June 21: The Last Day–with Sikkuy, by Meagan Dashcund
Our last meeting was with Sikkuy, an NGO comprised of both Israeli Jewish and Arab citizens who work within the Green Line to create complete equality for the Arab Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel. The name, Sikkuy, is actually a shared Jewish and Arabic word that means opportunity or chance, which demonstrates the commitment this organization holds for equality through changes in policy. Founded 25 years ago, Sikkuy has shared roles with both one Arab and Jew for each organizational position from co-chairs of the board, co-executive directors, and co-program directors. We learned about one Sikkuy initiative on shared regional tourism in which Israeli Jews experienced Ramadan by visiting with Israeli Arabs during the holy month. Even though these citizens were practically neighbors, they had never truly seen each other as more than “the other side.” Hearts and minds were changed after participation in this program, and the Jews particularly started to see the Arabs as a people and a society.
We then were told more about Sikkuy and the goal of its programs. Overall, it focuses on two very key aspects: equality and shared society. Equality focuses on the material things such as government budgets. We learned about how the organization targets discriminatory budget allocation and our speaker, Gili Re’i, highlighted the problem with the gap between Israeli Jewish and Arab society. She told us that the larger the gap gets, the bigger the discrepancy between the needs of the two groups. Sikkuy first identifies discriminatory policies against Arabs and then focuses on breaking down the barriers that prevent the policies from being overturned. They then create recommendations to the local authorities, the Israeli government, or Arab municipalities on how to make the policies more equal. With regards to equal budget allocation, Sikkuy was able to make the Israeli government realize that it was not in the Israeli economy’s best interest to allow this gap to continue to widen. In addition, Israel faces pressure to close the budget allocation gap because of its recent acceptance into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED). Shared society, on the other hand, focuses on feeling at home in the society, beyond the need for material equality. As a democracy, Israel must address the legitimate need for Israeli Arabs to feel at home in all public spaces in the country. The current state of affairs favors the comfort of the Jews. These public spaces need to reflect the existence of both Jews and Arabs which means that there has to be an equal use of Hebrew and Arabic in these spaces, among other adjustments, including a national anthem that cannot be sung by 20% of the population.
Sikkuy was a perfect wrap-up for our course as a whole. Not only did it provide us hope when Gili told us, “The government doesn’t want our work to be done, but we do it anyway,” but it solidified the concept of shared space and equality, and ultimately, the entirety of the course. The fundamental goal for Sikkuy and many of the NGOs and speakers we have met with is equality in resources and equality of shared space. It’s not just about material equality, though. The need for both Jews and Arabs to be able to move freely, interact without discrimination, and feel welcome in Israel is a part of the beginning of the end of the conflict. People throughout this month have told us that this is not a religious conflict, but it most definitely is a personal one. The feeling of being at home and Ofer Shinar’s comment on positive self image are just as important as the legal negotiations and policy equality that the Israelis and Palestinians have to work out together. Through the varying perspectives and the barriers to peace involved in this conflict, everything will come down to whether or not the Jews and the Arabs can see each other as people and societies, and not just the “other side.”