it with greater nuance.

About the image (bottom): Sari Nusseibeh during our interview in his office at Al Quds University. (photo: Trent Gilliss)

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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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Making Life Out of Ruin in Ramle: The Work of Sculptor Nihad Dabeet

by Janine Rayford, USC graduate journalism student

Nihad Dabeet

“This is the project of my life,” says sculptor Nihad Dabeet, 43, as he gives a tour of his unfinished home in Ramle, Israel. Built over 400 years ago, the house was in ruins until its newest tenant devoted himself to its renovation. Mr. Dabeet says he and his wife continue to excavate and build upon the land, without permission from the government.

Sculpture by Nihad Dabeet's Mother During Pregnancy

Petite and jovial, Mr. Dabeet is an internationally known artist and sculptor who usually works with iron wire. From his dingy jeans and sweatshirt, it is hard to imagine a man whose art can cost thousands of dollars and is displayed and purchased throughout the world, including a recent exhibition in Atlanta, Georgia.

Now Mr. Dabeet’s main masterpiece is his home. Renting from an Arab couple who have owned the property before the State of Israel declared independence in 1948, the Ramle native and his wife have excavated rooms buried under more than 10 feet of sand and rubble.

With an art education from Bulgaria, Mr. Dabeet says that “as a sculptor you understand materials.” This understanding is allowing the Arab citizen of Israel to reconstruct a home out of ruin. So far, Mr. Dabeet has only refurbished a small percentage of the original structure.

What was once rubble has become a modern home with an aged façade. There are flat-screen televisions and jetted hot tubs, with Mr. Dabeet’s sculptures of women and olive trees featured throughout. The new mortar ends towards the back of the house.

Unlike in Jerusalem and Nazareth, the Israeli government and local Ramle municipality have not invested in the architectural preservation of Ramle. It is up to individual residents and shop owners to restore and maintain the centuries-old structures of the biblical city, often without support from the current government.

Unfinished Section of Nihad Dabeet's Home

“They want to clear the old part and to build something new,” says Buthaina Dabit, a Ramle native who is giving a tour of the local ruins. Ms. Dabit points out the remnants of a building from the Ottoman period, which has been partially cleared for a parking lot near local shops.

Today, many buildings in Ramle are dilapidated and unlivable. “It’s Arab culture, so it has to be erased,” says Mr. Dabeet, speculating on why he thinks the city abstains from preservation. Families move on as stones crumble from their properties’ arches and ceilings, burying architecture and artifacts in piles of beige rubble. Stray cats abound amongst relics and materials that could belong in the Smithsonian.

Past the bathroom and through an open quad, the sculptor shows one unfinished room at the back of the house, where the ceiling continues to deteriorate.

“If I am not here to repair this every few years, it will just fall in,” he says.

All of this work will be for not if the city decides to bulldoze the property due to the illegal expansion of the structure. It is difficult for Arab citizens to receive permits to build or expand on their land. If they build without permits, their structures are subject to demolition by the municipality.

Despite lacking a building permit, “he insists to pay the taxes,” said Ms. Dabit. The artist hopes that paying taxes regularly may spare his home from demolition.

One of Mr. Dabeet’s projects is to resurface an entire room using tiles gathered from demolished Arab homes in the area. The artist has no trouble finding these tiles, considering the large number of home demolitions that have occurred in the Arab communities of Ramle and neighboring Lod. In an open-air quad on the property, festive-looking ceramic squares, some broken, stand in piles along the stone wall.

Dabeet’s house sits in the Christian quarter of Ramle, in the shadow of the massive Terra Santa Franciscan monastery and a few blocks down the street from an 800-year-old Arab-Christian restaurant.

Home of Nihad Dabeet

Mr. Dabeet is a self-proclaimed atheist. “I never believed in the b—- s—-,” says the artist, standing next to a small plastic Christmas tree atop his refrigerator. His wife is a Muslim Bedouin from Libya and the mother of his two young daughters. The Dabeets are the only Muslim family in the area.

When Mr. Dabeet’s wife comes home with their girls, he scoops up his eldest daughter Samira Landa. Despite the uncertain future, the father is proud of the home that he is creating for his family, as well as the benefit it brings to the community.

“I was the right person in the right time to come to this place.”

All photos by Bethany Firnharber.


Janine RayfordJanine Rayford is a freelance writer and graduate student in journalism at the University of Southern California. Originally from San Francisco, Rayford obtained her bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley. Her writing has appeared in 944 magazine, LAmag.com, and the Cape Times of South Africa.

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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Coexistence Is in the Eye of the Beholder for Design School Students in Haifa

by Jessica Donath, USC graduate journalism student

Jonathan Land and Eric JudkowitzJonathan Land and Eric Judkowitz (photo: Jessica Donath)

At the Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education in Haifa, a microwave is one of the hot-button issues for students and faculty alike.

“He won’t let us have one because it will be difficult to make sure non-kosher food stays out of the microwave,” says Jonathan Land, the third-year graphic design student’s voice and facial expression caught between restraint and outrage as he describes a diktat from David Alexander, the school’s president.

This type of problem illustrates the tensions between religious and secular Jews in Israel. This level of religious conflict, however, was not on the official agenda when students and faculty met with journalism students from the University of Southern California to discuss how the power of art can facilitate coexistence.

The Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education was founded in 1971 by WIZO, an international women’s Zionist organization, and is located in this seaside city’s multicultural German Colony. In 1868, German members of the Evangelical Templar order started settling in the area. They believed that doing so would hasten the second coming of Christ.

“I could have not found a better home for it,” says David Alexander, an Orthodox Jew.

David AlexanderDavid Alexander (photo: Jessica Donath)

The eloquent educator has no trouble introducing nuance into the discussion. He acknowledges the kosher problem but reminds students that he did not want his school, with all its open space, to permanently smell like a cafeteria. This issue, too, like many questions that touch religion, democracy, or land in Israel, is complicated.

Alexander explains that Neri Bloomfield was different than other Israeli arts and design schools because its students are trained to become high school teachers in their field.

For most of the visiting journalism students, Jewish Israelis, from various ethnic and religious backgrounds studying together with Christian and Muslim Arab-Israelis is the distinguishing element. While this fact of life in institutions of higher education in Israel seems normal to the Israeli students and far less exciting than the low student-to-faculty ratio at the school, their USC counterparts have trouble moving past it.

In smaller group sessions, they inquire about the relationship between arts and politics, as well as the potentially transformative experience that studying and creating art together could have for Jewish and Arabic students.

“I don’t think the idea of a transformative experience is exactly what you should be looking for. How we live our lives on a day-to-day basis is enough,” says photography student Eric Judkowitz, after regaining his composure from laughing hard at the question put to him.

Hady AzaizyHady Azaizy (photo: Sharis Delgadillo)

For Hady Azaizy, the only Arab-Israeli graphic design student currently enrolled at Neri Bloomfield, there are just not enough Arabs in the four design-oriented departments (architecture, graphic design, photography and documentary film) to turn his education into a deliberate exercise in coexistence. Thirty percent of the school’s total student body are Arab-Israelis, but most of them don’t study toward a degree in one of the creative disciplines. Rather, their focus is in culture and educational management.

“Me and you can be in one room together for four years, and maybe I will learn something about you, and maybe you will learn something about me. But just because I study in a place where there are Jews and Arabs doesn’t mean there will be communication,” he says.

But the school they attend is not a place for loners, adds Itay Eylon, who grew up on a kibbutz. When students criticize very personal works in front of a classroom of their peers, they need to be respectful of the narratives and beliefs that are revealed through art.

Itay EylonItay Eylon (photo: Jessica Donath)

Suri Michaeli was looking for openness when she chose a university. The modern Orthodox woman received her primary education at a religious girls school, and she considered more of the same at a small religious arts college. But instead she chose Neri Bloomfield.

“I was looking for a very open place. I didn’t want to be closed-minded. I wanted to have all the experiences that you have here,” she says. Too many topics are taboo in religious schools, she explains while sitting next to Hady, whom she helps to find the right English words to express himself during the group discussion.

For the Neri Bloomfield students, talking about coexistence is far less important than living it.


Jessica DonathJessica Donath is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Southern California. Originally from Frankfurt, Germany, she moved to California in 2009 after spending a year in Prague, Czech Republic, where she studied journalism and political science. She has written and published articles in German and English.

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Discovering the Bahá’í Gardens
by Janine Rayford, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
“Wow, what is that?” This question sprang from my mouth the moment I first saw the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa, Israel.
My classmates and I had just gotten off of the bus in the German Colony area and were on our way to a restaurant that sits on the street just below the breathtaking monument. Since it was nighttime, all I could make out was an organized pattern of lights seeming to ascend into the sky.
I had never heard of the Bahá’í Faith prior to my visit to Haifa. After a bit of research, I found out that Bahá’í is a relatively new monotheistic religion founded in nineteenth-century Persia and that the Bahá’í Gardens (or Terraces of the Bahá’í Faith, or Hanging Gardens of Haifa) are gardens that surround the Shrine of Bab. Bab was the founder of Babism and forerunner to the Bahá’í Faith.

Intrigued by this new information, I decided to get a daytime look and spend my lunch hour at the brilliant edifice. The gardens are a landscaper’s dream (or nightmare, in terms of upkeep). Layers upon layers of perfectly manicured lawns, sparkling fountains, and pruned foliage scale the side of Mount Carmel. Guided tours take awestruck visitors from all faiths up and down the stairs and throughout the flower-lined terraces.
A colleague and I listened in on one tour guide as she described how the Israeli government dealt with the Bahá’í community during the establishment of the Jewish state. Holy places, like the Bahá’í Gardens, would be preserved, but the Bahá’í had to stop their missionary activities and limit for the number of followers allowed to remain in the new nation.
Leaving the gardens, I couldn’t help thinking that in Israel, religious politics plays a part in everything, even the flowers.
(photos by Ron Almog)
Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel    this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the    University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication    & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as     part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations  of   this complex place.
Discovering the Bahá’í Gardens
by Janine Rayford, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
“Wow, what is that?” This question sprang from my mouth the moment I first saw the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa, Israel.
My classmates and I had just gotten off of the bus in the German Colony area and were on our way to a restaurant that sits on the street just below the breathtaking monument. Since it was nighttime, all I could make out was an organized pattern of lights seeming to ascend into the sky.
I had never heard of the Bahá’í Faith prior to my visit to Haifa. After a bit of research, I found out that Bahá’í is a relatively new monotheistic religion founded in nineteenth-century Persia and that the Bahá’í Gardens (or Terraces of the Bahá’í Faith, or Hanging Gardens of Haifa) are gardens that surround the Shrine of Bab. Bab was the founder of Babism and forerunner to the Bahá’í Faith.

Intrigued by this new information, I decided to get a daytime look and spend my lunch hour at the brilliant edifice. The gardens are a landscaper’s dream (or nightmare, in terms of upkeep). Layers upon layers of perfectly manicured lawns, sparkling fountains, and pruned foliage scale the side of Mount Carmel. Guided tours take awestruck visitors from all faiths up and down the stairs and throughout the flower-lined terraces.
A colleague and I listened in on one tour guide as she described how the Israeli government dealt with the Bahá’í community during the establishment of the Jewish state. Holy places, like the Bahá’í Gardens, would be preserved, but the Bahá’í had to stop their missionary activities and limit for the number of followers allowed to remain in the new nation.
Leaving the gardens, I couldn’t help thinking that in Israel, religious politics plays a part in everything, even the flowers.
(photos by Ron Almog)
Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel    this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the    University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication    & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as     part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations  of   this complex place.

Discovering the Bahá’í Gardens

by Janine Rayford, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

“Wow, what is that?” This question sprang from my mouth the moment I first saw the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa, Israel.

My classmates and I had just gotten off of the bus in the German Colony area and were on our way to a restaurant that sits on the street just below the breathtaking monument. Since it was nighttime, all I could make out was an organized pattern of lights seeming to ascend into the sky.

I had never heard of the Bahá’í Faith prior to my visit to Haifa. After a bit of research, I found out that Bahá’í is a relatively new monotheistic religion founded in nineteenth-century Persia and that the Bahá’í Gardens (or Terraces of the Bahá’í Faith, or Hanging Gardens of Haifa) are gardens that surround the Shrine of Bab. Bab was the founder of Babism and forerunner to the Bahá’í Faith.

Israel-Carmel-050508 059

Intrigued by this new information, I decided to get a daytime look and spend my lunch hour at the brilliant edifice. The gardens are a landscaper’s dream (or nightmare, in terms of upkeep). Layers upon layers of perfectly manicured lawns, sparkling fountains, and pruned foliage scale the side of Mount Carmel. Guided tours take awestruck visitors from all faiths up and down the stairs and throughout the flower-lined terraces.

A colleague and I listened in on one tour guide as she described how the Israeli government dealt with the Bahá’í community during the establishment of the Jewish state. Holy places, like the Bahá’í Gardens, would be preserved, but the Bahá’í had to stop their missionary activities and limit for the number of followers allowed to remain in the new nation.

Leaving the gardens, I couldn’t help thinking that in Israel, religious politics plays a part in everything, even the flowers.

(photos by Ron Almog)


Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.

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We all want to see more and more Jews immigrating to Israel, but we aren’t willing to accept conversion over the Internet or by mail.
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Israeli Likud MK Danny Danon, chairman of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.

Haaretz reports that Danon recently affirmed Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s decision not to recognize conversions by most Orthodox rabbis outside of Israel. The implication is that many converts may not be “eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, which grants automatic Israeli citizenship to Jews.”

In his explanation, Rabbi Amar cites that Orthodox rabbis from the European and American continents are receiving bribes from converts up to the sum of one million U.S. dollars.

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Names So Similar
by Bethany Firnhaber, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
Mezer, a kibbutz (collective Jewish community) 45  minutes north of Haifa, is known for its reputation of peaceful, productive coexistence with its Arab neighbors in nearby Meiser. The names of the two locales are so similar that on this sign, the Arabic  script in the middle puts the word for “kibbutz” in parentheses next to the word “Mezer” so there is no confusion.
Names So Similar
by Bethany Firnhaber, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
Mezer, a kibbutz (collective Jewish community) 45  minutes north of Haifa, is known for its reputation of peaceful, productive coexistence with its Arab neighbors in nearby Meiser. The names of the two locales are so similar that on this sign, the Arabic  script in the middle puts the word for “kibbutz” in parentheses next to the word “Mezer” so there is no confusion.

Names So Similar

by Bethany Firnhaber, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Mezer, a kibbutz (collective Jewish community) 45 minutes north of Haifa, is known for its reputation of peaceful, productive coexistence with its Arab neighbors in nearby Meiser. The names of the two locales are so similar that on this sign, the Arabic script in the middle puts the word for “kibbutz” in parentheses next to the word “Mezer” so there is no confusion.

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Architecture Students Design the Future of Israel

by Janine Rayford, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Hagar AdmiWhen Hagar Admi thinks about the political future of Israel, she thinks in terms of blue prints. Admi, an architecture student at the Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education in Haifa, contests that art, specifically architecture, is inherently political.

"It’s all about society in architecture, as you plan for people,” Admi interjected at a discussion on coexistence through art, when photography and animation students explained how politics are not a factor in their work. “It’s not just art. Everything in Israel is political.”

For the Tel Aviv native, design and architecture is about planning for the future of Israel, whatever that may be. She and fellow architecture students are working on a project that directly addresses the possibility of a two-state solution.

"Designs take into account what could happen, what should happen," said Admi.

The project, focusing on the Israeli coastline, allows design students to engage the social and structural implications of Israeli politics. The coastline community may become home to a major railway station, connecting settlements to the cities.

"The way that politicians divide Israel, it doesn’t work. They just draw a line, they don’t employ architecture."

Admi rejected the political apathy of some of her fellow art students. “When you put up a building you plan something, it’s going to stay for a really long time. It has an effect on people’s lives. I think that architecture can actually change things. Maybe I’m naïve?”


Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.

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It is like being totally paralyzed. The most important thing is stability, without it I cannot think. I feel saddened every day.
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Fatmeh and YousefFatmeh, an Arab Palestinian resident of Barta’a, Israel.

Fatmeh, who was born in the West Bank, and her husband Yousef, an Arab born in Israel, are unable to visit her family who live minutes away on the other side of the separation wall, reports USC’s Christin Davis. They married before Israeli law disallowed Palestinians born in the West Bank from freely living and moving about inside the state of Israel and outside lands ruled by the Palestinian Authority. In order to stay with her husband, Fatmeh must go through the “grueling process” of reapplying for temporary identification every year since she cannot become a citizen of Israel.

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Arabs Lead Peaceful Demonstration in Nazareth

by Sharis Delgadillo, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

A small group of Palestinian-Israeli demonstrators gathered Tuesday evening in Nazareth to call for the reunification of the divided Palestinian parties of Hamas and Fatah.

"We are demonstrating here to push on both parties. They must sit and reunite and confront the Israelis in politics. I’m not talking about violence," said Mubada Gargoura, a member of the Israeli Communist Party (ICP).

The ICP and Hadash, which has four members in the 120-seat Knesset parliamentary government, organized this peaceful candlelit demonstration. It supports the evacuation of all Jewish settlements and the right of return or compensation for Palestinian refugees. The event was part of a larger set of coordinated demonstrations held inside the Palestinian occupied territories of Ramallah, Nablus, and Gaza.

An example of violent tensions between the two groups occurred last week. Five members of an Israeli settler family, including a baby, were stabbed to death inside their home in Itamar, a village in the West Bank. Some members in the Israeli-Jewish community were outraged and called the assault a Palestinian “terrorist attack.”


Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.

via USC: Reporting on Israel

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