Community in Action participants closing the year
In the last months, we have closed up our activity with the 2019-2020 Community in Action cohort. In June, as schools opened up again, participants finished their volunteer work with students in Jaffa. In July, we had several closing activities to provide a sense of closure for the disrupted year. We held a political tour to the Occupied Syrian Golan, where participants were able to learn about the specific context of the region, and spend one last tour together. Participants also had a closing gathering, whereby they reflected and talked about the significance of the process they went through.
Following are some of the reflections participants decided to share:
“I was able to connect my own experiences with the political map and learn that I am able to lead change.” (Palestinian woman)
“I realized that society needs to change and that I have a responsibility to take matters to my own hands and lead that change.” (Jewish woman)
“In the beginning I only got up to volunteer because I had to. Now I understand the meaning of it all – how I must give back to my community and I have a responsibility towards making my community better.” (Palestinian woman)
“I remain with the desire to continue developing my activism, to act for change, and to support efforts to resolve the conflict.” (Jewish man)
“I feel that I am more responsible and more confident. I learned to express my opinion and now thanks to the group I want to express this opinion.” (Palestinian woman)
“This entire year made me develop my understanding of our society, and also develop my sense of empathy.” (Jewish man)
“The same way I am going through a meaningful process, I think I have to give back to the kids in my city so they can also go through a meaningful process. The scholarship I got for volunteering was helpful, but that is not the reason I stayed. I felt solidarity with the kids, and I realized it is important to give and not just take.” (Palestinian woman)
We wish our alumni all the best, as they begin to apply the lessons they learned in their activism and future work.
Community in Action staff adapting to the needs of the community
Over the last years of carrying out the Community in Action program, we have seen the program's impact on its participants, who went on to be socially and politically engaged activists. Alongside this, we have noticed that over the years it has become increasingly challenging to recruit young Palestinians from Jaffa to participate in the program. This has led us to reflect on the role of our programming in Jaffa, and re-evaluate how we might best adapt to meet the need of young people in Jaffa while also working to promote a just and shared society. We decided to re-vamp our Community in Action program. We talked to young people in Jaffa, and to our participants, and the main barriers to participation became clear. A first barrier was the fact that it was unfeasible for young Palestinians in Jaffa to take a whole year to volunteer and learn when many have the responsibility to work and support their families. A second barrier was young people's lack of faith in their own ability to lead change in the face of an unequal political reality. A third barrier was the understandable lack of willingness to participate in bi-national initiatives due to increasing lack of trust between the two societies and the crucial and legitimate desire to prioritize the Palestinian community.
As we began this thinking process, the pandemic began and we saw the barriers to participation intensify. In Jaffa, the crisis marked an increase in the already rampant police violence and profiling of young Palestinians in Jaffa. In the midst of the crisis, the Tel-Aviv municipality decided to go ahead with the demolition of an ancient Muslim burial site, ignoring the pleas and protest from the local Jaffa residents. The localized and acutely felt ramifications of the crisis and discrimination, exemplified in Jaffa, has served to disillusion young people, leading them to become rightfully frustrated with decision makers, and lose faith in their own ability to change their own, and their communities’, circumstances. We understand that in order to strengthen communities we must strengthen and empower the potential young leaders within them, countering hopelessness and providing them with the tools, community of learning and partnership, and guidance, to instil and sustain their commitment to give back to, and advance, their communities.
We realized that in order to support local young adults in Jaffa, and in order to equip them to support their communities in turn, we should address the main barriers we have recognized. We must firstly emphasize concrete trainings, tools, and hands-on experience that will allow participants to secure future income. Secondly, we must enrich the trainings with content around the participants' wider socio-political context and opportunities for change. Lastly, the training must directly allow young Palestinians to benefit their own communities, even when done in a bi-national context. For this reason, we decided to adapt and expand our tours department to engage young people in Jaffa and train them to facilitate alternative socio-political tours of Jaffa, and cease our Community in Action project as it is currently structured. Our experience through the years of working with young adults, has taught us that providing young adults with concrete tools and hands-on experiences, can present powerful educational opportunities that teach young people about their social-political context, and instill in them the confidence to act. In all our years of leading the Community in Action groups, teaching participants to build and lead tours of Jaffa proved one of the most impactful, teaching, and empowering experiences participants had undergone. We believe that in the current political moment, the process of empowering young leaders in the community must begin at this fundamental level.
If you would like to keep supporting our work of equipping young leaders in Jaffa to promote change in our divided and unequal reality, consider supporting our 'Alternative Tours of Jaffa - Led by Jaffa's Young' project on GlobalGiving.
These have been hard and unsettling months for all of us. As we send you this update, along with our unceasing gratitude for your support, we want to also include our best wishes and our deepest hope that all of you who read these words are healthy in body and spirit, and that your loved ones are safe, as well.
The pandemic made its way to our quarters in late February, and heavy and crucial restrictions on movement and gatherings began starting in early March. So our update this time around has two clear sections - 'Before COVID-19' and Amid COVID-19.'
Participants continued their learning and volunteer work in Jaffa; working with students at the different educational institutions where they volunteer, initiating events, and going through workshops and learning days. A crucial component of this learning, a part of the educational program, has been the series of annual tours participants take part in. The tours enable our participants to explore the Israeli socio-political landscape and interrogate their own responsibility within it. In late February, participants got to take part in one of the two tours planned for the February-May period, titled "From Jaffa to Beirut." The tour begins in Jaffa and ends at the border with Lebanon, in Rosh Hanikra. The tour moves through different points along the incomplete path from Jaffa to Beirut, like the destroyed village of Tantura or stand-alone church in the wrecked village of Iqrit, unraveling the unspoken histories of the land we all share in order to allow participants to consider the prospect of a different, less segregated, and more just, future. We believe that in order to equip our leaders to create this shared and just future, we must enable them to ask hard questions about the historical and current injustices that inform their own lives. And indeed, our young leaders left with many questions and revelations.
As our work deals with people and dialogue, the restrictions to limit the spread of the virus - while crucial - affected us tremendously. Still, we worked to adapt.
We adapted the volunteer portion of our Community in Action program to fit with the current needs of our community; after an initial break, our leaders either continued their work as part of the educational institutions they were working with, or supported young Jaffa students we hosted in our offices, who did not have access to computers at home for online learning. Further, our participants have been working to transition their activism initiatives online. Our participants have continued their volunteer work, activism, and learning amid the crisis in a period that has served as an invaluable lesson, demonstrating how crucial it is for everyone to take responsibility and act to make our society better for everyone who live here.
Beyond our project, we were not surprised to see the incitement and violence that was directed towards Palestinians in Jaffa, and beyond, in light of the crisis. The disproportionate impact of the crisis on marginalized communities directly stems from the discrimination, neglect, and incitement against which we work with our youth year-round.
While we have had to adapt our activities, there is no doubt in our minds that the need for our educational work has not disappeared, and will be even more relevant and crucial in the aftermath of the crisis. We are working today, and always, to ensure our participants have the support and tools they need in order to make sense of this situation – to process, and act.
Over the last few months, our Community in Action groups have ventured North-ward and South-ward, in-ward and out-ward, to learn and unpack the socio-political contexts which inform their lives and motivate their commitment to a just and equal shared future.
Along with their learning, volunteer work and activism in Jaffa, participants attended a two day seminar in Haifa and Acre in the north; a tour of Lod in the center; and a tour of Yeruham in the south. Each location presented its own complexity within the local fraught reality. In the north, participants got to learn about disparities in resource allocation towards the Palestinian community in the Old City of Acre, and the struggle against the silencing of critical Palestinian theatre in Haifa. In Lod, participants were guided by a local activist who elaborated on the realities of living in a segregated and unequal "mixed" city, home to both Arab-Palestinian and Jewish populations. In Yeruham, participants were exposed to the layered intricacies of racism, segregation, and injustice exemplified in Israel's social and geographical periphery, as they met local activists and communities. All in all, participants are engaging in the hard work of asking themselves new questions about their reality, the historical and processes and current practices that brought it about, and their role in it.
Our participants are also beginning to bring their knowledge and experience into practice through activism. For exmple, in support of the strike acknowledging the 71 Arab victims of violence who died since the beginning of 2019, one of our groups dedicated an entire day of learning to the issue and came out with a commitment to act as “agents of change” in their work with the community in Jaffa and with their families at home, to raise awareness and encourage resistance to this problem. In the second group, one of our participants chose to organize a bi-lingual event around the climate crisis, seeking to bring awareness to the issue and prompt local communities to take action against a global injustice. In these ways, our participants are continuing the work of unpacking the political context around them, and finding the ways to become actors within it.
We are eager to see what else participants will create, as the learning, volunteering, and activism continues, thanks largely to your support and help.
After an eventful summer, we were excited to open another year with more groups in each one of our main projects!
We began this project year in Community in Action with two new groups.
According to the new project format, one group follows our traditional model, which brings together local Palestinian and Jewish high school graduates to engage in bi-national learning, local volunteering, and social action; whereas a second group is run in cooperation with AJEEC and brings to Jaffa Jewish participants from the Jewish Scouts to learn and volunteer at local schools alongside Palestinian Jaffa residents.
The new groups include a total of 20 participants; of them, twelve Jewish and eight Palestinian participants, fifteen females and five males. The first group meetings took place in September, including uni-national workshops as well as bi-national discussions and activities. In the very beginning of the group process, emphasis is put on the uni-national work, with the purpose of building up the participant's confidence and comfort within their own identity. At this point, the Community in Action group is already preparing their first tour of the year – a participants-led tour of Jaffa.
Meanwhile, Sadaka-Reut staff started their own staff development process. Two days in October were dedicated to personal, political and professional introductions between new and old coordinators and facilitators from the different projects, and activities that encouraged staff members to reflect and situate themselves within group dynamics. Since our student project is expanding and now includes its own team of facilitators, our first staff development days were attended by no less than 22 people! We can't wait to see where eles this year will take our new participants and staff.
Another year of bi-national activities in Jaffa and beyond has come to an end!
For their final initiative, Community in Action participants took on the issue of asylum seekers and labour migrants, which has made headlines in recent years, dividing entire neighbourhoods and communities between those who are for and against such migration. Yet, it is rarely talked about within local Arab communities. The participants learned about the situation through the educational program and created a series of posters and stickers in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and Tigrinya. Their initiative sought to call attention the key terms "genocide" – especially relevant to refugees from Sudan – and "infiltrator" – a charged term recently used by the government to refer to asylum-seekers and labour migrants, and which was historically used to refer to Palestinians refugees who tried to return to their homes.
The group marked the end of the year with an educational trip to the Golan Heights, where they learned from a local Druze guide about the history and current realities of the region's residents. The day started with a beautiful hike along the Hatzbani River. From there, the group drove to the village of Majar, half of which is under Lebanese control. After passing through the market in Majdal Shams, the group had lunch at the home of a local family. Just before sunset, participants visited the Shouting Hill, a symbolic spot reflecting the connection that the Druze people in the Golan hold with their families in Syria, whom they rarely get an opportunity to meet. The conclusion of the tour and the year took place in an abandoned Syrian army base, where each participant received a certificate. and had a chance to reflect on the experience:
"In the beginning of the year, I felt embarrassed to tell my friends that what I do at Sadaka-Reut is about Arab-Jewish partnership. Today, I say it, emphasize it, and explain with pride all about it and what it stands for" (Palestinian female, Jaffa)
"The program made me realize how important it is to work together. The ideas of partnership, co-existence, and peace are often romanticized. The world has some ugliness in it and I see a part of my job to make life in it more pleasant" (Jewish male, Jaffa)
We are proud of our participants and their ability to overcome challenges in order learn and act together throughout they year. Meanwhile, recruitment for next year's program is underway, and we are already excited to meet the next group of Community in Action activists!
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