The conference Dialogue in Mixed Cities – Innovative Encounters is a joint initiative of The Jerusalem Foundation, The Adam Institute for Democracy & Peace, and Besod Siach – The Association of Dialogue between Groups in Conflict). This was the fifth conference in a series about joint living in mixed cities. This year’s conference focused on Israeli society as a multi-cultural and national cultural society, and innovative ways to foster dialogue among the different groups and sectors.
The conference took place on November 14-15, 2017 at the Zipori Center in the Jerusalem Forest.
Recent years have seen the radicalization and polarization of Israeli society, expressed by an increase of events marked by violence, racism, and intolerance. While some can be understood in the context of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict, others are indicative of the numerous schisms that plague Israeli society: secular vs. religious and and tensions between different ethnic and national groups. Concurrently, the fields of dialogue and joint living have also grown significantly, as many people and organizations work to bring people together and cooperate.
Thus, significant knowledge has accumulated both in Israel and abroad on ways to foster dialogue and facilitate encounters between polarized groups, whether based on nationality, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, or other factors. The various methods and models are themselves quite diverse in terms of their goals, work methods, target population, theoretical foundation, and more. While some methods aim for getting know the “other,” reducing alienation, and dismantling stereotypes, others challenge the status quo and unequal power relations, while advancing tangible, democratic solutions for resolving internal conflicts among Israelis and external conflicts between Israel and her neighbors. That said, most share a basic assumption: encounters themselves have an inherent value, as they create human contact, bring people together, and reduce stereotypes and alienation.
Dialogue in Mixed Cities – Innovative Encounters provided a platform for diverse techniques, enabling dialogue professionals and the general public to experience different methods, while examining the current state of discourse. Furthermore, the conference challenged participants to re-think their work methods and find ways to effectively cooperate and combat destructive processes.
Over the course of the two-day conference, 33 dialogue organizations from Israel and abroad facilitated 38 workshops that were conducted in small groups. In addition, a visiting scholar from Cyprus delivered a guest lecture. During each time slot, 7-8 workshops were held concurrently across the Zipori campus. Between workshops, participants gathered for coffee breaks, meals, and debriefing and processing sessions.
The first day concluded with a debriefing and processing session, in which participants reflected upon the encounters and methods they’d experienced. The second day’s concluding session comprised round-table discussions that focused on ways participating individuals and organizations can cooperate with each other.
Cultural events were held on both evenings, providing yet another facet to the theme of encounters and dialogue. The Ethiopian-born actor Alemu Eshetie presented his one-man show, Museum in a Suitcase, in which the audience learned about the encounter between the Ethiopian community and Israeli society, in honor of the Sigd holiday. The second night, the Jewish-Arab organization Kulna facilitated a backgammon tournament and Dabke performance, in which young adults from east and west Jerusalem competed and danced. The evening offered a glimpse into Arab-Palestinian culture, and was greatly enjoyed by all.