Empowering the youth with democratic tools to promote coexistence

The Jewish-Arab Community Association (JACA) in the Wolfson Neighborhood of Acre, Israel, has a youth parliament in which Jewish and Arab youths from the community can take part to learn about and put into practice the concept of coexistence.  JACA teaches democracy and tolerance and helps to develop lines of communication and civil debate in order to develop young leadership dedicated to coexistence in Israel.

The ethnic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has persisted since the establishment of Israel as a state in 1948.  Stereotypes, distrust, and fear of one another continue to exist between Jewish and Arabs.  Despite peace talks to discontinue violence in the country, refusal to end the conflict will not come about until Arab and Jewish communities overcome their prejudice of one another and learn how to coexist.

The Jewish-Arab Community Association exemplifies the community’s commitment and initiative towards coexistence.  With its youth parliament, JACA teaches 24-30 youths (half are Jewish and half are Arabs) about democracy and coexistence.  The parliament meets once every other week with the whole group and every week each group meets separately.  With the assistance of moderators, guides, and lecturers, the youth explores issues that pertain to coexistence, such as what it means to be a minority and what democracy entails.  For example, the Jewish youth, who is the majority group in Israel, learns about the minority status that they had in Europe and explores what it means to be a minority.  They learn about discrimination and voicelessness through role plays, debates, and group discussions.  As a result, both Jewish and Arab youths learn that democracy is not the promotion of one group over the other but rather the equal representation of all groups, regardless of their minority or majority status.  With these exercises and activities, the youth sees the similarities that they share rather than the differences that they thought they had.  That is, they come to understand that they share mutual interests and that as community members, the city should represent both sides.  In addition, the youth parliament has an annual trip to Germany.  There, they visit concentration camps and interact with students from Germany and other Arab countries.  

JACA’s youth parliament is part of director Mohammed Fahili’s dream to find ways for tolerance, coexistence, and living together.  The youth involved are about fifteen years old or older.  They voluntarily choose to participate with their parents’ permission.  An incentive to get the parents’ permission is that the youth parliament keeps the children off the streets.  The youth involved in the parliament have usually participated in other JACA activities, such as the summer camps or the recreation center.  In addition, some choose to participate after hearing presentations by JACA in their schools about coexistence and democracy.

The youth parliament has impacted not only the youth but also their parents and community.  For the youth, the parliament has empowered them and given them the knowledge that they, as the future generation, can make a difference in their country.  In addition, the youth parliament has made them understand the importance of coexistence, tolerance, and living together.  In many cases, the experiences, the feelings and everything that the youth intakes during this program affect them all through their lives.  What is found is that most of them return one way or another to dealing with democracy, tolerance, and coexistence later on during the years.  Many come back to take part in other JACA activities, such as becoming camp counselors or teachers.  To the parents and the community, the parliament shows that coexistence is possible through democracy.  As a result of the youths’ interaction with one another, the community becomes less fearful of the “other” group.  

In thinking about implementing this tactic of empowering the youth with democratic tools to promote coexistence, the following is important to consider the success of the tactic: 1) strong community base and support, 2) flexibility, vision, time, involvement, dedication, open-mindedness, and trust, and 3) funding.  In addition, the support of the government is helpful but not required.  In the case of JACA, the Acre municipality provides a shelter and pays for the utilities.  Some of the challenges that may be encountered include initial reluctance from the parents to get their children involved (that is why an incentive is needed, i.e. keep the children off the streets) and lack of funding.  Possible transferability of this tactic includes areas where people with HIV/AIDS have been secluded from and discriminated against by the rest of the community, where people of different ethnicities or religions are in conflict, and where individuals victims of sex trafficking have been ostracized from their communities.

JACA is an independent community organization established in 1990 by Jewish and Arab residents of the neighborhood themselves.  The neighborhood is home to both Jews and Arabs.  In other words, Acre is a microcosm of Israeli society (Online).  In addition, JACA is a grassroots, membership-based, and non-sectarian/non-political organization that is devoted to promoting community development and models of Jewish-Arab coexistence.



New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 
This is a tactic that could be used in a variety of different situations where cultural and religious differences help perpetuate negative stereotypes. JACA brings together Jewish and Arab youth in Israel to teach them about democracy, tolerance, communication, and overcoming prejudices. By creating a space for peaceful interaction, it allows seemingly different groups to focus on their similarities rather than their differences and forge friendships. 
To ensure the success of this type of tactic, organizations should take into account the various components of implementing such a project. When hosting a youth program, parental support is necessary. This can be difficult to obtain when working in situations where high levels of prejudices are present. JACA overcame this issue by framing the program as an incentive. By participating in the program, the youth would be kept off the streets. It’s important to be creative when there are obstacles to gaining parental and community support.
Another factor to be aware of is that forcing participation can lead to reluctant participants. Having participants who do not want to be there or are holding too firmly to their prejudices will foster a negative experience for everyone. By allowing the youth to voluntarily participate, it ensures that all the youth who are there truly want to be there and make a difference. The key to this tactic is inclusivity. It is important to make all members feel welcomed and valued. When operating on completely voluntary bases, further tactics will need to be developed to promote the program and encourage others to join. 
Most importantly, these kinds of tactic require time and continual exposure. This should be thought of as a long-term tactic. When working with youth, this is a tactic that can function throughout the school year, and serves as a great after-school activity. 
To learn how a similar tactic is used in a different context to promote understanding and reduce prejudices, see this tactic.