The common theme for days 5 and 6 was ‘borders.’ Today, we went to Misgav Am, a kibbutz located just about a mile from the Lebanon border.
A kibbutz is a communal settlement in Israel, which initially started out as agricultural settlements and is based on collective group values. For the kibbutz, it’s ‘group first’ – Barry, a resident of Misgav Am, gave examples of sharing clothes and giving a certain portion of salary to charity. He said it’s not communism but that the kibbutz is formed on a “social economic basis.”
Today, the Misgav Am kibbutz has been privatized, which is on trend with other kibbutzim across the country. But despite this, Barry says they’re still a community.
Barry also talked about living in northern Israel, so close to the border. They sometimes hear bombs, but “we carry on,” he said. “Unfortunately it’s something you get used to.”
“I don’t listen to the news anymore,” Barry said. “(It) gives me peace of mind.” He described himself and most of his fellow kibbutz members as peace lovers, and lefties.
Our next stop on the itinerary was Haifa, a shared city between Arabs and Jews in Israel. Haifa is one of about ten shared cities in Israel. The population is about 270,000, and the demographics includes Arab (1/2 Christian and 1/2 Muslim), Jews, Druze, and Bahá’í.
Here, we met with the directors of Beit Hagefen, a local nonprofit focused on Israeli-Arab coexistence. While we often think of conflict when we think of the Middle East, the directors at Beit Hagefan reminded us that “Nice things are happening;’ the media only talks about bad things.
Here, they talked about some of the tangible things being done to promote tolerance and acceptance. They have dialogue sessions, arts and music collaborations, and libraries with books in Arabic and Hebrew. The mix of language seemed especially important to me because in most of Israel, people generally spoke one or the other. How can you understand the other side if you can’t speak their language?
“You don’t twist your head in Haifa when you hear Arabic; it’s not a foreign language here,” according to Aliza Beilin, the Beit Hagefen Resource Development Director.
My biggest takeaway from this visit was the practicality of peace. While peace and coexistence are ideals to hope for, they are difficult to accomplish in reality. But the folks at Beit Hagefen were aware of this. As one of only a few shared cities in Israel, they said Haifa is able to have coexistence because “there’s nothing to fight about.” It’s different because there’s no religious significance, like Jerusalem, and so people are able to avoid the politics and conflict that overwhelm other parts of the country.
But they weren’t naïve in thinking that ‘avoiding’ the politics is the solution. They were cognizant of the delicate nature of coexistence, and they acknowledged the historical and social narratives of each group.
“We both can have pain from the past… (but it doesn’t have to be) at the expense of one or the other.”
Another great quote from the visit: “I hate the word coexistence,” just saying existence is better because it means shared for many, and not just two.
After a local lunch in Haifa, we began our journey to Tel Aviv. We listened to this popular song on the way to the city.
In Tel Aviv, after enjoying a breathtaking view of the sunset on the beach, we went to a Shabbat dinner with a local family. Shabbat is an important time for Jewish families to get together and observe the day of rest.