Today's blogpost was written by Sarah Grace Rogers, a recent alum of the 2019 Social Justice and Community Services Internship program in Haifa.
One weekend on a trip to Jerusalem, an Israeli friend of mine started helping a guy around our age figure out how to load a ticket onto his RavKav. We all struck up conversation and chatted for about 10 minutes before we made sure our new friend got on the right bus. As the bus pulled away, my Israeli friend looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Wow. He was really nice… That’s my first Arab friend.”
Maybe it’s not surprising to anyone else that Uri* had no Arab friends, but I was floored. You see, Uri grew up in Haifa, one of Israel’s five mixed cities. By definition, a mixed city is one with a majority Jewish population but where at least 10% of the population is Arab - and they are a big deal. With the Conflict being a constant shadow over the desire for sustainable peace, mixed cities are often seen as proof that coexistence is possible. They’re a beacon of hope. However, for all of the beautiful things that come with mixed cities, the idea of what they could be often doesn’t line up with their reality.
As I started making more Israeli friends and spending my time at work around Arabs, I began to see that Uri’s experiences were not unique. Even though Haifa is Israel’s largest mixed city, there is not a lot of mixing. That’s not to say that there is constant animosity and conflict between the Jews and Arabs of Haifa, rather that there just isn’t much interaction - or much of a desire to do so. Combine that with the city’s complex geopolitical history, and it makes sense why Haifa is functionally segregated. It’s more comfortable to share your life with people who speak the same language, practice the same religion, and have the same culture than it is to actively surround oneself with people who are different. But can Haifa really be called a mixed city if Jews and Arabs exist in a space near enough to live within the same city limits, but far enough apart that their worlds are completely separate?
Haifa is a beautiful, unique city. I love that when I walk down the street I might hear people speaking Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, or Tigrigna. I love that in one weekend I can watch a Jewish couple break glass under a chupa and see the fireworks and neighborhood decorations of an Arab wedding. I love that such a geographically small place houses such incredible diversity. And wow do I love that there is public transportation on Shabbat. While all of these things contribute to what makes Haifa, Haifa, they shouldn’t be used as a justification for the city to be stagnant. The beautiful things and the hard things both need to be acknowledged. We must acknowledge the inequity and celebrate the diversity. That is how Haifa will become a city that is not only mixed in name, but mixed in practice.