The New Normal?
Pre-State Zionists believed that the goal of the establishment of the Jewish State was not only to provide a safe haven for Jews threatened by anti-Semitism around the world, but that the new state would also enable a normalization of the Jewish people: “A Jewish state would only be a normal country if Jewish street-cleaners and gardeners worked in the same cities as Jewish doctors, lawyers, and businessmen, and when Jewish policemen arrested Jewish prostitutes.” (Mik Moore, Jewish Student Press). After the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews and Israelis continued to struggle with the question of normalcy. In 1980, Israeli author, A.B. Yehoshua wrote a book entitled “The Right to Normalcy” which discussed many of the abnormalities of the State of Israel inherent in its creation. The two month war with Gaza has spurred Israeli society to once again struggle with the question of what is normal and whether or not normalcy is even the goal. Is the normal state of Israel to be in constant military conflict with its neighbors or do we have different expectations for the future of the Middle East? Is Israel’s behavior to be judged against the normal behavior of other countries around the world during times of conflict or do we hold ourselves to a higher standard?
Israelis are not the only ones who struggle with this question of “normalcy”. Palestinians are concerned that the world and their own society will accept occupation and statelessness as the norm. Those Palestinians who try to reach out across the political divide to Israelis in order to cooperate and try to build a different future for the Middle East, are often accused of being “normalizers”, referring to an acceptance of Israel’s control over Palestinians as a normal state of affairs.
There is nothing normal about a father saying kadish (the Jewish prayer for the deceased) over his 4 year old son’s grave. There is nothing normal about children killed by an airstrike while playing on a beach in Gaza. Those of us who are struggling to reach out to the other side in order to create a new Middle East, one different from the one shown nightly on CNN, are not doing so because we accept this reality as normal, but because we are struggling to change it.
Last month’s blog was dedicated to alumni reflections on the war and their experience at the Arava Institute, especially in the Peace Building and Environmental Leadership Seminar. With the advent of a tenuous cease-fire between Israel and Gaza, we dedicate this month’s Director’s Blog to getting back to normal; to welcoming our new staff and to the opening of a new semester. Once again, the Arava Institute will be hosting a group of Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian and international students for the fall semester. We are expecting to welcome 4 Palestinians and 5 Jordanians students for classes starting September 9th. Among the Israeli students is a student from the Gaza border community who received a special scholarship to come and among the international students, is our first student from Morocco!
Getting back to normal life, however, does not mean that we accept the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as the “new normal.” As Israelis mourn the loss of their loved ones and try to recover from the disruption of their daily lives, and as Palestinians in Gaza bury their dead and try to rebuild their devastated communities, I expect my government to genuinely work towards a just and lasting peace with the Palestinians and I expect the Palestinians to make the same demand of their leaders.
In this month’s blog, you will meet a group of new staff members who have joined the Arava Institute over the summer. We are also proud to use this month’s blog to showcase a generous gift of 4 drawings donated to the Arava Institute by our friend Rita Blitt.
Shimri Negbi, Program Associate (Student Counselor)
Shimri Negbi from Jerusalem, is nearly finished with his Bachelor’s Degree in Politics and Governments and Middle Eastern Studies at Ben Gurion University. Throughout his youth, he was involved in Hashomer Hatzir, the ‘Young Guards,’ a Socialist Zionist Youth Movement. Shimri volunteered at a Jewish summer camp in Canada, as well as the Society for Nature Protection (SPNI), where he worked for 8 months marking trails. In 2011, Shimri participated in a Jewish identity program at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute. Last year he interned in the health department of the NGO AJEEC-NISPED which focused on improvement of health in the Bedouin society of the Negev. Shimri then studied for 6 months in Brno, Czech Republic. Though he could not find the time to come to Arava Institute as a student, Shimri is excited to finally be able to come and work as a Program Associate for the fall semester.
Kate Cohen, Program Associate
Kate Cohen first came to the Arava Institute as a student in the fall semester of 2007 and then went on to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Public Policy at Mills College of Oakland, California in 2012. During the interim time, she spent a year studying Middle East History and Conflict Resolution Theory at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, while interning at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School. Kate also studied at Carleton College where she was a collegiate synchronized swimmer, and at Mills College where she was the treasurer of a club for community building through creativity. During her final year at Mills in Oakland, Kate was involved with urban gardening in Oakland and wrote a thesis for the nonprofit Food First. After graduating, Kate worked as an analyst in the San Francisco City Performance Division of the Comptroller’s Office, while also taking courses at the Bay Area Nonviolent Communication Program, in order to pursue her interest in facilitating dialogue. Kate recently returned to Kibbutz Ketura and this October, she will be married to Matan Hoffman, who grew up on Ketura. Kate will join Shimri and Zobida (next article) as a Program Associates for the upcoming academic year.
Zobida Ezery, Program Associate and Researcher
Zobida Ezery is from Acco and studied at the Arava Institute in the Spring of 2013. She earned her bachelor’s degree and technical certification in environmental studies at the Tsfat campus of Bar Ilan University and then began a Master’s Degree in Environmental and Public Health at Haifa University. Zobida has worked many years as a laboratory technician and manager in a lab that tests waste water throughout the treatment process to ensure that the purified effluent is up to standards for agriculture use. Zobida has worked in a variety of roles in community organizations, including co-coordinator for Link Environment that creates social and environmental activities for Israeli and Bedouin communities; as a member of the Board of Directors for a local organization offering social and educational programs in Acco; and as a recycling center guide. After her semester at the Institute she worked in the Institute’s Youth Environmental Education Peace Initiative (YEEPI) and as a crew member on the Israel Ride. Zobida has returned to the Institute for the fall 2014 semester to work as a Program Associate and to complete her thesis research with Dr. Clive Lipchin in the Center for Trans-boundary Water Management (CTWM).
Tal Holzman, Research and Visitor’s Park Manager
Tal Holzman, originally from Kiryat Ata near Haifa, moved to southern Israel after completing her first degree in Art and Archaeology at Hebrew University. She then earned her Master’s Degree in the Joint Arava Insitute and Ben-Gurion University Masters program at Sde Boker, focusing on settlement distribution related to agriculture, water sources, and roads in ancient times. Tal worked with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) during her studies and carried this experience to her work at the University of California in Davis, where she spent 4 years as a GIS specialist in the anthropology department, then in water management and the viticulture department. Tal now lives with her family in Be’er Ora and has returned to the institute in order to take responsibility for the management of the Arava Institute’s Research and Visitor’s Park.
Igal Yachya, Information Technology (IT) Manager
Igal Yachya, originally from the Tel Aviv area, now works part-time providing IT support at the Arava Institute. Working with computers had been a hobby of Igal’s since his time in the army, and he has since been able to turn his passion into his profession. Igal studied electronics, computer repair and engineering, and then studied Microsoft Windows Administration in 2003. Igal now lives with his family in the Sapir Center, where he has a small company that provides the local community with computer and other technical support
Rita Blitt is an international, award winning artist from the US who has generously donated four of her drawings to the Arava Institute www.ritablitt.com. Rita is a painter, sculptor, and filmmaker whose work has been exhibited in museums, galleries, private collections and public locations all over the world — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Uganda, the United States, and soon China. Rita utilizes a wide variety of media including paint, pastel, acrylic, metal,
wood, found objects, text, sound and film. Rita always conveys a deep sense of rhythm in her work, often responding to music or dance. Nature also has a significant presence in her work. The Rita Blitt Museum Without Walls was developed in 2012 to indefinitely loan Rita’s art to non-profit organizations, in order to educate, share and inspire with her art. Rita hopes to bring joy to people and give to the world through her art. Promoting peace, communication among people and caring for the environment are important to Rita, and so she hopes that her art can support the work of the Arava Institute. Rita recently donated four drawings that she created while listening to music in Tahiti, and can now be seen gracing the walls of the Institute office.