Ambassadors Online – Academic Public Diplomacy

 

Israel’s many different faces

By – Esti Cohen  

Usually, when Israel is presented in the world’s media the image one gets from it is of a war zone and constant struggle. What the public isn’t aware of is that the daily life in Israel is very much alike to the life in other countries. One of the things that do stand out in Israel and make it a unique place to live in, is its diversity and a multi-cultural society.

The population is deviated to 80% Jews and 20% non Jews: Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, Druze and members of other ethnic and religious groups. In Israel’s Declaration of Independence from 1948 it is stated that all the different ethnic and religious groups will maintain their basic rights in accordance with the democratic values of the state. Therefore, every different group has the right for religious freedom and the right to vote and take an active part of the political life. In order to illustrate the situation more clearly I would like to take my hometown, Haifa as a case study.

Haifa is the third largest city in Israel, it is also known as the capital of the north. The city is a symbol of co-existence between the Jewish population and the Arab population, which is estimated to be 10% in Haifa. As mentioned earlier the city has a wide diversity of groups, from Jews to Muslims and Christians,  Baha’i, followers of Ahmadiyya (Islamic reformist movement) and Druze. As someone who was born and raised in the city I can say that the mixture of cultures makes it a very unique place to live in, this situation allows the citizens to absorb all the qualities of the different ethnic groups.

For example every December we have a celebration of the different holidays: Christmas, Hanukah and Ramadan (Compared to the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan vary so that not every year the holiday is on December). This celebration is conducted through all of December and is named as the “Holiday of all Holidays”. The city also functions as the world center for the Bahai faith since the beginning of the 20th century. The Shrine of the Bab, one of the founders of the Bahai faith, is located in the hanging gardens of Haifa; they are one of the most visited tourist attractions in Israel. Bahais from all around the world commit pilgrimage to their religious World Center located in Haifa.

Every weekend the residents of Haifa go touring and shopping in the Druze villages close by on Mount Carmel, they walk around in the local market in which one can find almost everything, from spices to furniture. Another tourist location is the Stella Maris Monastery located on the slopes of Mount Carmel; the monastery was founded in the 12th century during the Crusader rule of the region, the Monastery serves as a centre of Carmelite spirituality throughout the world.

Furthermore I would like to address to the unique ethnic division in the University of Haifa, from the point of view of a student of the university.  When one enters the university he can’t help but notice the different faces, different outfits. As we continue our travel inside the university we hear a mixture of many languages: Hebrew, Arabic, English are the common languages heard in the corridors.

The university established the Jewish-Arab center. The center’s mission is to promote the dialog between the Arab population and the Jewish population. The center conducts volunteering activities where Jewish and Arab students volunteer together in order to assist the society. They also have a special program that launches Jewish-Arab expedition to climb the Mont Blanc, made totally out of students.

Personally, as a Jewish student in the university whose majors are Arabic Language and Middle Eastern History I come across with different kinds of students all the time. In the Arabic Language Department for example the Arab students are approximately 95% and the Jewish students are approximately 5%. I myself work together with Arab students in our homework tasks; we study together before our exams and engage in different projects. This helps to create a nice and warm learning atmosphere and can be the base of improving the relationship between the Arab and the Jewish in general.

To conclude, although according to the common media reporting Israel is a war zone and a place of constant conflict the reality is that Israel is a place in which Arabs and Jewish live side by side. I invite you to come and see for yourselves, Haifa is beautiful in the summer time.