There isno better symbol of Haifa’s tolerance and co-existence than Beit Hagefen, an Arab-Jewish Center that has been going strong ever since it was established in 1963 by then mayor, Abba Khoushi.
Haifa’s human fabric is a unique phenomena in Israel insofar that it is considered to be home to the most ethnically mixed population. It is home to new immigrants (coming mainly from the Former Soviet Union and Ethiopia), accounting for 22.8% of the total population, Veteran Israelis (residents of Israel for more than 20 years), Arabs both of Muslim and Christian faith (10.6% of the city population), as well as a new growing group of “Non Jewish non Arabs immigrants” (around 1-2%).
There is perhaps no better symbol of Haifa’s co-existence than Beit Hagefen, an Arab-Jewish Center that has been going strong ever since it was established in 1963 by then Mayor Abba Khoushi. On most days the Center offers guided tours that are centered around the theme of coexistence, with at least six tours to choose from, each one exploring a different part of Haifa. Communities are also offered at Beit Hagefen and it is also home to an art gallery and an Arab language theater. The Center holds two yearly festivals; the Holiday of Holidays in December and the Arab Theater Month in May and June. Meetings between Jewish and Arab students are regularly held here, as are workshops for community communication. On the Holiday of Holidays, Wadi Nisnas, the neighborhood in which the Center is located plays host to the festival, transforming into an outdoor gallery that features hundreds of works of art by both Arab and Jewish artists from across Israel.
We met with Asaf Ron, the center’s director for the past 4 years as he was busy getting ready for the Intercultural Cities program, a joint initiative between the Council of Europe and the European Commission. “This is the 1st year that the city of Haifa has been included in the program and we are excited to become part of it.” The program includes 63 cities in Europe that are home to ethnically and culturally diverse communities such as Marseilles, Barcelona, Belfast, Sarajevo, Turin to name but a few.
The conference is aimed at providing the city with a tangible toolset to capitalize on the human diversity as well as learn from the rich experience of other cities with a similar dna, both in terms of overcoming obstacles and tensions as well as finding ways to leverage the diversity.
The cities participating in the program are reviewing their governance, policies, discourse and practices from an intercultural point of view. In the past, this review has taken the form of narrative reports and city profiles – a form which is rich in content and detail. However, it is relatively weak as a tool to monitor and communicate progress. The new Intercultural City Index has been designed as a new benchmarking tool for the cities taking part in the pilot phase of the program as well as future participants.
The city of Haifa is obviously thrilled to be participating in this program for the first time and is fully behind Beit Hagefen in providing all required logistics for hosting the delegation.