This week's blog post is written by Margo, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living and working in Lod.
What is a shared society? What does it look like in practice? Is it possible in Lod given the history of the city? These are the questions that have been at the front of my mind since I arrived in Lod. Before joining Yahel, this phrase was not even in my lexicon. When I was given the choice of cities to live in when I was accepted to Yahel, I immediately knew I wanted to be in Lod. As a student of international relations and political science, I thought Lod, with its history of Arab-Jewish conflict, would be a relevant and exciting place to live and work. I saw Lod as an opportunity to practice what I had studied in school. I was heavily involved in dialogue organizations at school, so I thought I could bring my dialogue skills to the city. However, my time in Lod has been nothing that I (naively) expected. I thought that if people simply could learn to sit together, see past their differences, and realize a shared goal of a future of peace, then anything could be overcome. I thought this made me a “change maker for peace”. Yet, this is a perspective rooted in western ideological superiority, and unlearning this has been a both challenging and rewarding process. I viewed Lod as a place with the potential to be a utopian Israeli city. With populations from nearly every background possible, how amazing would it be to say that everyone could simply get along and love each other, overcoming the odds? The reality is that intergenerational trauma, violence, socio-economic challenges, and intra-city corruption have left the people of Lod with a bad taste in their mouth to the idea of “overcoming their differences”. Many outsiders have come and gone from the city with the same naiveté I came with, expecting to save the city and the people in it. If it were simply that easy, it would have been done decades ago. In my opinion, a new goal for the future needs to be created by and for the people of Lod. Rather than looking to the outside for inspiration, shared society can be found already in the city.
In May, Lod was thrust into the global spotlight when riots in the city broke out, along with other cities in the country, as a response to the actions in East Jerusalem and with the background of decades of mistreatment towards Arabs in the country by the Jewish majority. Since these events, is seems that people think that all hope for shared society in Lod is lost, or at least will set the city back for years to come. However I see a small glimmer of hope in the city that existed before, during, and after the riots in the city.
I expected the most rewarding part of my fellowship to be working at an Israeli NGO. In reality, the best and most educational part of my fellowship has been my time at the Lod Farm School. Operated as a fully functional farm, children from schools all over the city come once a week to learn about agriculture, food sustainability, and biology. The farm is staffed by both Arab and Jewish teachers, teaching the children from various schools in their native language. All signs are written in both Hebrew and Arabic. Kids stay within their own classes, but every day the farm is filled with kids from different backgrounds all working towards a collective goal-growing food to take home. One significant thing about the farm is the theme of collective goals. Rather than every school having its own section of land to care for within the farm, everyone shares the farm, and it is all of their responsibilities to care for the plants so they will be eventually ready to harvest. If one class doesn’t do a job in the right way or neglects the work done by others, it impacts everyone.
On our learning day a few weeks ago, we spoke to Mohammed Darawshe, an activist and expert on Arab-Jewish relations. He spoke about the idea of shared society in Israel. In his view, interpersonal relationships between Jews and Arabs are the key to creating a shared society in Israel, with “islands of shared society” being created throughout the country even if top-down, the government is not taking the proper steps to create these “islands of shared society”. He gave examples of achievements in these “islands,” like in the medical field or the current government coalition, in which Jews and Arabs are regularly and successfully working together towards common goals. My time at the farm school has shown me directly what an “island of shared society” can look like. On the most simple level, the children from Lod must learn to rely on each other at the farm, and trust that the jobs of the farm will be done in the proper way so they can all succeed. There is no such thing as “the Jews get and the Arabs don’t” or vice versa on the farm. Either everyone wins or everyone loses-together.
Shared society doesn’t have to look like a utopia. It isn’t a kumbaya-love party in which everyone is holding hands. The children on the farm still go to the same segregated schools, and still go home to situations that may be less than ideal. Just last week, a child from a secular Jewish school asked me “are those Arabs over there?” I answered “yes.” She said “I don’t like Arabs. They hurt my brother.” I replied “they are just like you.” I don’t know how much of an effect this had on her, but I do know that the farm may be the only place she is receiving positive messages about people different than her. However, I believe that the idea of interconnectedness, even if it is only experienced once a week, can permeate into the mindsets of the children of Lod, and into the city as a whole. The farm is an island I am proud to be standing on.