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Arab Israeli organizes programs for a shared society
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Arab Israeli organizes programs for a shared society

Mohammad Darawshe works to fulfill ideal of ‘equality, inclusiveness’

Mohammad Darawshe says bringing Jews and Arabs together at Givat Haviva promotes “social and economic equality.”
Mohammad Darawshe says bringing Jews and Arabs together at Givat Haviva promotes “social and economic equality.”

Arab Israeli Mohammad Darawshe will discuss his efforts to effect “an equal and inclusive society” when he presents “Inside Israel: Jewish-Arab Relations within a Regional Context” on Tuesday, April 12, at 7:30 p.m. at The Jewish Center of Princeton

Darawshe, of the Givat Haviva Center for a Shared Society in Israel, is, like 20 percent of Israel’s population, “a child of both identities.” He earned degrees in English and political science at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He worked in the Knesset for 15 years, first as a parliamentary assistant, then as spokesperson and later campaign manager for Arab political parties. 

In 2000, wanting to move to education and grassroots change, he earned an MA in conflict resolution at Haifa University. He worked at Givat Haviva and then at the Abraham Fund Initiatives before returning to Givat Haviva, where he serves as director of planning, equality, and shared society.

One recent program he said he is particularly proud of brings Arab and Jewish teachers into each other’s schools. “When you do this for kids at a young age, it becomes part of your growing up and reduces stereotypes and misconceptions,” Darawshe told NJJN in a Skype interview. 

NJJN: Can you describe your relationship with Israel and Jewish fellow citizens as it has developed over your life?

Darawshe: Growing up as a child in the ’60s and ’70s, it was always a story of being afraid that the next war can uproot us and make us refugees…all this uncertainty that staying in our town, our homeland, right by our olive orchards and graveyards is not something to take for granted.

My most dominant memories: hiding in caves in 1967 when I was four, and in 1973 during the wars. My first demonstration, when I was 13, on Land Day [commemorating Arab deaths in 1976 riots following land confiscation] was traumatic; six of the demonstrators were killed.

Until [I was 16] Jews were police officers, or employers of my father [a housepainter], who were Jews and who always mistreated him, either in the language they used to him or over money.

At 16, I met the first Jews my age, and we had discussions at Givat Haviva. It was the first time to be able to engage in a discussion and to realize it was not just a power struggle that existed. We could play soccer together, sleep in the same rooms, eat from the same plate, and also debate over issues of difference, without having the debate end violently or me always in the losing end because of the exercise of power. 

That sort of opened my eyes to want to learn more about who are these people who are surrounding us and it’s why at the university I engaged in the Student Dialogue Forum.

NJJN: What was your experience like at The Hebrew University?

Darawshe: When I studied political science, I…started realizing that many visions and thoughts I have for Israel as an equal and inclusive society are shared by part of the students I go to school with, that these concepts of equality are not just demands and aspirations of Arab citizens, but also of Jewish citizens. 

NJJN: What did you learn working in the Knesset?

Darawshe: That got me very close to realpolitik, discussions not just about political visions, but also to understand that decision-making and power sharing are a matter of political pragmatism and not just idealism. 

NJJN: What are your responsibilities at Givat Haviva?

Darawshe: I get my hands dirty, bringing together the Jewish and Arab communities, getting municipalities to cooperate, kids to meet, professionals to do joint programs, and at the same time designing programs that bring about social and economic equality: more Arab women joining the labor market, improving the quality of Hebrew for Arabs, high-tech integration of Arab students, and having more Arabs at the universities.

NJJN: How do you feel about “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem? 

Darawshe: I do not sing it; I do not have a Jewish soul. I think the Jewish majority that designed “Hatikva” failed in designing an inclusive symbol for Israeli society and focused on an ethnocentric, exclusive symbol both in the flag and national anthem, as well as in many discriminatory policies in social and economic areas in Israeli society. Every time I hear it, I hear what is not in it…I am excluded. 

NJJN: You mentioned discrimination in Israel. Can you give me some examples?

Darawshe: I have four kids; the youngest two are 13 and 15, and they receive 60 percent of what a Jewish kid receives in the budget for education. It means that my kids are seen by the state as second-class citizens. 

Why don’t I have in my neighborhood a sidewalk? It is a town with 15,000 people, and I don’t know of any Jewish town that size that does not have sidewalks, sewage, public parks, not a single swing or slide for kids to play in. It is because of zoning that the state has failed to design; as a result, everything we build is illegal and gets demolished.

The state is happy with that [lack of policemen and resulting crime] as long as the violence is internal in the Arab community. The state is happy with this negligence [of the Arab sector]; if it wants to deal with this, it will have to take domestic services and police from the Jewish towns. This means that equality will require reducing quality of life for Jewish towns or new budgets [for the Arab towns].

NJJN: What is your chief goal?

Darawshe: My main mission in life is to help the system mature, to recognize all of its parts.… I look for models of successful equal integration, not just feely-touchy. Coexistence can happen dutifully between horse and rider, but this is not a coexistence I am willing to tolerate, where at the end of the ride the horse goes to the stable and eats hay and the rider goes to the castle and eats steak.

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