Identity Groups and Conflicts

Put on Your Tolerance Hat! Tolerance Week – November 10 – 18

November 16 is International Tolerance Day. But there are so many activities advancing tolerance in Jerusalem, why limit it to only one day? Last year we asked a simple question in our JerusalemTolerance Listserv: How many people are doing things to celebrate Tolerance Day? In a very short period of time we had a list of 15 activities.

How many events this year?

How many events this year?

And thus Tolerance Week was born. This year there are 25 public events, and another 6-7 specially-organized events that are not open to the general public. All of these events are being planned and organized by local activists and organizations. Thank you to all Jerusalemites who are making Jerusalem tolerant! Only in Jerusalem has International Tolerance Day turned into and entire week of activities advancing tolerance…

And of course, many thanks to to the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation for their support in advancing tolerance in Jerusalem!

Here’s the full list of events in English:

Friday, Nov 10
9 AM // A joint Arab-Jewish 5 KM race – Runners Without Borders

Sunday, Nov 12
9 AM // Coffee and Cake, Talmud and Hadith
For those who like to start their week with a good, strong coffee with cardamom and deep philosophic discussions on the eternal topics which bothered even the old wise scholars of the Talmud and Hadith. Add to this some home-made vegan cakes and cosy central location between the East and West of Jerusalem, at Kids4Peace Jerusalem.
RSVP with Ruth
Details here >>

8:30 PM // Face to Face – Mashiv HaRuach host a panel with three Jerusalmite poets in a conversation about the opportunities that arise out of meeting “the other”, at Tmol Shilshom.

Monday, Nov 13
4:30 PM // Arabic-Hebrew language exchange. Space is limited, reserve with Yiftach at

Tuesday, Nov 14
All day // Dialogue in a Mixed City Conference

10:00 AM // A special Praying Together in Jerusalem gathering during the Dialogue in Mixed Cities Conference.
Details here >>

4:50 PM // Tolerant Light Rail Tour – The light rail is the city’s tolerant backbone, connecting between different communities in the city. Come meet the communities that live in Jerusalem that might not live on our street.

5 PM // Kids4Peace Jerusalem invite high school youth to a special conference about solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For more information >>

8 PM // 0202 Presents: An Evening With Jerusalem’s Haredi Press. How are behind-the-scenes decisions made in the fast moving and contentious world of Haredi media? How does the Haredi population – constituting a third of Jerusalem’s population and an indispensable societal and cultural force within our city – express itself in print and online? All this and more will be discussed with two veterans of the Haredi media world: Yitzhak Matityahu Tennenbaum, editor of Hamodia newspaper and Moshe Grylak, editor of the Mishpacha magazine.

8:30 PM // Secular and Haredi Jerusalemites talk about the Army – Tarbus invites us to a discussion about the army with Yaakov Weiss from the Jerusalemite Peleg, Itzik Whiskey from the Haredi Unit, secular blogger Shalom Bogoslavksy, and Haredi journalist Eli Bitan.

Wednesday, Nov 15
All day // Dialogue in a Mixed City Conference

7 PM // The Ex-Religious – an intersectoral conversation about leaving the religious world, hosted by Out for Change.

8 PM // Sign Language Workshop and conversation about the hearing-impaired life at Hamifletzet Pub.

8 PM // Storytelling – Stories about tolerance at HaButke.

8 PM // Inter-Feast – An Inter-Feast is an opportunity for people who are passionate about their foods, cultures and identities and who have an urge to share them with others interested in listening. Sitting down for a meal is one of the most natural and impactful human connectors. The memories, nostalgia and foundational identities derived from the diverse foods and flavors from our traditions are meaningful, worth keeping and most importantly – worth sharing. I invite you to come and experience an evening filled with meaningful discussion, homemade food and wonderful people.

8:30 PM // Stories on the Way at Shira Meirson’s house in the Katamonim, in light of the Sigd holiday. Come hear the personal story of an Ethiopian Oleh!

Thursday, Nov 16
10:30 // Joining the Sigd Holiday at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, together with Tali Ysia from Open Holidays.

12:30 – 18:00 // Kehilat Zion invites us to volunteer at the thrift store that brings together Christians, Muslims, and Jews from East and West Jerusalem.

2 PM // The Roma Club Gerusalemme soccer practice – come see the weekly soccer practice where Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian kids play weekly. Must coordinate with Samuel –

3 PM // Beyond the Shuk – Ir Amim in a special tour about daily life in East Jerusalem.

7 PM // Souls Meet – A special meeting with people with mental disabilities through games, music and soup.

7:30 PM // Sigd Celebration at Beit Avi Chai

7:30 PM // White Night at the Museum of Islamic Art with a special Jewish-Arab backgammon tournament.

Friday, November 17
2 – 4 PM // Jerusalem Stories – Let’s rebuild our sense of human connection by sharing and listening to eachother’s personal stories about Jerusalem. Come together to share at least 2 minutes of personal Jerusalem story-telling with a stranger. In Jerusalem, with this event, we can begin to acknowledge each and one of us as human beings and Jerusalemites in all our rich diversity.

//Coming Soon//
A widespread campaign to learn basic Yiddish and Arabic, by Tag Meir.

//Events not open to the public//
– Tolerance activities for schools at the Museum of Islamic Art
– Stories on the Way at Argentina Elementary School
– Sigd activities at Evelina de Rothschild Middle and High Schools
– Sigd activities at Dror High School
– Meeting various Jerusalemite figures from all backgrounds at Harel High School
– 5 meetings with children and parents of the Kids4Peace Jerusalem branch.

And here’s the Facebook event:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Light Rail Tolerance Stop at City Hall – Promoting Tolerance Year-Round

We wrote about here and here how Citypass (the company that operates the Jerusalem light rail) and the Jerusalem Municipality are cooperating to make the light rail stop at City Hall a Tolerance Stop, thanks to the encouragement of the Ruach Nachon pre-army preparation program.

A sign proving it's official

A sign proving it’s official

We were there a little while ago, and while the pre-army program has not yet begun their regular annual activities there, the Municipality and Citypass have already made a statement that gives the train stop the tolerance feel.

A view of the actual stop

A view of the actual stop

This includes a range of texts, from Jewish, Muslim, and other sources, from a Hasidic tale, poems and songs in Hebrew and Arabic, Alice in Wonderland, thoughts for the month of Elul, and much more. Something to inspire thoughts of who we are and where we’re going.

Many thanks to the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation for their continued support of our activities to support tolerance in Jerusalem.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
2017-11-18T13:44:49+00:00 November 5th, 2017|Blog, Identity Groups and Conflicts, Promoting Tolerance in Jerusalem|

MiniActive – Teaching First Aid for Teachers and for the General Public

As in the past, this year MiniActive is again offering a range of courses to help participants as mothers, and to grow as people.

Teaching critical first aid to educators

Teaching critical first aid to educators

Last week, on October 17, 20 teachers and teachers’ aides began a 44-hour advanced first aid course, designed only for educators. This course will be approved and its graduates will be qualified by the Ministry of Education, and it will run until December.

Learning the basics of CPR

Learning the basics of CPR

This is the second such course that MiniActive has offered over the past few months.

Learning First Aid to help their families

Learning First Aid to help their families

In August they held a short, 22-hour introductory course, for 35 Palestinian women from all over East Jerusalem.

Different aspects of urgent first aid care

Different aspects of urgent first aid care

The course consisted of 5, 4 – 4 1/2 – hour meetings. This was one of the first activities held at MiniActive’s new offices in Sheikh Jarrach.

Learning CPR

Learning CPR

All came out of the first meeting enthusiastic for the rest.

Measuring blood pressure, pulse

Measuring blood pressure, pulse

Here’s a Facebook post from the MiniActive Facebook page at the beginning of the 44-hour course:

And at the beginning of the shorter course in August:

And here’s a Facebook post from the end of the August course:


Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for its ongoing support of the MiniActive program!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

0202 in the New York Times!

Congratulations to our mentee 0202 – Points of View from Jerusalem! As well as Mekudeshet and Jerusalem Double, all Jerusalem-based initiatives aimed as advancing tolerance in Jerusalem. They’ve been mentioned in the New York Times!

Here’s the opening headline:

Here's the headline

Here’s the headline

Here’s a link to the article online, and the text is below. (You can download a .pdf version here.) It was a great article, not only about 0202 – Points of View from Jerusalem, but about a range of activities that are giving hope to those in Jerusalem, and throughout the world. Many thanks to the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation for their ongoing support of our efforts to promote tolerance in Jerusalem, and to the Leichtag Foundation for the support of 0202.

Here’s the text of the article:

In Jerusalem, Looking for Peace in Backgammon and Music

As the moon rose over the ancient stones on another night, 2,000 people, most of them Israelis but including scores of Palestinians, squeezed onto benches at an outdoor pop concert in Arabic and Hebrew.

Part of the annual Mekudeshet festival, the concert was called “Kulna”— Arabic for “all of us,” and close to the Hebrew “Kulanu” of the same meaning — and was billed as “a night without borders” and a glimpse of “the Middle East of our dreams.”

Just weeks earlier, the Old City and its environs seemed on the verge of explosion, the focus of mass Muslim prayers, protests and bloody clashes prompted by the latest crisis over the Aqsa Mosque compound.

A deadly wave of Palestinian stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks that broke out two years ago is still fresh in many residents’ minds, and the 50th anniversary celebrations of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem from Jordan in the June 1967 war only accentuated the city’s deep political, religious and social divisions.

Still, after years of impasse in the peace process, a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians seem to be searching for creative ways to bypass politics, reaching across the divide to find professional peers, new resources and receptive audiences. And a number of recent events have sought to provide a common language for Israelis and Palestinians here.

On Sunday, thousands of supporters of Women Wage Peace, a Jewish-Arab movement established after the Gaza war of 2014, converged, first in a reconciliation tent in the desert near Jericho in the West Bank, and then at a rally in Jerusalem. And a website, 0202, named for Jerusalem’s 02 telephone area code, translates local news into Hebrew and Arabic.

Riman Barakat, an East Jerusalem-born Palestinian peace activist, is involved in both the Mekudeshet festival and Women Wage Peace. “You may think I’m naïve,” she told a group of Israelis on a recent tour of the seam between East and West Jerusalem, “but there can’t be any other way for me.”

Given the history, organizing anything in this city is a complicated, risky business, particularly if it involves both Israelis from the predominantly Jewish west side and Palestinians from the east, which Israel annexed in a move that was never internationally recognized.

“We understand it’s a risk, and that’s the inspiration,” said Karen Brunwasser, the deputy director of Mekudeshet, adding, “It’s all about showing people, even Jerusalemites, what they have not yet seen.”

The festival producers were in the midst of selling tickets when Israel unilaterally placed metal detectors around the Aqsa Mosque compound, a contested and volatile holy site, after a shooting attack that killed two police officers.

“People were phoning the box office saying they wanted to book, but is it safe?” Ms. Brunwasser said. “These are the liabilities of living in and producing a festival in Jerusalem. But when it works it’s the most extraordinary thing.”

The Kulna concert brought together an eclectic cast of artists. The king of Palestinian rap from the Shuafat refugee camp in northeast Jerusalem teamed up with a Tel Aviv poet of Yemeni descent known as the angry voice of Israel’s Mizrahim, or Jews who hail from North Africa and the Middle East.

An Armenian from Jerusalem’s Old City sang duets with a soulful Arab Israeli singer, and Jews sang in Hebrew and Arabic. An after-party at a club in West Jerusalem featured Palestinian hip-hop artists from East Jerusalem and, in what was probably a first, fellow rappers from Ramallah, Jericho and Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

One factor contributing to the new collaboration is the so-called Mizrahi awakening of a younger generation connecting with its Arab cultural roots.

The after-party was organized by the Jerusalem disc jockey Ram Spinoza, a.k.a. DJ Ramzy, whose grandmother came from Syria, and who specializes in contemporary Middle Eastern music. Mr. Spinoza, who served in the Israeli Air Force, regularly holds his signature “Monolingua” parties in West Jerusalem’s alternative music venues, letting the music do the talking.

“I stopped hoping for a peace agreement,” Mr. Spinoza said in an interview, “so I do it my own way — I live the peace.” Of the more traditional methods of fostering coexistence in the city, he added: “Dialogue groups are not the best fun. This is fun.”

Mr. Spinoza often hosts Palestinian rappers like the duo Muzi Raps, from the Old City, and Raed Bassem Jabid, from the Palestinian neighborhood of At-Tur on the Mount of Olives. “If you’re looking for peace,” Mr. Jabid said, “you’ll find the peace.”

Even in peacetime, though, attempts to escape politics can be viewed as political. Many Palestinians, for instance, reject what they call cultural normalization with the Israelis.

The Jerusalem-Armenian musician, Apo Sahagian, whose guitar was recently held by the Israeli airport authorities for extra security screening, appeared to be grappling with those sensitivities.

On the day of the Kulna concert, a post appeared on the Facebook page of Apo & the Apostles, Mr. Sahagian’s band, denying rumors that it was scheduled to perform in Jerusalem. The band, most of whose members come from Bethlehem, in the West Bank, declined to comment and the post appears to have been taken down.

The backgammon tournament did break down a few barriers. The idea came about when a group of Israeli and Palestinian activists took a break from a tense brainstorming session and looked for an activity that would let people engage with one another. They ended up playing backgammon.

Karem Jubran, a Palestinian from the Shuafat camp, said his friends came to the tournament for “the love of the game.”

A youth from the camp, Abdullah Jubran, 16, said he had taught himself to play by watching YouTube and hoped to win the 25,000 shekel (almost $7,000) prize. He was knocked out of the competition early, though a friend of his father reached the finals.

Hundreds of players faced off across rows of tables in qualifying rounds in the Armenian and Jewish quarters of the Old City and on the grassy verge outside the Damascus Gate to the Muslim quarter, the scene of numerous attacks in the past two years.

Zaki Djemal, an Israeli of Syrian descent and a founder of the tournament, acknowledged that many of the Israeli players assigned to the Damascus Gate area were frightened and asked to be moved.

But Mr. Djemal said he was not nervous. “It’s a state of mind,” he said.

Here’s the Facebook post from our Grassroots Campaign for Tolerance Coordinator, Michal Shilor:


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

MiniActive – Opening Our Own Offices in East Jerusalem

After 5 full years of fantastic activity, engaging over 1,000 Palestinian women and teenage girls in East Jerusalem, and affecting tens of thousands of Palestinian residents throughout East Jerusalem, MiniActive finally has offices of its own. At the beginning of August, MiniActive began renting its own suite of offices in Sheikh Jarrach.

Welcome to MiniActive's new offices

Welcome to MiniActive’s new offices

MiniActive will continue to operate under the auspices of the JICC. But from now on, the new offices will be the epicenter of MiniActive activity in East Jerusalem.

One of the activities rooms, painted and decorated by MiniActive Youth

One of the activities rooms, painted and decorated by MiniActive Youth

The new space features an office and two larger classrooms –

"Intisar, Program Director," one of the many housewarming presents

“Intisar, Program Director,” one of the many housewarming presents

One that holds about 30 people (above), and one that holds about 40 people (below).

Learning first aid

Learning first aid

Upstairs is the studio (that includes showers and changing rooms) where Zumba and other exercise classes take place that MiniActive uses separately.

Zumba to improve health

Zumba to improve health

The new location is a big plus on all counts. It’s much more centrally located and easier to get to than other locations that activities have been held in. Its rooms are always available, as opposed to needing to work around other centers’ activity schedules. Its setup facilitates more order – more orderly registration, more orderly organizing of classes, more orderly documentation of requests, complaints and campaigns. More order, more professionalism, and we hope, even more success!

More housewarming presents, in green

More housewarming presents, in green

We wish MiniActive and all its participants a wonderful and fruitful year!

And of course, many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for its ongoing support of MiniActive.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Santé Israël at the Emek Rafaim Social Change Fair

On September 10, Santé Israël went to the fair. This time it was a Neighborhood Fair for social action on Emek Refaim St., produced by the Ginot Ha’ir community center. The fair featured performances for children and adults, jam sessions, a pop-up garden, and a slew of information desks from a range of social action projects. (You can see a map of the festival, in Hebrew, here.)

Marie at the Sante desk

Marie at the Santé Israël desk

Marie Avigad, Santé Israël Project Manager, was there to present the Santé Israël web site. She also distributed information about the health system in Israel – similarities and differences from France, employment opportunities and issues, and more.

Here’s the post by Santé Israël:

And here’s a movie live from the event:



Qualita offered Santé Israël the opportunity to take part in this event. This umbrella organization for French-speaking immigrants in Israel was close by, and took more pictures of the fair. Here’s their post (in French):

Looks like the fair was a lot of fun and very very successful.

Many thanks to the Pharmadom and Rashi Foundations for their continued support of Santé Israël.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

MiniActive – Day Trip to Haifa and Acre

We’ve mentioned here and here how we like to show our MiniActive volunteers how much we appreciate their hard work and tenacity. On August 27, we did it again.

Enjoying a beautiful August day

Enjoying a beautiful August day

This time, the bus traveled north to Haifa, visiting the Baha’i Gardens,

The Baha'i Gardens, from the top of the hill

The Baha’i Gardens, from the top of the hill

and to Acre.

Acco meets the sea

Acre meets the sea

They also enjoyed a boat ride

Enjoying the water

Enjoying the water

Here’s the Facebook post, in Arabic:

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for its continued support of MiniActive!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

0202 Holiday Bringing Jewish and Muslim Holidays Face to Face

A Jew and a Muslim walk on the streets of Jerusalem and talk – High Holidays?

That’s what happened last Thursday, August 31. Organized by 0202-Points of View from Jerusalem, the tour in honor of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the Jewish practice of Selichot before the Jewish High Holidays gave participants a first-hand glimpse of events that are central to both religions. Like the Internet and Facebook pages aim to do, the tour led participants into a world that is completely different than their own. A seeming parallel reality of their everyday lives, yet still in their home city of Jerusalem.

Anwar beginning the tour at the New Gate

Anwar beginning the tour at the New Gate

The tour was actually two separate tours, one right after the other. The first tour began outside the New Gate of the Old City. Guides Tamer and Anwar (in two separate groups, since the first group filled up quite quickly) took participants through the Muslim Quarter as the pre-holiday fast ended and the Eid al-Adha festival began. They revealed how the holiday is celebrated by Muslim Jerusalemites.

Tamer took participants on whirlwind tour of different groups in the Old City, as a way to shed light on the its diverse religious make-up.  They walked through the main thoroughfares of East Jerusalem, viewing the wondrous decorations and observing how this part of the city slowly woke up from its day of fasting. As night fell thousands of Jerusalem vendors, musicians, artists, families and performers came to the Old City to celebrate the holiday. As is custom on Eid al-Adha, people were getting haircuts and buying new clothes. Barbershops all over the city were filled to the brim with Muslims coming to get a new trim in honor of the holiday. Tamer also told about his own family traditions during the holiday. Toward the end of the tour Tamer also spoke about the identity of the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.

When the first tour ended, the second tour, of traditional Selichot prayers in Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, began. Ultra-Orthodox guide Ephraim led the groups. Ephraim took the tour to different yeshivot in order to explain the different practices surrounding Selichot. From Sephardim and Ashkenazim to the Hassidim to Mitnagdim, to the newly religious to kabbalah, they discussed possible parallels between Islam and Judaism. Both tours were riveting.

Ariella Bernstein, Chief of Staff at the Jerusalem Foundation who writes about her weekly Jerusalem unsung heroes, was so moved by the tour that she made the tour guides this week’s My Jerusalem Heroes:

Here’s the text of her post:

       I am not sure that Efraim Levy (אפרים לוי) and Tamer Said would have met without the moon. It’s the moon that sets Jewish and Muslim calendars and it is the coincidence of Muslim and Jewish holidays that brought them together. This weekend, Muslims celebrate the holiday of Eid Al Adha, the “Sacrifice Feast” honoring the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is but a few weeks away and now is a time of serious contemplation.
       Efraim and Tamer honored each others’ faiths last night in a one-of-a kind tour organized by 0202 – A View from East Jerusalem and 0202 – מבט מירושלים החרדית, organizations that offer a glimpse into Jerusalem’s real people. Tamer, a Jerusalem-born Muslim, kicked off the evening as Eid Al Adha holiday celebrations began. Onward they walked as Efraim, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, led the group to take part in “Selichot,” penitential prayers chanted during the late night hours in the month before Rosh Hashana.
       Efraim and Tamer never met before last night yet they walked away with a better understanding of each other. “I learned about Islam’s diversity, its character, and how Eid Al Adha is celebrated,” said Efraim. Tamer saw commonality. “There is a faith-based understanding and acceptance, and what brought me closer was my feeling that I can identify with ultra-Orthodox society,” Tamer explained.
       What amazes me is the humility I heard in their voices, the reluctance in accepting the extraordinary nature of their cooperation. “I don’t think I have much to contribute above anyone else – I’m just an ultra-Orthodox student learning economics,” Efraim proclaimed. “Someone should represent Islam from the Palestinian perspective and talk with Jews on an interfaith level,” said Tamer. For their humility alone, Efraim and Tamer are #MyJLMHeroes this week.
       Your partnership last night was exceptional. You are the epitome of all that is sacred in #Jerusalem. Too bad the world wasn’t here to see it but at least the moon bore witness.

You can access the original post here.

0202 began in 2015 with one Arabic-to-Hebrew page, and received extensive mentoring from the JICC. 0202 has continued to develop, and today it consists of 3 Facebook pages (Arabic – Hebrew, Arabic – English, and Haredi – non-Haredi Hebrew), and reaches 150,000 people each week. Future plans call for 4 constantly-updated pages, tours like this and other events, making all of Jerusalem’s major populations accessible to everyone, world over.  We’re so proud of 0202, and we’re happy to offer them any more help they might need.

Thanks Tamer, Anwar and Ephraim! Thanks 0202 for the fantastic tours! Here’s the photo album that was posted on the 0202 Facebook page:

And many thanks to the Leichtag Foundation and the Jerusalem Foundation for their support of 0202-Points of View from Jerusalem and other efforts to promote tolerance in the city.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Cultural Competency in the Police – Mentioned in Ha’aretz National Daily

We’ve been working with the Israel Police since 2015, and you can read about our work here and here. And it was covered on the Walla! Internet news site here.

Title of article about police

Title of article about police

Now, we’ve been mentioned in the national Ha’aretz daily newspaper, as the driving force behind developing cultural competency training in the entire Israel Police Force. Here’s the link to the article, and you can download a .pdf of the article here.

And here’s the full text:

Are Israel’s Police Really More Violent Toward the Ethiopian Community?

Are police in Israel and the U.S. inherently racist, or are they part of a bigger problem? A series of reforms undertaken by the Israel Police indicates a desire to change

Nomi Levenkron Sep 02, 2017 8:06 AM

Police officers aren’t born racist – they become racist in a society where racism is more deeply rooted than people will ever dare admit. The frequent violent encounters between police and minority groups – in Ferguson and Los Angeles, in Paris and London, in Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Jerusalem – all stem from  the same thing: a racist society that tries to conceal its racism with condemnation of the police. We scapegoat the police while taking pride in our own clean hands.

The encounter between police and minorities has been volatile since modern policing began, amid the many groups based on ethnicity, religion and sexual preferences. Processes of nation-building marginalized the Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians. European colonialism was disguised as a “civilizing mission,” which continued when the residents of the colonies arrived as citizens in the lands of the colonizers. The U.S. Civil War led to the de jure but not necessarily the de facto liberation of millions of slaves.

And the tens of millions of immigrants to the West at the end of the 19th century weren’t welcomed warmly since they were perceived as carriers of four kinds of undesirable baggage: dubious morals, crime, disease and imbecility. Many immigrants had problems finding work and housing, and therefore crowded into struggling neighborhoods. This geographic and employment segregation made it even harder to break down cultural barriers.

These processes led to mutual suspicion and sometimes hatred between minority groups and the police in Western countries. The police’s central role in protecting the regime and public order, especially during demonstrations, increased the potential for friction. The police’s perception that crime among minorities stemmed from cultural traits, not socioeconomic traits and discrimination, sometimes led to over-policing — as seen in unnecessary arrests and violence. And it also led to under-policing, stemming from neglect and indifference.

Police methods did not arise in a vacuum but rather in a society that was racist in innumerable ways, among them the restriction of groups’ access to jobs, welfare, education and health. Police activity was harsher in terms of the damage it caused to the bodies and freedom of minority people, but police racism was no different from the racism in the wider society.

This is the background for understanding the many violent disturbances among minorities against the police. These groups were sitting on a powder keg and were fed up with hegemonic society’s treatment of them. The police only lit the fuse.

At the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, the LGBT struggle began after police known for their homophobia raided a gay bar. The 1992 Los Angeles riots erupted after the police who beat up Rodney King were exonerated in court. The 2011 London riots began after the police opened fire on a 29-year-old black man, and at the beginning of this year in Paris a similar wave began after a young man from a banlieue complained that the police had arrested him for no reason, beaten him and raped him with a baton.

Often the police know they’re the scapegoat, even when they admit responsibility, as with the events that ignited the most recent riot. But that accompanies the underlying racism and socioeconomic discrimination. At a Milwaukee police press conference in August 2016 after the police’s shooting of a young black man provoked riots, Sheriff David Clarke said: “Police use of force serves as an igniter — there’s no doubt — but to an already volatile mix of urban pathologies, failed urban policy that exacerbates inescapable poverty, failing public schools, inadequate parenting . Stop trying to fix the police. Fix the ghetto.”

In Israel, similar things happened after the establishment of the state, and the pretenses of creating a melting pot dissipated rapidly. We loved the immigration, not the immigrants. The Moroccans became an object of fear, the Germans scorn, the Yemenites pure paternalism (as in the kidnapping of Yemenite children).

Immigrants demonstrated in cities and transit camps against their treatment, but it was only the encounter between stevedore Yaakov Elkarif and two policemen in Haifa’s Wadi Salib neighborhood in 1959 that provoked a revolt by immigrants from North Africa, which included violent demonstrations, the blocking of roads and the setting of cars on fire. The appointment of a commission of inquiry and symbolic amendments to legislation were to no avail, and beneath the surface the embers continued to hiss.

The flames flared up again in the ‘70s when Israel’s version of the Black Panthers, representing Jews with roots in the Middle East and North Africa, demanded equality in education and employment. The racism against groups perceived as dangerous toward Jews was even harsher. The police stuck in the map flags dipped in the blood of members of the “minority” — the Israeli euphemism for Arabs. The 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre, the October 2000 riots in the Galilee and the 2017 Umm al-Hiran demonstrations are among the most notable incidents, but by no means the only ones.

A drop in the turbulent sea

If we probe our memories honestly, we must admit that Ethiopian Israelis’ problems neither began nor end with the police. The supreme heroism attributed to the bringing of this community to Israel stood in harsh contrast to the attitude toward them here. We labeled them “quiet and nice,” but we didn’t want them living near us. We refused to acknowledge them as Jews and put them in separate school programs. When they donated blood, we threw it in the garbage.

In a lecture by a policeman of Ethiopian origin in a law course I teach, a woman in the class asked him whether he feels safe enough to drink beer in the street after he goes off duty and dons civilian clothes.

The policeman smiled and said: “Are you asking me whether the police are racist? When I arrived in Israel I said that I would not live locked up in the Ethiopian community. I would have Israeli friends, an Israeli girlfriend, and an Israeli life. So yes, I did have an Israeli girlfriend. We went out for two years. But do you know what ‘we went out’ means? It means that not once did she invite me to her home.

“She was embarrassed. She didn’t want her parents to see her with an Ethiopian. After two years I understood what was going on and we split up. So are you asking me if the police are racist? I’ll answer you in the simplest way: You started it. We deal with the results.”

“A man is nothing but the image of his native landscape,” wrote poet Shaul Tchernichovsky, and by the same token, the policeman is the litmus test of Israeli society. Over-policing and under-policing developed gradually and led to a long series of clashes. More than once, a request to see an ID led to violence that at worst ended in an indictment for insulting public servants or interfering with a police officer. At best it ended with hard feelings of discrimination.

A 2016 Justice Ministry report noted that a large number of Israelis of Ethiopian origin – mainly minors – were being arrested and tried. For example, in 2015 the percentage of indictments against people of Ethiopian origin was 3.5 percent, compared with their 2 percent representation in the overall population. The report also showed that 18 percent of those held in the Ofek Prison for minors were of Ethiopian origin. The Tebeka legal aid organization for Ethiopian Israelis has received scores of complaints about police violence, but the group’s 2014 appeal to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch elicited only the laconic reply that “the police are not familiar with a phenomenon of police violence toward people of Ethiopian origin.”

Yet the community remained composed. Its young people joined the police but even there they didn’t find protection from the racism. Outside, police of Ethiopian origin encountered curses like “black zero” or “get out of here, it’s too bad you immigrated to Israel.” Inside the police, they came up against the glass ceiling that’s so familiar to every minority group. Joining the police, it seems, didn’t improve the police’s attitude toward the Ethiopian community.

The relative quiet ended in April 2015 when a video came out of the police beating Israeli soldier Damas Fekade and the attorney general closed the case. That event was preceded by a number of incidents, most notably the suicide of Yosef Salamseh; his family said he was abused by the police when he was arrested.

The video, however, was the last straw. In the days after its release, more than 1,000 people demonstrated in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, blocking main roads. The demonstrations got out of control, especially in Tel Aviv: Dozens of demonstrators and police were injured, store and car windows were smashed, and the police used stun grenades and tear gas.

Why did the protest erupt then? There are a number of possible explanations. The members of the generation born in Israel no longer agreed to bow their heads to racism, and the police violence was against a soldier in uniform – a symbol of the consensus and integration. Apparently Black Lives Matter in the United States also influenced the nature of the protest.

Conspicuous by their absence were other Israelis. During the following week smaller demonstrations took place in Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon and Haifa, where there are many Israelis of Ethiopian origin. The fact that there was no protest in Netanya reflected the success of the police there. Still, it’s doubtful the last word has been spoken.

Many faces of racism

How is racism eradicated? Quite simply, it isn’t. Racism is too deeply imprinted in individuals and society; at most it’s possible to decrease it. But in the Damas Fekade affair, the seeds of change were sown. From the outside, community activists demanded from the police an acknowledgement of over-policing, an apology and preventive action.

From within, an officer of Ethiopian origin, Superintendent Shai Yasu, a lawyer, contacted the police’s head of human resources, Maj. Gen. Gila Gaziel. Yasu suggested that he be appointed the liaison to the community. Similar requests by him in the past were refused, but the police saw the attack on Fekade as a warning sign, while the need for a change was clear to the top command. The police academy, which had been established just a few months earlier, was part of the change; all training processes were reexamined, and the question was asked: What kind of policing is needed in a multicultural society?

Despite the harsh criticism of Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich after he said it was natural for the police to be more suspicious of Ethiopian Israelis, he has been the first commissioner to launch an extensive program for multicultural policing. Many changes have taken place over the past two years. For example, 29 community police officers, most of them of Ethiopian origin, have been assigned to heavily Ethiopian neighborhoods; they arrange meetings between community leaders and local police commanders. They also create unofficial bridges such as paint ball and soccer games with teens.

Cases that were filed in 2014 to 2016, some of them possible results of over-policing, underwent reviews. All police stations and commanders have taken courses on cultural appropriateness, which were developed with the Jerusalem Intercultural Center [emphasis ours]. This year the number of police officers of Ethiopian origin (1,085 out of about 30,000) is larger than their percentage in the overall population, and there is an increasing number of officers (27 in 2014 and 51 in 2017).

The glass ceiling is also melting a bit; two Ethiopian Israelis are now chief superintendents. Police are regularly briefed on multicultural policing before they go out on duty, and there are plans to enlarge the pilot project in which police wear body cameras and at every station someone is responsible for cultural appropriateness. Surveys in the Ethiopian community indicate a steep rise in trust in the police, from 18 percent in 2015 (versus 48 percent in the general population) to 25 percent in 2016 (also versus 48 percent). The main tool is a joint steering committee of the police and the community.

One member of the steering committee is Issachar Makonnen. He was Israel’s first Ethiopian lieutenant colonel, and he heads an organization that helps the community and prepares its young people for the army. In this respect, he lauds the police’s head of human resources, Gila Gaziel.

“But let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he says. “There is still a gap between the orders from above and the field, and there is police violence. And there are police officers who beat someone up and then run to complain that they’ve been attacked. But I’m telling you unequivocally that it’s getting better. Today we have possibilities that we didn’t have before. I have an open door at the station commander’s office, at Gila Gaziel’s office and at Alsheich’s when necessary.”

When I recently completed a long day of interviews at the police academy, an officers’ graduation ceremony was going on. On stage stood 138 excited cadets; it was obvious that considerable thought had been invested in creating a culturally diverse cadre: seven of Ethiopian origin – four times their representation in the general population – as well as 10 Druze, one Muslim and two Christians. The speeches stressed the importance of diversity and multiculturalism. In the audience sat families and friends of every religion, origin and color – all of them shedding a tear of the same color.

At the end of the day, there seems to be reason for cautious optimism, even though there is still a long way to go. Are the police less racist than in 2015, the year Damas Fekade was beaten? It’s possible to say for certain only that the police are trying and investing money, manpower, thought, time and effort – which is a lot more than can be said about Israeli society. And anyone among us who has never committed the sin of racism has the honor of casting the first stone at the police.

Nomi Levenkron is a doctoral student at the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law.

While this is a national program, we owe our deep gratitude to the Jerusalem Foundation, which has been our strategic partner in developing Cultural Competency in Jerusalem for the past decade.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Hacking Jerusalem Clean

It all started with #Made in Jerusalem‘s #HackJLM –  a bimonthly series of hackathons, dedicated to helping the tech platforms of a wide variety of nonprofits for social change in Jerusalem – that is helping to advance our Little Prince – Cleaning Up Jerusalem Together program.

Hi-tech for social change at #HackJLM

Hi-tech for social change at #HackJLM

Tal Kligman, the director of “the Little Prince” program, Michal Shilor, our Coordinator for Grassroots Campaign for Tolerance and in-house tech guru, and Lionel Wolberg from the Jerusalem Green Fund put out a call to hackers that they were interested in developing tech-based solutions to garbage problems. At the hackathon, Tal, Michal, Lionel, JICC Director Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir and activist/hi-tech professional Polina Sklyarevsky, met up with a group of techies, and together they brainstormed about who, what and how this project should work.

Pausing to take a group picture

Pausing to take a group picture

During the evening they came up with an idea to develop an extremely simple to use mobile app for trash and other dangerous reports. The idea is that you in one click photograph the spot with your phone and send it directly to the Municipality, which will put it in its work plan to be taken care of. This app will operate in both Hebrew and Arabic. All this, without needing to call (and wait for) the Municipality hotline that deals with these issues. Hopefully, a more advanced version will include automatic GPS coordinates, so that Municipality workers will know exactly where to go. (Here’s a link  to the app that they’re trying to develop.) Right now, they’ve developed the first model of the app, and the backend aspects are now being worked on. We hope to have a beta version very soon.

Here’s a Facebook post about the event:

Here’s what #Made in Jerusalem wrote about the evening.

And here’s a video (in Hebrew) of the experience. This initiative starts at minute 17:


Wishing the developers well, and good luck to Little Prince!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email