September 10, 2012

After three nights in Bethlehem, the Olive Tree Initiative made its way to Haifa, a city often commended for its cultural and religious unity.

During the group’s time there, students met with Professor Sammy Smooha of Haifa University.

Professor Sammy Smooha takes questions from UCLA and UCI students after his lecture. Credit: Tasha Locke

Deviating from discussion of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, Smooha directed discussion on the state of Israel’s internal divisions. With a presentation titled Are Palestinian Arabs a Ticking Time Bomb?, he spoke of the fissures and areas of overlap between Arab and Jewish Israelis.

In particular, Smooha expressed tangible national, ideological, and linguistic barriers that have divided these groups.

Following the visit to Haifa University, the group made our way to Technion University where we met with Dr. Gonen Sagey, a member of the Youth Environmental Education & Peace Initiative (YEEPI) at the Arava Institute.

In the spirit of their slogan, “Nature knows no borders,” Sagey — along with other YEEPI leaders — outlined their mission and the programs they offer.

The organization’s primary focus is to provide peace education initiatives between Arab and Jewish Israeli students across 9 different schools. YEEPI’s primary aim is to discuss environmental issues in the context of bridging communities through dialogue.

Tony Mattar, owner of the Maxim restaurant in Tel Aviv, described the difficulties faced in rebuilding the restaurant after it was the target of a suicide bombing in 2003. Credit: Tasha Locke

After two insightful discussions, the ‘olives’ made their way to Maxim—an Arab and Jewish Israeli owned restaurant attacked by a suicide bomber on the evening of Yom Kippur in 2003.

Following a delicious meal the group met with co-owner Tony Mattar, who described the events of the attack, which claimed the lives of 21 Arab and Jewish Israelis.

Beyond  describing his experience on the day of the incident, Mattar explained how, with the help of his community, he had the strength to re-open the restaurant a month after — a symbolic gesture of his commitment to the pursuit of peace.

Next, students and faculty met with Ron Kehrmann, a printing press operator who lost his daughter, Tal, in a suicide attack on a Haifa bus in 2002.

This camel hangs on the grave of Ron Kehrmann’s daughter, Tal Kehrmann. Ron told the group that the camel was his daughter’s favorite animal. Credit: Tasha Locke

At the terror victim burial site, Kehrmann spoke candidly about the event itself and the steps he took to cope with his loss. Kehrmann’s thoughts brought into focus a distinctly human element to how the conflict affects civilians and nature of the psychological ramifications of terror attacks.

Ending the day in Haifa, the group’s final stop was at Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan. The kibbutz is a self-sustained communal society that incorporates elements of socialist Zionism that began as early as the First Aliyah.

The olives met with one of the kibbutz leaders, who gave us a tour of the area. Later, three “kibbutzniks” spoke in a panel form to provide a new perspective on what it means to be Jewish in Israel and to the benefits of life on a kibbutz

The panel discussion steered away from the religious aspects of Judaism by focusing on the strong democratic and cultural values that shape the identity of many Jews in Israel.


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