It couldn’t be happening at a better time. Girls from six middle and high schools in East and West Jerusalem — Jewish and Arab, religious and secular — created a huge human mandala in Safra Square on May 9th as the culminating event of the Coexistence Leadership Project for 2018.
Started four years ago by four Israeli teachers, the feminist leadership program for Jewish and Arab girls brings girls from the six schools together throughout the year for mutual acquaintance and action for the future of Jerusalem and Israeli society. The program was born out of a strong need to do something to change the racist and violent climate and speech students are exposed to, and at times take part in, regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Roni Hazon Weiss, principal of Dror High School, a national-religious school run by the Society for Advancement of Education, is a founder of the program. Dror is one of the six participating schools, along with Halil El Sakakini, the Nisui School, the Technological School for Girls in Shuafat, the Hartman High School and the Keshet High School.
The Coexistence Leadership Project sprung from a desire to address the de facto segregation in the Jewish secondary eductaional system in which different groups from different backgrounds (nationality, religion, culture, etc.) go to separate schools with separate learning programs. The graduates of this educational system will continue to experience segregation in their adulthood: separate neighborhoods, friends, colleges and even work places, especially in Jerusalem.
The Coexistence Leadership Project aims to create cracks in these walls of segregation, focusing on the Jewish-Arab encounter, creating regular meetings between schools from the west and east sides of the city.
Another issue this project addresses is the lack of women voices regarding the conflict. Israel is a male-dominated society and, therefore, it is mostly men with significant military service who are heard in the public sphere regarding the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. This project strives to base leadership amongst the future generation of women, who will feel they have a legitimacy to be heard and act on these issues.
The project includes monthly meetings between girls from Arab and Jewish schools. The girls learn about each others’ culture, historical background and narrative and discuss different related issues, including complex and difficult issues together.
Art is a main axis of this program as it is an international language and a strong tool to bring people together. Each meeting includes an artistic activity (a wide range from drawing through martial arts) through which the girls can connect even without having to know each others’ language.
Towards the end of the year the girls go through a joint process together to decide on a way to pass on a message of co-existence in the public sphere, reaching wider social circles in their communities. The Safra Square mandala is one example. A second is a grafiti project created with artists Max Levi Frieder and Joel Bergner, founders of Artolution organization, in which the artists conveyed the message the young women in the program chose.
The process the participants go through is truly moving and meaningful, as it brings together a population who simply would not normally meet while it empowers young womens’ leadership and makes it possible to imagine a better future.