“Today the streets are filled with a ‘music’ of hatred and intolerance. Jews, Arabs, religious, secular, right, left, anyone who is not ‘us,'” notes our own Tal Kligman. “We have to change the ‘music’ that’s playing out there.” This was the impetus for the Open Space Workshop for Activists and Organizations that we facilitated at the Jerusalem International YMCA on November 24, 2014. “We expected 20 – 30 people to come,” continued Tal. “We did relatively little advertising – Facebook, a few mailing lists. But we’ve obviously hit a nerve – more than 100 people came to the meeting, and more than 150 people have asked to join the GoogleGroup we’ve established since the meeting. The event received many likes on Facebook, and a number of people have told us, ‘Thank you! We’re so happy to have a framework in which to do something about the situation.'”
Indeed, the situation has been difficult. On the backdrop of the kidnapping and killing of the three Jewish teenagers, the kidnapping and killing of an Arab teen, and the military operation in Gaza that began in the summer months, the Jerusalem street has been anything but quiet. Verbal and physical attacks from all sides, to all sides, have raised fear and tension throughout the city.
We’ve been working since our inception to open channels of communication between different population groups in Jerusalem. But over these past few months we’ve been working more intensely to stem the tide. As soon as the Arab boy was found we augmented our efforts to bring calm to the city. We also stepped up our work to bring positive messages to the public sphere. We were – and continue to be – on the ground, in public squares, engaging people – left, right, vocal demonstrators – in dialogue as a means to decrease violence in these areas. Both national and local newspapers have written about us here and here.
Still, for us, this was not enough. Incidents continued to occur, and fear continued to abound. Within the Arab-Palestinian sector of Jerusalem, most of our relevant work on this issue is through our on-going activist networks of MiniActive, Emergency Readiness Networks, etc. In our work in the Jewish sector, we found that there are a lot of people and initiatives, who might have different political views but all believe that violence, incitement and fear are not the way forward. So we decided to bring them all together to brainstorm, network, strengthen existing initiatives and create new ones, all in an effort to advance a more tolerant Jerusalem. Thus, the Open Space Workshop for Activists and Organizations was born.
Over the past few years, with the assistance of the UJA- Federation of New York, we’ve been working to engage with individuals to improve inter-group relations and promote deliberative democracy within communities as well as to solve common problems and advance common initiatives. It was an immediate outgrowth and a natural extension for us to use the approaches developed in this ongoing program to tackle issues affecting the public sphere of the entire city. Indeed, we used a methodology in this event that we developed over the past two years, based on Open Space Technology, that is well-adapted to energetic activists.
The atmosphere at the Workshop was both accepting of everyone and all ideas, and charged with an exciting eagerness to get down to work. The Open Space methodology enabled people to connect, discuss and create working teams for their ideas and initiatives. Participants broke into groups according to the initiatives they felt passionate about, and brainstormed about the next steps to advance and develop their initiatives.This passion was palpable in the air throughout the evening.
Ideas ranged from expanding existing initiatives to new ones. One example is “Speaking in the Square,” which has been focusing, since the summer months, on creating a new approach for approaching teens and adults in the streets (e.g. Zion Square, which is known as a center of non-tolerance in Jerusalem), and having effective dialogue with them about tolerance and xenophobia. (In the above links, we wrote about this exciting group of volunteers and their novel approach.) For the Hebrew readers, a new article about this group was published in Maariv recently (the print edition can be found here). As a result of the Workshop, partnerships were formed between this volunteer-based group and a number of organizations who are willing to teach their dialogue methodologies to these volunteers, as well as learn from them.
Another existing initiative looks for ways for the tolerant voice to reclaim the public sphere. Yet another, newer, initiative sought to influence key decision-makers. All these initiatives had an opportunity during the event to find new passionate members and partners, gain some new ideas and directions, and find means of cooperation among themselves.
New activities have already started, like sticker and T-shirt campaigns with anti-racist sayings, working with businesses that employ Arabs to make sure that they are not threatened in attempts to make them to fire their Arab workers, engaging in dialogue in mixed Jerusalem neighborhoods as Abu-Tor, mutual teaching of Arabic and Hebrew by Jews and Arabs etc.
Since the Workshop the JICC has opened up an Internet-based forum to enable activists from all the initiatives to continue to network and share ideas and experiences. We promised to mentor the initiatives and to have more energetic meetings for the initiatives in two months time.
We can’t close without a huge thanks to our strategic partners in this work, the Jerusalem Foundation, and the UJA- Federation of New York, who contributed in many ways to the success of our work in this new direction of fighting xenophobia in Jerusalem. We believe that many of the activities and approaches we use in Jerusalem can be of use in other places in Israel (and probably beyond).