Photos & Text: Lydia Aisenberg
LEFT: Dudu Amitai, Givat Haviva spokesperson and director of the Yad Yaari Research and Documentation Center showing Barcelona journalist Ofer Laszewicki and photojournalist colleague Oliver de Ros newspapers from the unique Givat Haviva collection of Arabic language newspapers
Ofer Laszewicki and Oliver de Ros grew up in the same neighborhood and have been friends since the age of four.
The friends from Barcelona chose the same profession, journalism. Oliver, a photojournalist was born in Spain ‐ his mother is originally from Britain and teaches English whilst writer Ofer was born in Israel but moved with his parents to Spain when he was a toddler.
The childhood friends recently took a 2‐month sojourn with a joint professional eye through Israel and
Palestinian areas to try and better understand the Palestinian‐Israeli conflict and to also focus on organizations
concentrating on peace education and Jewish‐Arab shared society projects such as those found in Givat Haviva.
“Although I was born in Haifa but raised in Barcelona, Oliver and I realized that in order to cover different social and political issues on our own – and particularly to focus more on dialogue and reconciliation histories between the people – it would need a few months of research work. Reading about Givat Haviva on the internet propelled us to want to know more about all the special projects here,” explained Ofer.
The eager pair of young journalists met with Etti Amram, director of the Givat Haviva Arts Center and Peace Gallery. Naturally Oliver showed particular interest in the Through Others’ Eyes photography and video project and how photography had been the tool to successfully bring Jewish and Arab youth together for over 12 years in the much in demand project.
Following their visit to the Art Center the Spanish duo had the opportunity to generally soak up the atmosphere on campus together with International Department’s Lydia Aisenberg who also guided them on an in‐depth tour of the region. The tour dealt with the 1949 Armistice Line in the area, the security fence and checkpoints, Jewish settlements, the ‘Seven Stars of Sharon’ such as Katzir ‐ and much more ‐ before tackling the complicated history and present day situation of East and West Barta’a, divided to this day by that very Armistice Line of ’49.
During a second visit to the Wadi Ara campus the following week, Ofer and Oliver were invited to view the unique Givat Haviva collection of Arabic language newspapers and to receive an explanation from Dudu Amitai, the Givat Haviva spokesperson and director of the Yad Yaari Research and Documentation Center, of how the collection not only became recognized by UNESCO but that funding from that organization has enabled thousands of pages of 1930s and 1940s editions of the newspapers to be digitized and made available on the internet.
The Barcelonans were also joined in the library by Galit Kellner, director of the Givat Haviva School of Arabic Language & Middle East Studies who spoke with them about the many long and short term courses offered both Israelis and overseas students who speak Hebrew – as does Ofer who has a large family in Israel. Oliver, who is not Jewish, has no knowledge of Hebrew or Arabic but has picked up a small vocabulary in both languages in the two months he has been in the region.
Galit Kellner translates a few lines of an Arabic language newspaper, circa 1940s.
“Hebrew and Arabic are very similar, in fact there are no two languages that are as similar to each other as that of Hebrew and Arabic,” explained Galit, whose parents originate from the Yemen and Egypt. She holds a B.A. in Arabic and Education from Haifa University and M.A. in Arabic from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and impressed upon the visitors the importance of the Arabic language newspaper collection – for both the Palestinians and Israelis – and how she incorporates articles from those newspapers in her teaching and also to assist researchers such as one young man, a former Arabic language student of hers, who is nowadays undertaking research in Israel toward a degree at Cambridge University.
“Through teaching the language to Jewish Israelis and those from abroad I feel I have an extra purpose above and beyond just language as through the language tuition one can create more understanding. The similarities are not only in the language but these similarities only recognized positively when speaking the language of the other. The languages are more than cousins! The Arabs in Israel speak Hebrew, know us well but only a small percentage of the Jewish population speak Arabic,” she said. “My friend Anhar in the next office to me here in Givat Haviva is like me, just she is a Muslim and I am Jewish. We have and share a great deal in common.”
“I have discovered that once Israeli Jews learn the Arabic language much of the hostility and fear falls by the wayside and they are no longer uncomfortable when they hear Arabic being spoken, so my objective is to teach the Arabic language to as many people as possible,” she declared, with a broad smile and wave of a hand in the direction of the fray edged, yellowing newspaper pages stored in the cardboard box on the table in front of Ofer and Oliver.
“Many of those that attend the long term or adult evening classes choose the Arabic language studies as a means of understanding the language and culture of their neighbors, that they recognize Arabic as the language of the neighbor and not just of the enemy,” emphasized Galit. She also told the journalists about being one of a group of Arabic language teachers who worked together on creating a new set of Arabic language textbooks.
“We changed the books as we decided a different approach was necessary. Again there is more of an emphasis on ‘language explaining a culture’ and we use this method for high‐school students coming here for Arabic language enrichment programs that help break down stereotypes, basically bringing them to a point where they can understand that Jewish and Arab teens have the same dreams, needs and goals in life.”
Galit also pointed out to the Barcelonans that in the last decade the Arab population in Israel go out and about from their villages far more with family outings to other areas of the country, mooch around shopping malls in the towns and cities ‐ therefore exposing more Jewish Israelis to hearing Arabic spoken in their public places and spaces than in the past.
“The Arabic language has been taught at Givat Haviva since 1949 and in recent years our teachers have also been running courses off campus for large organizations. We have run courses for social workers, government employees and recently ran a course for Protection of Nature Society rangers so that they could explain in Arabic to Arab visitors why it is forbidden to collect za’ata (hyssop) from the wild, how to approach women in a different way to the men and so on.”
Teachers involved in coexistence projects, local municipality workers, university graduates, lawyers and folks who have graduated university studies in International Relations and Politics have all sat on the learning benches of the Givat Haviva Arabic Language School.
“After the Arab Spring broke out in Egypt, many of the foreign students studying Arabic at the university in Cairo had to leave and transferred to Israeli universities and also to Givat Haviva – two of whom joined the Intensive Arabic Semester of the International Department for instance,” explained Galit who then with a broad smile and much to the amusement of Ofer and Oliver said:
“You see, Israel is the safest place to learn Arabic!”
In and outside the Peace Library: Galit writes Oliver’s name in Arabic for him and right: standing by the Peace Pole in the library forecourt. On the pole is inscribed in Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and English the slogan: May Peace Prevail on Earth.
The young journalists also joined a German group of university students to hear a talk by Riad Kabaha, director of the Givat Haviva Jewish‐Arab Center for Peace and also accompany MASA‐Givat Haviva Intensive Arabic Semester students for a few hours during their weekly visit to the Baka al‐Gharbiya high‐school where they teach English, the work in the community component of their 5‐month program organized by the International Department. At the end of the visit and speaking with some of the overseas students from France, Russia, Norway and North America, Ofer and Oliver said they would both love to do the program!
Ofer and Oliver meet with Etti Amram, director of the Arts Center and Peace Gallery and ceramics teacher Avner Singer and right: Etti presenting the Spaniards with a copy of CHILDREN WRITE for PEACE
During their visit to the Givat Haviva Arts Center and Peace Gallery, Ofer and Oliver were presented with a copy of CHILDREN WRITE for PEACE, a book of poems and prose written by young children and teens – an Art Center project with funding from the Friends of Givat Haviva, Switzerland.
Already back in Barcelona, the two young journalists are now working hard to write, sift through thousands of photographs and publish articles and photos of their extensive travels, interviews and personal thoughts about the regions people, places and on‐going conflict as well as write about the organizations and individuals who are attempting to combat the divide between Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis.
Ofer and Oliver emailed their thanks for the 2‐days spent with Givat Haviva staff members and also a few thoughts with regard CHILDREN WRITE for PEACE, their copy now sitting on a Barcelona bookshelf.
“While I was reading most of the poems it was difficult to accept that they were written by kids. All of them are clear, simple and really powerful and show the desperate shouts of a generation that wants to definitely stop this endless conflict. Probably they don’t know all the details, but they feel inside their souls the pain and suffering and they express themselves perfectly. I think that this book needs to be distributed to adults both sides of the conflict. It shows that the work you are doing in Givat Haviva really has good results and so don’t give up and continue with your educational projects.
Best wishes, Ofer Laszewicki
A second email from Oliver reads as follows: “When I was a 10 year old kid I wasn’t worried about peace. In these poems the main thing that the reader first notices is how much these kids care about peace, and how they have had preoccupied with worries for peace since being just small children. They have grown up looking at the same sky and I can appreciate those lines and how they care about peace. They are not talking about their personal stories but about the most important thing, being a human being. Through this very emotional book, we can truly understand what it is that Givat Haviva tries to show and another important component of what we have learned in Israel and the region during our stay.
Oliver de Ros.”
War and Peace: Ofer and Oliver visiting the Salem checkpoint (middle) Ofer standing at the spot where the Green Line and electronic security fence parts company at Mei Ami‐umm al‐Fahm and (far right) they both look back over the area from the Border Police Educational Center and Museum in Wadi Ara, a short drive from Givat Haviva