Arabs and Jews Meet and Learn in Jaffa Program Community Center Co-Sponsored by Jews in Los Angeles Offers Classes, Common Ground

By Peter Ford, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 30, 1994 | Go to article overview

Arabs and Jews Meet and Learn in Jaffa Program Community Center Co-Sponsored by Jews in Los Angeles Offers Classes, Common Ground


Peter Ford, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE contrast could hardly be more dramatic. In the middle of one of Israel's poorest slums, where crumbling facades and abandoned automobile hulks bespeak decades of neglect, a brand new edifice in white stone fairly gleams with pride.

The unexpectedness of the building's appearance matches the uniqueness of its purpose: Jaffa's new community center is a place where Arabs and Jews do everything together except fight.

Attractively decorated in aquatic shades of blue and green that recall the Mediterranean Sea outside the windows, the Arab-Jewish Community Center opened its doors five months ago. Its hope, says manager Ibrahim Abu-Shindi, is that "Arabs and Jews can come to the same place to do the same activities to increase good coexistence."

It sounds simple, but in Israel there is nothing else like this center. And when tensions between Palestinians and Jews are high, says Mr. Abu-Shindi, as they have been in the wake of the Hebron massacre, "it is very important that we work together."

Jaffa is unique in Israel. An ancient port just down the beach from Tel Aviv, its population of 40,000 is almost evenly split between Jews and Palestinians - descendants of those who did not flee to refugee camps in 1948 when Israel was founded.

In Jaffa, Arabs and Jews live on the same streets and in the same buildings. There are even a hundred or so mixed couples in town. That degree of integration would be unthinkable among the rest of the country's 900,000 Palestinians who are Israeli citizens living in their own towns and villages or in ghettos in predominantly Jewish towns.

That sort of separation, complains Abu-Shindi, merely encourages mutual ignorance. "I introduce myself to Jews as Ibrahim, but often they will call me `Ephraim,' " a Jewish name, he notes.

At the community center, though, "first of all, {members} will know the other side," he says. "Maybe they'll hate, maybe they'll love, but at least they will know each other. And that is very important."

There did not seem to be much hatred one recent afternoon in Ali Farid's percussion class, even though at first sight two of the drummers jamming together on tabla and bongos looked like typical enemies: Amir Arnon, still in the Israeli Army uniform he had not had time to change out of before class, and Mahmoud Shurafi, a mischievous-looking youngster who was likely out on the streets with everyone else his age a month ago, throwing stones at police after the massacre in the Hebron mosque.

"These are people who care about their struggle," says Ronni Tel-Or, a Jew, of his Palestinian classmates. "But they make a distinction when it comes to music."

The same sort of mix prevails in other classes, too: Of the 1,000 people who belong to the community center, about one-third are Jews, one-third Christian Arabs, and one-third Muslim Arabs, according to Abu-Shindi.

The point, however, is that "here, we treat people as people, not as Jews, Christians, or Muslims," Abu-Shindi says. …

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