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Building Heart: It Takes A Community
Heart to heart brings a group of Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian youth together every summer in Canada for dialogue.
Dr. Usnat Atamna is a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship. She began her speech by explaining that she hadn’t encountered racism while growing up and even originally identified as Israeli.
During her time at the Hebrew University of Israel, majoring in English Literature, most of her friends were Jewish and describes herself as having no political awareness. One day, the question of Palestine came up in conversation and she said to her friends, “This land is also mine and I have a right to it too,” to which her friend responded, “You’re living on my land, bitch” and walked away. She didn’t approached the subject after that. The war with Lebanon and wars with Gaza didn’t change her avoidance of anything political.
Then she was strip searched at the airport, something she found humiliating. When she flew with El Al to Germany she was again searched and had to wait while everyone else boarded. They asked her to prove that the phone she was carrying was her own and they escorted to the plane with security guards. She is 30 years old and going to the airport is a nightmare, she says. This luckily didn’t happen when she came to Canada with Heart to Heart, as a teacher. During her work with Givat Haviva she says “I discovered I was Palestinian.”
The students who attend and participate in the seminars by choice are more attentive. She spoke of an example at a particularly difficult school in Israel, a Jewish kid stood up and said “You’re all making the assumption that a place called Palestine exists.” An Arab kid said “Soldiers get what’s coming.” A Jewish kid said that when he was in the army, he was going to shoot all the Arab kids in the head.
These previously difficult schools took steps to address the social issues they faced after Givat Haviva had told them that they wouldn’t be able to participate anymore. They came back and had excellent seminars where students participated attentively. “Children teaching children”- kids learn about the other is one of the main philosophies behind Givat Haviva. Working with the youth is the best way for barrier to be broken down between the two groups, Dr. Atamna says.
The 2014 war between Israel and Palestine broke out 3 days after the group arrived in Canada last year. The students have limited information because their phones are taken away but this is not the same for the Canadian kids and so Dr. Atamna and the staff of Heart to Heart had to explain that a war had broken out. The Palestinian kids cried, then explained to the Jewish kids what a ground invasion in Gaza meant for Palestinians. They split the kids into two uninational groups and the kids comforted each other, acknowledging each other’s pain.
The election wasn’t easy and made it hard to believe that the situation could change. It is Givat Haviva’s goal to be one society.
Dr. Karen Mock and head of Heart to Heart in Toronto joined the discussion and shared their experiences with the work of Givat Haviva. Dr. Mock was encouraged and optimistic with the young people. Youth development and youth leadership is something that should be supported, and she believes people need to step aside and let them lead. The notion of identity and being part of a nation, a people, having a state in which you have a citizenship is part of the important work Givat Haviva does. She describes it as amazing programs in Israel but in Canada we’re still struggling with those ideas of “Canada isn’t my nation, its my state, my citizenship.” Both groups, Israeli and Palestinian, deny the other’s identity. However, she points out that it is a good thing that she felt safe enough to say that, to develop a trust through dialogue, to have heard and accepted the other side’s pain.
Kids were asked to make a timeline of each other’s history during their time in Canada. There were discrepancies among them but they opened it up to discussion, for a dialogue where the kids got to see that both truths exist.
This was a group of 14 year olds and the first week of the program is getting to know each other. Taking the racial identity out of it and turning the two groups into individuals. There is no shared interest as a basis for the camp, the kids have an interest in dialogue. “Yes you both have Israeli citizenship but you experience it differently, so let’s talk about that” was among the main focus of the weeks in Canada. When you ask young people what they think and feel, that makes a big difference. That’s when they learn to use their voice and go home and use it to change stuff, according to the luncheon’s discussants.
The children are meeting as equals, the discussants explained. Someone criticized the philosophy, saying, “All you’re doing is normalizing the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized.” For them this is an attitude that does not help, because the teachers of Heart to Heart do acknowledge the power differential. As an example, Dr. Mock explains that while Israel is the only occupying western democracy, it’s also the only western democracy that is under existential threat.
Heart to Heart is hosted by a Jewish summer camp but with a critical pedagogical lens it doesn’t leave the symbolism around the camp alone; they use it to critique power, privilege, and oppression. Nobody pretends the experience is the same, that there is no power differential. It is hard for the Jewish kids to accept that they have that privilege in Israel and then the educators have the kids explore what it means to be an ally.
Heart to Heart was designed to bring the groups together, not avoid difficult aspect of the relations. Both groups fasted for Ramadan and they also dialogued about the the Israeli anthem.
“Building Heart: It Takes a Community”
Dr. Karen Mock
Join shared society educator Usnat Atamna to learn about the state of Jewish-Arab relations among youth in the north of Israel. Usnat works as a group facilitator at the Givat Haviva Educational Institute where she creates opportunities for dialogue among Jewish and Palestinian Israeli youth. Last summer Usnat accompanied the Heart to Heart 2014 participants on their trip to Canada, and she now works with them to continue their group process back in Israel. She is Palestinian Arab with Israeli citizenship and lives in the Palestinian Arab Israeli town of Bakka, located in the Shulash region. Usnat will be speaking about her experiences working with Palestinian and Jewish Israeli youth, the current state of relations among Israel’s diverse communities, and why she has chosen to pursue this work.
Karen Mock is a human rights consultant, well known as a dynamic lecturer, workshop coordinator and facilitator. She was Executive Director and CEO of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation from 2001 to 2005 and prior to that was National Director of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada for twelve years, as well as executive director of the League’s Human Rights Education and Training Centre, after several years as a teacher educator.