AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Since the early 1990s, the impact and nature of Arab-Jewish educational programs in Israel have generated a great deal of interest among academics, politicians, and the general public (Abu-Nimer, 1999; Bar & Bargal, 1995; Bargal & Bar, 1992; Weiner, Arnon, & Weiner, 1992). It is essential that scholars and practitioners in Israel continue to advance the study of Arab-Jewish coexistence programs, especially after the conflict escalation of the October 2000 events in which 13 Arab citizens were killed by Israeli security forces in an attempt to control the protest following Ariel Sharon's visit to the Holy Mosque in Jerusalem (For a more extensive historical review of the Arab-Jewish relations in Israel see Abu-Nimer, 1999 or Halabi, 2000).
In the last two decades, the Arab-Jewish field of coexistence has expanded and diversified. The Abraham Fund's directory of organizations that foster coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel illustrates the extent of growth in this field (Weiner, Arnon, & Weiner, 1992). The directory includes 660 pages that describe the work of 275 organizations that deal with coexistence. However, the interethnic encounter remains the primary tool for coexistence and dialogue.
Evaluating the Function of Interethnic Encounter
Oganized and conducted primarily by nonprofit organizations in Israel, each encounter brings Arab and Jewish participants together for a brief period of contact, from one to three days. Arab and Jewish facilitators, trained in the methodology of their sponsoring organization, jointly lead encounters (Abu-Nimer, 1999). Most of the encounters' participants are students or teachers from Jewish and Arab schools. The ministry of education and other government agencies usually encourage the work of encounters and related projects. Since 1993, approximately 45 organizations, several of which began their work in the early 1970s, have used interethnic encounters in their coexistence projects. These organizations, often led by an Israeli-Jewish coordinator or director, derive the bulk of their funding for encounter programs from sources within the United States and, more recently, Europe (Abu-Nimer, 1999).
Conflict resolution theories and practice have established the principle that even with successful elite politics, there is no alternative or substitution for grassroot coexistence and dialogue projects (Saunders, 1999). Thus, the Arab-Jewish coexistence field can offer superior opportunities for reconciliation in Israel. The Arab-Jewish encounter programs, for example, played an integral role in thwarting the racist movement of Rabbi Meir Khana, which lasted in Israel from 1982-1986 (Hall-Cathala, 1990; Abu-Nimer, 1999). For Arab participants, these programs function to provide an opportunity to interact with Jews, as well as to voice their ideas and perceptions of the conflict in a direct, honest, and safe environment without fear of accusation, humiliation, or violence. Jewish participants, in turn, can confront their deep-seated fears and learn about the political perceptions and culture of Arabs.
Such functions make the constant evaluation and reevaluation of the work produced by encounter and coexistence programs imperative. This article analyzes the unique dynamics and approaches of Arab-Jewish encounters, their shortcomings, the current obstacles and challenges facing coexistence encounters in Israel, and some changes necessary to improve the encounters and the field in general. The article is based on two studies.
The First Study
The first study included interviews from 1992-1998 with 156 Arab and Jewish facilitators, directors, and participants who were involved in encounters conducted by 15 organizations. However, only six of them were studied in depth: Giva'at Haviva, Neve Shlom/Wahart Al Salam, Van Leer Institute, Adam, Unit for Democracy-Ministry of Education, and Belt Hagafen. At least two Arab and two Jewish facilitators, the director, and 2-4 participants were interviewed in each organization. In addition, there was a group of 21 experienced facilitators (at least six years of Arab-Jewish facilitation). The selection of the six organizations was designed to ensure that different types of programs and organizations, teachers, students, directors, and facilitators were included. The criteria utilized in selecting these organizations were that each organization has at least one encounter a year, a staff that has consisted of at least four Arab and four Jewish facilitators, has been functioning at least five years, and has conducted encounters between only Arabs and Jews in Israel. The remaining interviewees were with Arab and Jewish community and political leaders (a full description of these organizations and discussion of the findings is in Abu-Nimer, 1999, pp. 55-61).
The main questions discussed in these nonstructured interviews were: What are the interviewees' goals when working in this field? Are such goals being achieved? What type of approach do they apply in the encounter? What impact do these coexistence programs have on peaceful and equal relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel? How do coexistence programs relate to issues of justice among both Arabs and Jews in Israel? How do current political events affect the encounter? (for details, see Abu-Nimer, 1999). The content of the responses (of organizations' directors, facilitators, participants, and community leaders) to the above questions were classified into various common and distinct categories to identify patterns in the types of encounters' goals, structure, desired impact, philosophy, limitations, etc. To address possible bias in the coding, analysis, and interpretation process, the data was examined by two outside readers, an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian from Israel, who reviewed the transcribed interviews and list of coding criteria utilized by the researcher (criteria such as clarity, content, articulation of encounter's goals).
The Second Study
The second study for this article included mainly nonstructured interviews with 14 Arab and Jewish facilitators between 1999 and 2001. Some archival documentation were also collected from various organizations who issued reports on their encounters' activities since 1999. The information generated from these reports was used as complementary secondary data for the interviews. The main questions in the interviews were: How do you view the encounter projects being conducted by your organization and others? What are the major changes that took place in the encounter process, design, or structure in the last 2-3 years? How do political events affect the encounter projects? What are the necessary changes to make the encounters more effective? Do you have any additional comments on the subject? This second set of interviewees included 8 Arab and 6 Jewish facilitators who I interviewed between the years 1999-2001. Most of them have worked with the six previously selected organizations. The course of each of these interviews was 1-2 hours. Five interviews took place in Washington, DC, and the remaining 9 in Israel. The qualitative responses from these interviews were categorized and summarized according to the above questions (seeking common and distinct responses), with no formal coding or statistical analysis procedure. The interviews, interpretations, and findings were discussed with two experts on Arab-Jewish relations in Israel (the experts listened to the three taped interviews and read the notes on the others; they were asked to provide feedback on the clarity of the questions, bias in conducting the interview, and any other comment on the content of the interviews and conclusions. It is important to indicate that …