Michal Shilor, our Coordinator for the Grassroots Campaign for Tolerance, was just the focus of an article on the Australian web site, +61J: Broadening the Conversation. In the article she spoke about her work at the JICC promoting tolerance, Jerusalemite Day, her founding of 0202, and Jerusalem as the World Capital of Tolerance.
You can see the original article here. And here’s the text:
Found in translation: Activist puts Hebrew, Arabic speakers on same page
By Ittay Flescher
IN THE SUMMER of 2014, Michal Shilor was studying social work. On the night before her final exam on The Components of a Welfare State, she heard kids yelling “Death to Arabs” outside the window of her apartment in the Nachlaot neighbourhood of central Jerusalem. She thought to herself: “How can I be studying for something that’s supposed to be about social change and how a state should give equal rights to everybody while this is happening outside my window and I am doing nothing?”
Realising that her need to do something was more important to her than studying for an exam, she went outside and followed the group of boys and men to Kikar Tziyon (Zion Square), the centre of the city’s economic and cultural life. On one side of the square stood the far-Right group Lehava,yelling ”Death to Arabs” and “Mohammed is Dead” with further calls for revenge, following the burial of three Israeli boys that had been kidnapped and brutally murdered by Hamas.
That same night, news had also emerged about the fate of 16-year-old Palestinian who was kidnapped, beaten and, while still alive, set on fire by three Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem. The men justified the murder to police as a response to the abduction and murder of the three Jewish teens.
On the other side of Kikar Tziyon, Shilor saw a large Left-wing rally chanting loudly against fascism and racism. She found herself sitting in the middle with a small group of friends, singing songs and lighting candles, feeling isolated by the aggression of both sides.
As conversations began to emerge between these groups and the many passers-by, Shilor and her activist friends decided to return to Kikar Tziyon every night to have discussions with people about their different visions for Jerusalem.
That discussion became “Speaking in the Square,” a forum that has created a space for complex one-on-one conversations every Thursday night for the past four years and hese turned Kikar Tziyon into a place that is no longer violent.
Shilor was not finished. “I’m talking to the far-Right activists, saying things that my Jewish friends are telling me about what Palestinians think and feel, but all of my knowledge about the Arab residents of my city (who make up 37% of Jerusalem’s population) comes from Jewish eyes.”
She turned to Facebook, which is used heavily in East Jerusalem, to do some research but couldn’t speak or read Arabic. Her solution, with the support of several cultural and philanthropic organisations, was to build a team of Hebrew and Arabic speakers who could find and translate the most viral political and social posts from East and West Jerusalem on a daily basis.
Four months later, the Facebook page 0202 Points of View From Jerusalem went live and has since become one of the most important sources of information for Jerusalem activists and residents alike (the numbers refer to Jerusalem’s telephone area code, 02, and by using it twice, the name conveys connection with the other side of the city). A year later, a page translating posts from Haredi Jerusalem was also added to the project.
The head of 0202 is Shira Laurence, who moved to Jerusalem 10 years ago from the United States. Laurence heads a team of half a dozen part-time staff who manage around 35 translators, most of them volunteers. A self-described “language nerd”, Laurence wrote her senior thesis for Middle Eastern Studies on Jerusalem.
She says one of the most significant achievements of the site involved driving lessons in the Arnona neighbourhood of West Jerusalem, which has a mostly modern Orthodox, Jewish population.
Arnona is popular for people learning to drive in Jerusalem because it’s a relatively new and spacious precinct with wide streets, and much easier than the often small and crowded streets of East Jerusalem. In June 2015, signs went up in Arnona bidding driving lessons on Shabbat and Jewish festivals. Shortly after this announcement by the Jerusalem City Council, there were hundreds of Facebook posts in Arabic from residents and driving instructors in East Jerusalem complaining about how the decision was discriminatory as it prevented them from teaching or learning how to drive at a time that suited them.
When posts of complaint in Arabic where translated to Hebrew by 0202, it eventually led to the council allowing Arab driving instructors to work in the neighbourhood on Shabbat.
The issue received almost no coverage in Jewish West Jerusalem until these posts where translated to Hebrew by 0202, which eventually led to the council reversing the decision.
Dalia Goodhardt, who recently made aliyah from Melbourne and now works on the social media team at 0202, says being part of the team has broadened her horizons about Jerusalem. “Editing posts, especially from Haredim, has exposed me on a regular basis to different narratives of what Jerusalem means to different people. At times it is challenging, as I often translate posts whose views I don’t share, but I always edit neutrally so the reader can make up their own mind.”
Goodhardt, who attended Beth Rivkah Ladies College before majoring in Arabic at Melbourne University, added: “Working at 0202 has given me a better understanding of the Palestinian narrative, giving me more empathy to respect their viewpoints, even though I don’t always agree.”
Shilor says: “Our city is roughly a third Arab (Muslim and Christian), a third Haredi, and a third modern Orthodox or secular. We meet each other in the streets, on public transportation, in restaurants, in hummus places, in garages, in taxis. There are over 500 activist events that celebrate diversity every year.”
Shilor notes that on a tense Jerusalem Day this year, following President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy, with violent clashes on the Gaza border and the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Naqba (the “catastrophe” of Israel’s independence) all occurring in the same week, there were over 80 events promoting tolerance in the city. She believes these events created a different, “authentically Jerusalemite” narrative of the day.
“Just as a city which has infrastructure for bike lanes hosts cycling events, includes a growing community of riders and attracts people from abroad to experience the ‘bicycle capital of the world’, so too, Jerusalem can become the tolerance capital of the world, despite the serious and unresolved political-diplomatic issues facing the city,” Michal Shilor wrote in the journal Fathom.
Shilor’s Facebook translation page is a grassroots attempt to help the different groups within Israeli society speak with one another and discover that more things unite than divide them. For people who call Jerusalem their home, It’s a small but important step in the right direction.
Main photo: Michael Shilor (left) and Shira Laurence
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Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation, the UJA-Federation of New York, and the Natan Fund for their support of promoting tolerance in Jerusalem. Many thanks to the Leichtag and Rayne Foundations and the Natan Fund for their specific support of 0202.