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Organization: Baladna, Association for Arab Youth
The following information may be cited or quoted as long as the source is accurately mentioned and the words are not taken out of context.
Posted: April 29 2005,07:29 If you wrote this report, you will find a button here that you may click
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PROGRESS: Has your organization seen progress toward a culture of peace and nonviolence in your domain of action and in your constituency during the first half of the Decade?

INCREASED WILLINGNESS TO DIALOGUE

Five years ago, in October 2000, many Arab youth felt that it was possible that the government would transfer them any day. Beni Elon, head of the 'Transfer party', Ehud Leumi, was given a post in Sharon's cabinet.  Furthermore, they lived in an atmosphere in which they were regarded as inherently suspect. The killing of 13 Arab citizens of Israel by the security forces in 2000 was followed in the next two years by another 13 killings of Arabs on the highways, for mere traffic violations. Baladna was formed in the midst of such an atmosphere, and responded to it by creating a 'safe space' for Arab youth in which to examine their identities, address together the difficulties of being a minority, and confront internal Arab social problems on their own terms.

Although there has not been further internal civil strife since October 2000, tensions continue to linger beneath the surface. Arab citizens of Israel – a sizeable minority of approximately 20% – continue to be the most marginalized community in the country.  However, the atmosphere of betrayal has lessened. While trust has not in turn been built, the pressure is off, the fear level is lower and people can think more clearly and strategize for the long-term. At the time Baladna was established, many Baladna members were opposed to making working with Jews a priority. Since then, the realization has emerged that part of Baladna’s long-term strategy involves working with like-minded Jewish organizations, and Baladna has started to seek such opportunities more and more.  While there is no way to measure this quantitatively, we have found that in internal discussions among Baladna members  (400 youth) our youth have become more receptive to such projects in the last several years.  This generation of Middle Eastern youth, particularly Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel, may be the first prepared with the tools and mindset necessary to tackle internal challenges within their own society as they also advocate for themselves as citizens.

OBSTACLES: What are the most important obstacles that have prevented progress?

FAILURE TO ADDRESS THE NEEDS OF THE ARAB MINORITY IN ISRAEL = KEY OBSTACLE TO PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

The discrimination and inequality experienced by Arab citizens of Israel poses the main obstacle to the creation of a culture of peace within Israeli society as well as between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.  Discrimination and inequality lead to frustration, which if ignored may result in violence.  Violent internal conflict in turn often ‘legitimizes’ further discrimination and facilitates a vicious cycle difficult to break.  Meanwhile, the Arab minority occupies a unique position in the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict; thus their well-being, or lack thereof, has implications for all people in the region.  Further neglect of their basic needs will inevitably increase the frustration of Arab youth, lead to tension within Israeli society as a whole, and in the long-term could potentially lead to the realization of the great fear of the average Jewish Israeli – that a civil revolt from inside Israel could merge with further violence from the rest of the ‘hostile Arab world’.  Considering the sensitive situation the Middle East finds itself in at the moment, such a conflict should be avoided at all costs.  

At the moment -- as evidenced in unequal budget allocations, particularly to education -- Arab youth bear the brunt of discrimination in Israel.  The Israeli government has done nothing to equalize opportunities for youth who do not serve in the army, offers no specialized guidance for Arab youth leaving their villages to attend largely Jewish universities in urban centers, offers hardly any vocational programs for Arab youth, fails to offer sufficient funding for drug programs, and fails to fund after-school programming that could keep kids off the streets.  In addition to this, approximately 100,000 Palestinian Citizens of Israel reside in ‘unrecognized villages’, deemed "illegal" by the State; these villages cannot be found on any map, have no local council or government representation, suffer inadequate education facilities and receive no government services (i.e. water, sewage, electricity, health care or communication services). Furthermore, as long as Arab youth lack outlets for peaceful expression of their frustration -- isolated as they are from the Israeli media – they will find few ways of creating a dialogue with other groups.

If the discrimination faced by young Arab citizens of Israel is not tackled it will lead to increasing frustration and possible conflict affecting all citizens of Israel.  Baladna is working to confront discrimination by empowering young people to challenge and change the society they live in through peaceful means.

ACTIONS: What actions have been undertaken by your organization to promote a culture of peace and nonviolence during the first half of the Decade?

BALADNA, ASSOCIATION FOR ARAB YOUTH IN ISRAEL: WORKING FOR EQUITY, PROGRESS, AND PEACE

Baladna works to promote a culture of peace and nonviolence in a number of ways.  Through its identity development work fostering knowledge, identity and independence in its youth group members, Baladna seeks to empower youth in the Palestinian community to take initiative in tackling the problems concerning them as citizens of the State of Israel and members of Arab society.  This leads to a strengthening of Arab society and enables it to healthily and effectively rise up to achieve full equity within Israeli society and the world.  Equity between peoples is the basis for a culture of peace.

Baladna currently has three main programs: the Democracy and Community Development, Breaking the Isolation and the Mumkin Self-Advocacy Programs.  

Baladna’s Democracy and Community Development Program contributes to a culture of peace by cultivating democratic, pluralistic and tolerant impulses in Arab-Palestinian society, nurturing Arab youth identity, and offering productive outlets for peaceful collective and individual expression.  

Baladna’s Breaking the Isolation Program promotes a culture of peace by developing opportunities for interaction between people from different backgrounds and cultures and fostering internal discussion amongst Arab youth about the transition from traditional to ‘liberal’ values. International networking and exchange encourages a culture of peace by promoting cross-cultural dialogue and understanding which is the basis of all efforts for peace in the world and Israel. It also provides an opportunity for Arab youth to gain perspective and learn from the histories, experiences and skills of others.  

Finally, our nascent Mumkin Self-Advocacy Program aims to offer Arab youth the opportunity to research, analyze and voice their needs to the wider public in a constructive manner. In particular, our emerging Debate Project – a key component in the Mumkin Program – is nurturing our members’ ability to understand other arguments and strengthen their own, enabling effective self-advocacy among youth, and fostering a more open dialogue on equal terms. In the end, as a result of skills gained through Mumkin trainings in advocacy and debate, Baladna youth are able to bring the reality they face as a marginalized citizenry to the attention of the larger Israeli society, thereby enabling the majority to see how its future is tied in with the future of the Arab minority, and opening a fruitful discussion.

DEMOCRACY AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM: PROMOTING A CULTURE OF PEACE AMONGST ARAB YOUTH

Through the youth movement established via the Democracy & Community Development Program Baladna nurtures Arab youth identity and offers the skills necessary for peaceful internal social progress, crucial to the creation of a positive culture of peace within Arab society.  Arab youth in Israel, reared in the context of a Jewish state propounding a Zionist curriculum, tend to grow up with confused identities. Furthermore, economic, social and political marginalization on all levels mean that many young Arabs do not receive the resources, skills or information necessary to actively better their situation. The Democracy & Community Development Program works to address this government neglect by offering services to youth that can enable the fruitful development of individuals and advancement of Arab society.

It is Baladna’s ultimate aim that youth group trainees return to their own communities and with new-found pride and understanding develop projects and social movements of their own. This, it is hoped, will manifest in a stronger, more tolerant younger generation of Arab youth instrumental in the transformation and evolution of Palestinian and Israeli society.  By transforming their own societies from within and working for a more democratic culture and atmosphere, Arab youth can be instrumental in promoting a culture of peace and understanding.

Baladna Youth Groups:
In a social and political atmosphere which discourages questioning and free-thought among Arab youth, Baladna sincerely believes that youth must be given the space, time, and knowledge-base necessary to come to their own conclusions. Through our Youth Groups and Leadership Trainings, Baladna empowers youth with resources, information, and critical thinking skills, offering the essential background that allows youth to engage in an informed inquiry that leads to community involvement and social change. And to further encourage the emergence of leaders among the trainees, Baladna offers partial higher education scholarships to those that opt to become Youth Group Leaders.

Through discussion groups, lectures, films, role-play and a variety of other activities, Baladna Youth Groups explore a number of issues, including identity and equality, democratic values and behavior, human and minority rights.  These activities promote a culture of peace by educating young people about issues which are essential in the creation of positive peace.  Once aware of these issues young people can promote them in their local communities and become advocates for the culture of peace.

Baladna has been able to greatly expand its existing youth movement in recent years, greatly contributing to all efforts to create a safe space for identity development and to mitigate Arab youths’ feelings of isolation from one another, the Palestinian people, and the Israeli State, thereby reducing feelings of frustration and possibilities for conflict. From late 2003 to mid-2004, Baladna doubled the number of youth groups from 6 to 12. Since then, our Youth Groups project has once more nearly doubled, with 21 groups meeting on a weekly basis. With 15-25 youth in each group, approximately 400 high school students are now participating in Baladna Youth Groups. In response to the increased number of Youth Groups, Baladna has added new Youth Leadership Training in 3 simultaneous courses in different locations across Israel, tripling the number of training participants.

As part of a broader mission to empower youth locally and to connect them culturally, we have particularly expanded our focus to the Southern region, the Negev Desert. In order to build a strong nationwide movement capable of empowering Arab youth in Israel, special attention must be devoted to Arab communities suffering severe marginalization and segregation.  Geographic constraints have traditionally hindered connections between Negev area youth and those in the Center and North of the country. Not only do Arab Bedouin youth in the Negev commonly experience seclusion from the rest of the Arab-Palestinian people, they also suffer the acute neglect of the State, disproportionately deprived of a fair share of budget allocations. Thus for Arab inhabitants of the Negev facing unique challenges and severe inequalities, capacity-building for youth has never be more critical.

Integrating the Public Achievement Model:
Since merely exploring identity can be disempowering, and since action gives a sense of belonging to youth, Baladna encourages active involvement through the integration of the Public Achievement model into our Youth Groups. Public Achievement (PA) is a worldwide initiative aimed at empowering youth by giving them the tools necessary for full civic participation in their societies and for involvement in their communities. The Public Achievement model gives youth crucial sense of ownership of their community service projects by putting decision-making power into the hands of youth themselves and empowering them to choose their own projects.  

PA can play an important role in creating a culture of peace.  PA projects direct young people away from crime and drugs by offering them an alternative outlet for their energy.  The PA model also encourages peaceful action and gives young people peaceful outlets for expression. Through PA Projects young people are guided through the process of identifying their most pressing concerns and determining solutions to community problems, rather than waiting patiently for government assistance or blaming others helplessly.  The PA model contributes to a culture of peace by introducing young people to peaceful and co-operative ways of dealing with problems.

To illustrate, Rose Amer, Baladna’s Central Region Youth Group Coordinator has applied the PA model in her Qufr Qasem Youth Group. Splitting 18 youth into 3 groups, each group brainstormed social issues they wished to tackle, choosing the one they deemed most significant without interference from Amer. One group focused on the subject of early marriage, another on drugs, and the third on the issue of alcoholism in their village. At the end of the year, they began research within their society. At the end of the research process, each group will write an article about their topic and publish it on Qufr Qasem’s local website. This promotes a culture of peace by introducing constructive ways of looking at and dealing with internal social problems and the impacts of discrimination. By showing they are aware of their internal social problems and able to address the challenges imposed on their communities by decades of structural discrimination, effectively young Arabs also will gain the respect of ‘outsiders’ when they discuss their society and the problems they face.

Baladna Youth Leadership Development Training:
Baladna’s experience with the 20 youth groups it has established thus far indicates a vital need for recruiting motivated young people and instilling in them the sound group-management skills necessary for leading both youth interactions and community interventions. It is entirely possible that concrete capacity-building initiated via Youth Leadership Training can foster and enable a collective youth movement within Arab society, assisting this and the next generation of youth in propelling themselves and their communities out of economic decline and social stagnation.

Baladna’s Youth Leadership Development Training contributes to a culture of peace by creating future community leaders with initiative and the skills necessary for organizing groups and communities in the future. With these skills they can challenge current structures and change the false or cold ‘peace’ into a genuine peace.  

Baladna Youth Worker Manual:
In the first such manual dealing with the specific needs of Arab youth in Israel, in Arabic, Baladna Education Consultant Samiyeh Sharkawi has produced a valuable 250-page resource to be distributed among youth workers in all fields, at schools and community centers. The Manual – printed in its first edition at 1,000 copies – tackles five main issues in five sections:  Crystallizing group dynamics through icebreaking tactics; Identity Activities: Palestinian, civic, national, village, tribal, family; Gender: Discussing gender questions sensitively and effectively; Human Rights: Helping youth to understand and comply with these standards in concrete ways; Democracy: Civic participation and means for influencing decision-makers. The Manual offers accessible activities, practical materials, and academic articles concerning identity (by Ramse Sliman, head of the Haifa University Psychology Department, and Ahmad Saadi, Professor of Sociology at Ben Gurion University), as well as excerpts from human rights conventions such as CEDAW and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Baladna’s Youth Worker Manual offer Baladna Youth Workers effective democratic education curricula and contribute to a culture of peace by reinforcing and buttressing efforts to propound democratic values and egalitarian impulses among Arab youth. By introducing young people to questions of democracy, civic participation and gender equality, this manual can act as an instrument for change.  Further, discussion of these topics promotes a culture of peace by educating young people about their rights and responsibilities in society thus creating a generation of young people who are more aware of their potential role as peacemakers.

Baladna’s Youth Magazine, Shabab:
In order to broaden its base and offer youth a new forum for expression, Baladna established the youth magazine, Shabab in March of this year. Shabab has quickly become a stage for young people on which to express themselves concerning family and identity, culture and politics, addressing issues such as workers’ rights, marriage, gay rights, the education system, and upcoming opportunities (scholarship information). Young people also find Shabab a cultural resource replete with film analysis, short stories, and poems by youth. Shabab encourages young people to improve their communication skills and promotes a culture of openness which contributes to real peace.  Shabab gives Arab youth a place in which to express themselves freely and reduce their frustration with their situation. The magazine, first distributed at 1,500 copies, is now printed at 5,000 and distributed to hundreds of high schools, the 4 major universities, NGOs, youth centers, and of course, via Baladna’s Youth Leaders.

Social Activities for Baladna Members:
Interspersed with all its skill-trainings, lectures, and workshops, Baladna members regularly join together to see their country together, share their artistic talents, and develop connections with one another. Through cultural events, Baladna offers youth opportunities to develop their individual and collective sense of self. Through regular field trips, Baladna educates Youth Group members in a manner that is not just theoretical, but concrete, enabling them to see and feel the things they discuss.

Cultural Events:
Baladna organizes a number of social and cultural events for it’s members and local communities.  Involvement in these activities promotes a culture of peace in many ways.  It lends to an atmosphere of respite from the difficult environment in which people are living.  This helps people gain perspective and understanding about their situation.  These activities also provide a platform for expression and enable the community to come together in a comfortable and relaxed way.

This year, Baladna focused new attention on the promotion of local artists, organizing a group of Haifa children as part of community-known actress Valentina Abu A’aksa’s “Dream Project,” in order to provide children a platform for expression and a means for building children’s confidence while strengthening community involvement in cultural activities. Following the successes of our adaptations of these two plays about children dreaming of a better life, Baladna was also able to organize a performance by an Italian Puppet group through our emerging relationship with the Italian Cultural Center and Abu A’aksa. Then, at the start of March, Baladna brought “Mezzaj Alani,” a group of young talented classical Arabic musicians, to the attention of the local Haifa community and the El-Midan Theater. Baladna also featured the works of 6 young Palestinian artists in an exhibition entitled, “Inside the Place,” in our Center.

Since then, we have established contacts with the Italian group, Comune di Concordia, for the musical youth exchange “Unplugged On Water” scheduled for next summer, and re-affirmed our contacts with Ibdaa Cultural Center in Deheisheh Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, for another artistic exchange between Bethlehem and Northern Italy in March and August of 2005.

Exchange between European artists and Palestinians contributes to a culture of peace by increasing understanding of different cultures and increasing cross-cultural communication.  It also encourages solidarity and support for the Palestinian reality, a crucial step towards making Arab youth feel less isolated and helping them to see their situation from different perspectives.

BREAKING THE ISOLATION PROGRAM: PROMOTING REGIONAL SOLIDARITY AND COOPERATION

As Palestinians throughout Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, refugee camps, and the global Diaspora face their particular predicament each in their own way, they share in common the tragedy of the division, displacement and isolation of their people. For Arabs in Israel – for whom the Israeli government’s strategy of divide and rule has been a central challenge – remaining connected with their history, their people, and their culture constitutes a significant form of resistance. Nowhere is it more important to preserve, and in some cases restore, Palestinian identity, than among this and the next generation of Palestinian youth. At the same time, there is great potential to develop Palestinian identity via the empowerment of Arab youth striving for change in their communities. Part of this process involves connecting Arab youth with local Palestinian and Jewish organizations that respect Palestinian identity and are working for a common vision of a fully democratic country.

Working with Jewish Organizations:
Baladna’s project Lika’a (“meeting,” in Arabic), a recent initiative in partnership with activist Amit Perelson and Haifa’s Info-Shop, works to organize events, lectures, and film-showings that bring young Jewish and Palestinian youth in Haifa together to meet, listen and discuss different issues relevant to them. Baladna has also initiated a partnership with the Jewish social justice organization Mahapach, and has included Mahapach in its efforts to establish a Regional Debate Network. Baladna’s work with Jewish organizations such as the Info-Shop, Mahapach, etc. is vital in the creation of a culture of peace.  It is abundantly clear that in order to create a general culture of peace, it is essential that conflicting and divided communities come together to establish common ground.  

Exchange with Palestinian Youth Organizations:
Most recently, Baladna welcomed delegates from the Jerusalem-based Palestinian youth organization Pyalara to our new Youth Center in order to exchange experiences and gain perspective. Pyalara filmed our activities and members for a short documentary film about Baladna, to be featured on a youth program on Palestinian National Television. A month later, approximately 60 Youth Development Department (YDD) members and youth activists from East Jerusalem visited the Center, engaged in informative discussions with Baladna members, and enjoyed a historical tour of Haifa by Baladna Director Nadym Nashef.

International Networking & Exchange:

Always unique, sometimes stigmatized and oft-forgotten, Palestinians in Israel live isolated from the Jewish majority, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, the Arab World, and the rest of the globe. Even as their identity as Palestinians is repressed within Israeli society, the Arab World and many of their fellow Palestinians regard them as Israelis. Unable to travel to Arab countries which deny entry to Israeli citizens, they live remote from millions of neighboring Arabs, whilst surrounded by Jews, a minority in the region. And at the same time, much of the world is not even aware that they even exist, much less that they are the original inhabitants of the land now known as Israel

Such a reality is isolating and alienating, and opportunities for exchange with “outsiders” offer welcome respite and healthy perspective on the complex environment in which Arabs in Israel live.

Going abroad and participating in exchanges can play an important role in helping Arab youth to live peacefully in Israel and facilitate peace.  These trips give people the chance to escape their situation and gain healthy perspective through cultural exchange.  This can help them to see their own situations more clearly, offering them the opportunity to learn from the histories, experiences and skills of others and then act for peaceful change more effectively at home.  

Throughout this year Baladna was able to fortify its constituency of youth members and to affirm lasting connections with youth organizations worldwide. Our weekly newsletter and regular updates on scholarships, Baladna and other NGO events, international exchange opportunities, etc. have quickly attracted a considerable number of interested youth to Baladna, its local partners, and a variety of European organizations. Over 500 additional people have become connected to one another and linked with the outside world through this initiative.

Gaining Perspective, Going Abroad:
In the second half of October 2004, a meeting of the Committee of Directors for Youth Action for Peace (YAP) voted to officially accept Baladna as a branch after 2 years of cooperation as an Associated Group. Our new status enables us to widen our connections, become part of an international movement for peace and understanding, and also to have voice and influence within this movement. This membership also assists us at Baladna in attaining a global view, sharing experiences, broadening our perspective, and avoiding the common trap of becoming lost in local problems. Already, Baladna has sent 10 members to voluntary work-camps throughout Europe, through the YAP network. Baladna has linked over 50 of its member with exchange opportunities this year.

Intercultural Sharing Seminars:
For a third year, Baladna organized several international youth seminars backed by the European Union, bringing together European and local youth for several days of workshops, lectures and discussions with local academics and community leaders. The Intercultural Learning Seminars, as part of the Euromed Youth Programme, aim to strengthen intercultural cooperation and create constructive dialogue between Europe and Southern Mediterranean Countries.

Baladna’s September seminar on “Inter-religious Dialogue” – in cooperation with YAP International – brought 30 youth from across Europe, Palestine and Israel to Nazareth. Participants benefited from lectures and witnessed interactive discussion panels representing various religious perspectives. On the final morning of the seminar, participants visited three religious places important to Muslims, Christians and Jews: the White Mosque and Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and the Achuza Synagogue in Haifa.

Baladna’s November Seminar, “Inter-Cultural Sharing for Gender Equality,” aimed to analyze different perspectives on gender equality and the evolution of models of gender education. The project brought together youth activists and women from European and Mediterranean countries and gave them space in which to understand the influence of culture on approaches to basic terms such as “feminism,” “gender,” and “equality.” Over five days, 35 European, Mediterranean and local youth engaged in field trips, film screenings, workshops, lectures, panels, discussions, experimental and inductive learning activities. Highlighting the role of gender in areas of conflict, the project aimed most of all to improve cooperation among participants and their organizations and to create networks for future work and projects addressing gender equality.

These seminars offer local youth both a retreat from a heated political context and a space within which they may explore questions about the values and assumptions of people in neighboring countries. At the same time, Euro-Mediterranean youth are able to learn about, witness, and discuss some of the key political, religious and social issues they have heard about their entire lives, in context.

Volunteer-camps:
For three years, Baladna has conducted work-camps, in the long tradition of voluntarism in Arab society in Israel. For example, this year, Baladna held a work-camp in Eilabun in the second half of August. During the first half of the day, 15 international and 15 local volunteers worked in a local school re-painting and doing construction. In the second half of the day, they learned about the economic, social and political realities faced by Palestinians in Israel and engaged in cultural and social activities throughout the Golan Heights and the villages of Arabi, Sakhnin and Nazareth. Throughout the experience, international and local participants became aware of the original Arab way of life in the area, learning about historic local industries such as tobacco, honey and copper. Every night, after a hard day of work and intensive education, participants learned about traditional Palestinian culture via an evening of traditional songs and dance coordinated by Baladna and the local municipality.

European Voluntary Service:
This year, following several years of hosting our own European Voluntary Service interns, Baladna joined in a unique partnership with YAP-Belgium, linking 10 volunteers from across Europe with internships at Arab organizations. Kayan Arab Feminist Organization, The Association of Forty, the Center against Racism, Baladna, Al-Zahra Feminist Organization, Nisan Young Women Leaders Association, Worker’s Voice, New Moriscos – in Haifa, Nazareth and Sakhnin – benefited from the energy and enthusiasm of these skilled youth, and in turn, the European volunteers became intimately acquainted with the complex array of challenges Arab citizens of Israel face, enjoying a unique opportunity to learn about Arab society from within.

Visits from Allied Youth Organizations:
Every year, many international groups come to visit Baladna for a few hours of lecture and discussion. In November, for instance, 40 Italian trade unionists met with Baladna staff. Baladna traveled to Jerusalem to give a presentation on the situation of Arab youth in Israel to a delegation of 20 representatives of Danish youth organizations visiting Palestinian and Israeli NGOs. And a delegation of Jewish American youth from the San Francisco chapter of Jews for a Free Palestine came to the Center and engaged in a warm and fruitful discussion with Baladna’s Director and Youth Group Coordinator. This year, representatives from Northern Ireland’s Public Achievement came twice to Baladna, each time enjoying an informative NGO-tour arranged by Baladna. In the unrecognised village of Ein Hod, the Chairman of the Association of Forty, Muhammad Abu-Heja described the stark and painful realities of living “unrecognised,” making a strong impression on the Public Achievement visitors.

MUMKIN SELF-ADVOCACY PROGRAM: PROMOTING A CULTURE OF QUESTIONING AND DIALOGUE

If one agrees that the future of all the peoples of Israel is interwoven with the future of Arab-Palestinians, the largest minority in Israel, it becomes clear that in order for reconciliation to occur, the needs of the next generation of Arab citizens must be addressed. Thus it is imperative that immense efforts be devoted to researching and analyzing the needs of Arab youth, as well as establishing avenues for their expression to the dominant majority. Baladna’s emerging Mumkin Self-Advocacy Program will address the glaring absence of advocacy for the needs of the next generation of Arab citizens in Israel, formulating and executing an unwavering and comprehensive strategy to raise awareness of the ramifications of de facto and de jure discrimination and racism against Arab citizens – starting with Arab youth – for the future of all citizens of Israel.

With a balanced measure of self-love and self-critique, Palestinian youth in Israel must communicate their concerns to the outside world. It is clear that the ability to engage in internal critique and in turn to peacefully and effectively debate with the ‘Other’ is key to the advancement of any society. This generation of Middle Eastern youth – particularly Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel – may be the first prepared with the tools and mindset necessary to tackle internal challenges within their own society as they also advocate for themselves as citizens.

Particularly amongst populations suffering from social separation, mistrust or conflict – such as inside Israeli society, within Arab society, and between Israel and the Arab World – historical narratives rarely mesh and media reports generally offer alternate sides of the same negative. Meanwhile, communities that fail to engage in internal debate concerning fundamental social questions are generally unable to answer questions and challenges from without.

In turn, opportunities for free and open debate on equal terms, at the citizen-level, can bridge the gap. And communities that internally identify, discuss, and contend with obstacles to their development, will gain the inner strength and skills necessary for communicating their needs to the larger society and ultimately exacting full equity within it.

The debate structure evens out the playing field – regardless of race, political affiliations, familial ties, class, gender, etc. – and thereby empowers Arab youth to speak up and speak effectively in otherwise daunting or intimidating environments.

For these reasons, Baladna is seeking the financial resources to develop a “Regional Debate Network,” starting within Israeli society, expanding to include Jordanian youth, and with the potential to spread throughout the Middle East. The aim of the Regional Debate Network, and of debate in general, would be not merely to afford youth opportunities to engage in competition, but to encourage a spirit of questioning in the Arab World and in Israel and lead to the reinforcement of democracy and a culture of peace.

Witnessing Debate – A Trip to Estonia:
Between July 23rd and August 3rd, 2004, Baladna sent two of its Members to act as observers in the International Debate Youth Forum in Estonia. Salsabil Khalifa, Industrial Engineering and Management student, and Safa A’abdu, Law student, were the only representatives of Israel, the only youth from the Middle East, and the only Arabs present in an event peopled by over 100 Europeans, Americans and East Asians.

A’abdu and Khalifa found that as each debater introduced into the debating arena evidence, examples and experiences from her/his own particular national context, Arab perspectives were clearly missing. Khalifa and A’abdu developed contacts with experienced debaters who promised to assist Baladna in its future endeavor to establish a local and perhaps regional Arab debating team, and at the same time introduced Baladna’s work to participants, most of whom were not aware that there were Arabs in Israel. Further, Khalifa noted: “While I had heard about the idea of debating before, we have nothing like this in Arab society and it represents a huge gap between us and so much of the world.”

Khalifa and A’abdu returned to Baladna able and ready to assist Baladna in developing our newest debate initiative in conjunction with IDEA (the International Debate Education Association). Within a month after their arrival, Baladna started the process of establishing a local debate club. The Debate Project began with a preliminary two-day training session held for 12 members or leaders of Baladna on 17-18 September 2004.  A group consisting of Director of IDEA Noel Selegzi, Professor of Communications and Rhetoric at the University of Willamette in Salem (Oregon) Robert Trapp, and IDEA Debate Trainer Aaron Fishbone, came to introduce the concept of debate to Baladna and its partner organizations Mahapach (a Jewish social justice organization) and the Youth Development Department (an East Jerusalem Youth Movement).

The First Steps Towards a Debate Network:
In February, IDEA Trainer Aaron Fishbone journeyed to Israel to guide Baladna Leaders through three months of debate training. Most recently, Fishbone held an intensive overnight training with Baladna Leaders in Jaffa, aimed at giving participants the final tools necessary before Fishbone returns to the United States. Asked why they thought Baladna found debate such an important tool, the participants engaged in an interesting discussion concerning the application of debate specifically in Arab society.  

For example, Ghuntous suggested that it is vital to teach the new generation the debating skills which facilitate effective advocacy work, and thus the advancement of Arab society in general.

Khouri also pointed out that “Debate is particularly important in a society with conflicts.  Ours is a closed society with many taboos and a difficult political situation and it is therefore important to open up a discussion about these issues”.  

All agreed that debate is a good way to encourage people to listen to the other side, formulate their own views and locate solutions to conflicts constructively. The participants also saw that in developing their communication and presentation skills, they gained self-confidence and tackled their fears of speaking before an audience.  These Debate trainings have clearly acted as an important capacity-building exercise for youth and lay an excellent foundation for possible social activism, advocacy or legal work in the future.  

BALADNA'S OVERALL STRATEGY = NURTURING THE BASIS FOR A CULTURE OF PEACE

Baladna promotes a culture of peace through all these interwoven projects. To reiterate, Baladna’s Democracy and Community Development Program contributes to a culture of peace by cultivating democratic, pluralistic and tolerant impulses in Arab-Palestinian society. Baladna’s identity development work creates stronger individuals able to self-advocate and a stronger Arab society able to achieve full equity within Israeli society and the world, an important basis for any lasting peace. Baladna’s Breaking the Isolation Program develops opportunities for interaction, dialogue and understanding between people from different backgrounds and cultures, the basis of all efforts for peace in the world. Finally, Baladna’s Mumkin Self-Advocacy Program offers Arab youth an unprecedented forum in which to voice their needs at a time when reconciliation between all the peoples of Israel relies more than ever before upon respect for the needs of both the minority and majority in Israel.

ADVICE: What advice would you like to give to the Secretary-General and the General Assembly to promote a culture of peace and nonviolence during the second half of the Decade?


PARTNERSHIPS: What partnerships and networks does your organization participate in, thus strengthening the global movement for a culture of peace?

YAP - Youth Action for Peace

     IDEA - International Debate Education Association

     Public Achievement Northern Ireland

     YEU - Youth for Exchange and Understanding

PLANS: What new engagements are planned by your organization to promote a culture of peace and nonviolence in the second half of the Decade (2005-2010)?

Creating a Culture of Debate

As mentioned, Baladna is seeking the financial resources to develop a “Regional Debate Network,” starting within Israeli society, expanding to include Jordanian youth, and with the potential to spread throughout the Middle East. The aim of the Regional Debate Network, and of debate in general, would be not merely to afford youth opportunities to engage in competition, but to encourage a spirit of questioning in the Arab World and in Israel.

In our next step towards establishing such a network, prominent public figures, media and educators will be invited to participate in Baladna’s Public Achievement Festival on May 21st, at which time Baladna’s Debate Leaders will lead Baladna Youth Groups in debates about the Public Achievement projects they have been working on over the past two months.

Following the Festival, several of our Debate Leaders will travel abroad for a month-long US State Department-sponsored debate summer camp, together with 16 Arab high school students. This event will clearly promote discussion on equal terms between Arabs in Israel and Americans, as well as developing a deeper understanding of debate skills amongst the some of the first Middle Eastern debaters in the world. This camp will be crucial to the establishment of this unprecedented and ground-breaking Debate network, and its accompanying culture of open discussion, vital to peace in the Middle East and the world.

Advocating for Arab youth = conflict prevention

As it develops and grows, the emerging Mumkin - 'It's Possible' - Youth Voice Program will initiate a discussion within Israeli society about the needs and challenges faced by the Arab minority, and the ramifications of these challenges for all citizens. The Mumkin Program will bring together decision-makers, media, NGOs, educators and youth, encouraging them to engage in combating racism and discrimination against minorities in Israel. Mumkin will develop strategic campaigns for the rights of the next generation of Arab citizens promote solutions (i.e. curricula, informal education, etc.). Mumkin will also establish a unique advocacy mentor-program for young Arab citizens and an unprecedented research-gathering project on youth. Altogether, the Mumkin Program will foster public awareness of the Arab youth reality and its implications for all, thereby facilitating inter-cultural understanding and the means towards conflict-prevention.

The Mumkin Program aims to highlight and address the lack of research and awareness concerning Arab youth in Israel and to heighten Jewish and Arab decision-makers’ understanding of the problems confronting them, via strategic campaigns buttressed by studies and culminating in an annual conference. The ultimate aim of the Mumkin Program is to forge cooperation between Jewish and Arab decision-makers and associations committed to improving the situation of Arab youth citizens of Israel.

At the same time, in order to execute this process in a manner most reflective of youth needs, most effective at advancing their agenda, and with the greatest direct impact on the lives of youth, the Mumkin Youth Voice Program will fundamentally work to empower Arab youth by increasing their social awareness and their accessibility to information, and nurturing and activating their advocacy skills.

This effort necessarily must involve any and all Israeli decision-makers, researchers, Youth Workers, educators, and, of course, Arab and Jewish youth. Clearly, legislators and political figures have a fundamental role to play in any project aimed at the advancement of minority rights. And any project which works to advocate for a population has significantly less power and meaning if it does not offer the target population opportunities for ownership of its mechanisms and results. Thus Mumkin targets decision-makers and youth above all, striving to link them through innovative and youthful awareness-raising techniques as well as established advocacy mechanisms. The media, which often plays a key role in any effort to encourage positive social change, will be approached, offered grassroots contacts and in-depth analysis describing the Arab youth reality, and encouraged to act to convey the relationship between the future of Arab youth and that of larger Israeli society. Finally, the intermediaries between high-level decision-makers and youth have tended to be educators, principals, administrators and NGOs. The Mumkin Program aims to strongly buttress the work of these traditional youth rights advocates.

Overall, the Mumkin Program will strive to initiate a discussion within Arab society and between Arab society and Jewish society in Israel about the needs and prospects of Arab youth and the ramifications of the challenges they face for the wider society.

Postal address of organization

Baladna - Association for Arab Youth
P.O. Box 99604
Haifa 31996
Israel

E-mail address of organization

info@baladnayouth.org

Website address of organization

www.baladnayouth.org

Highest priority action domain of a culture of peace

Understanding, tolerance, solidarity

Second priority action domain of a culture of peace

Democratic participation

Highest priority country of action (or international)

Israel

Second priority country of action (or international)

Palestine
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Organization: Baladna, Association for Arab Youth

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