The Peace Process.
In spite of the withdrawal from Gaza-strip, the peace process between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority practically doesn't exist. Powerful political leaders on both sides do whatever they can to stop it. They make great effort to retreat to the historic means for settling disputes between these two communities living in the "holy land" - brute force and violence.
Unfortunately, these extremist forces find support in their populations. Mutual hostility, fear and hatred run so deep, that any provocation from either side raises high waves of rage and violence.
In this frustrating, dangerous time, we must remember that this situation has been existing for almost hundred years. Any effort to change, obviously faces enormous difficulties.
On the other hand most people believe that change is vital for the survival of both peoples. The main obstacles are mutual suspicion and mistrust. It must be clear, that no signing of any agreement between politicians and leaders can be realized, if majority of the involved people doesn't accept it. Norms, values and entrenched habits must change. No lasting peace can be established, without structuring a "culture of peace and coexistence".
One of the most severe problem in the Israeli society is the character of it's relations between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority. Jews and Arabs live in Israel side by side, but socially they are almost completely separated. The relationships that does exist are actually reflection of the general relationships between the Arab and the Jewish people, living in the Middle East, (even though on somewhat milder level ) and they can be characterized in terms of alienation, ignorance and fear. The future of relationships between Israel and the Arab world as well as between Israel and the Palestinians is strongly connected with the ability of Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel to live and cooperate in peaceful and respectful co-existence. The Jewish - Arab relationships inside Israel can be regarded as a "test case " for Jewish - Arab relations as a whole.
A way to cope with the situation .
Precondition for lasting peace is not merely a formal treaty, but rather mutual reconciliation. We have to realize that this is the real issue at hand and to deal with it. This means preparing Arabs and Jews to learn about each other. Creation of a supportive environment for dialogue has to be involved, including as large part of each population as possible and the establishment of popular frameworks which can make such dialogue possible, step by step. In other words, a vital precondition for establishment of real peace is mass education toward a "culture of peace ". Like every education, this one too has to start with young people: the young generation will carry the values, on which a better future will establish. We are not naive; we don't think that education is a substitute for political and economical interests, but do believe that through education people can adopt values that fit to a better, more just society.
The "Friendship Village" project presented in this paper will become a focus of educational activity for peace, democracy, inter-cultural coexistence and cooperation that so badly are needed in Israel, as well as all over the Middle-East and the rest of the world.
Peace, democracy and accepting the multi-cultural character of the society, are the main problems of Israel, as well as of many more countries over the world. National, ethnic or religious conflicts become violent, even in some of the most developed countries. Democracy exists only partially - or not at all in large parts of the world and multi-cultural coexistence became a vital issue in most societies.
Although Israel is regarded as the "only democracy in the Middle East" , this statement can be justified only on the political level. According to many studies and surveys of the last few years, racism, xenophobia and anti-democratic trends are deeply entrenched in the Israeli public. These trends are magnified by absence of peace with most of the Arab world, especially with the Palestinian people. A growing consciousness about need of peace, moreover - of reconciliation, development of democratic values and the multi-cultural character of the Israeli society, as well as about similar problems in most human societies all over the world, brought many to a feeling of urgency in need to cope with inter-cultural conflicts that exist wherever people, coming from different cultural, national or ethnic background, live together. Education can suggest some of the most efficient means for this purpose, therefore establishment of a center that will focus on promoting issues of pluralism, multi-culturalism, peace and democracy seems to have immense importance.
Thanks to positive attitude by the township of Shefaram in the Galilee toward establishment of such an institute within the town, a real opportunity has been opened for realization of the idea.
"Friendship Village" is an International Seminar Center for guiding young people toward living in a multi-cultural environment. The essence of its mission is - respecting the "other" and learning about him or her, the same time to recognize and to build what is in common between people coming from different cultural, national, religious or ethnic background, especially those who share common social frameworks or live within the boundaries of the same country. Education for peace and democracy is a logical conclusion of multi-culturalism.
The Friendship Village focuses on education for inter-cultural understanding, respectful coexistence inter-cultural and inter-faith cooperation, based on real equality, tolerance, democracy and peace. In the Friendship Village young Israelis, Jews and Arabs are educated through varied educational methods, to live in a multi-cultural society, based on peaceful co-existence and cooperation for the benefit of all its components.
Educational work in the Friendship Village is spread over three circles;
1 - The Israeli society.
2 - The Middle - Eastern society
3 - The external circle, including all societies, in which inter-cultural conflict takes place.
With expanding its activity, The Friendship Village will become a universal center of high importance for education of youth against racism, anti-Semitism and all kind of discrimination. Values of democracy, tolerance, human rights, peaceful conflict resolution and co-existence will be emphasized in its educational programs.
Although this kind of activity is not unusual in Israel and abroad, as far as we know, there is no other institution in Israel, and only a few abroad, that focus on issue of education for multi - cultural society.
Occasional efforts in this direction, are indeed made in some countries, but - as mentioned above a very limited number of educational institutions concentrate on it. In the state of Israel the little that has been done on this field is carried out through some NGO-s' blessed activity.
In the Friendship Village young Israelis, Jews and Arabs will be educated through varied educational methods, to live in a multi-cultural society, based on peaceful co-existence and cooperation for the benefit of all its components.
The message of Friendship Village is already spread through various, well structured as well as spontaneous educational activities, such as workshops and seminars of various duration, in addition to courses on academic level. Efforts are devoted to extended cooperative projects with other formal, as well as with informal educational organizations.
In the future, young people from other troubled countries of the Middle East and from abroad, will learn about the character, the culture, the real needs and interests that lay in the basis of their conflicts. They will also learn to cope with their conflicts through non-violent means.
Since 1998 Educational Programs are run by the well experienced team of the Friendship Village. These programs include Israeli Palestinian and Israeli Jewish-Arab joint projects, on varied levels. The last year we focus on work with agents for social change, such as woman educators, young politicians, students for education etc. In most of our projects we cooperate with various partners, including the Emeq Yizre'el College, the Gordon College, the Levinsky College for Education, the Palestinian Institute for Peace and Democracy.
Young Leadership prepared in the Friendship Village, will spread over Israel and abroad, the message of peaceful co-existence and cooperation in a world, that most of it is composed of multi-cultural societies.
Educational curricula and programs, according to specific needs and conditions of Israel and of different countries, involved in the activity of the Friendship Village, will be prepared.
Cost: Total cost of building the "Friendship Village" will be $2.3 m spread over five years.