A group of Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli students at the University of Haifa are currently working to offer solutions to a problem which has resulted in division on their campus and sent waves through Israeli society.
Two years ago, a number of Arab students refused to stand up when “Hatikvah”, Israel’s national anthem, was played at their law school graduation ceremony. The Palestinian-Israeli students argued that “Hatikvah” is a purely Jewish and Zionist anthem that ignores their very existence as citizens of Israel. Some said that singing the anthem would be tantamount to denying their own identity.
Responding to their sentiments, the dean of the law school decided to cancel the singing of “Hatikvah” at the 2011 graduation ceremony. However, following a public outcry, the outgoing president of the university decreed that “Hatikvah” must be played at all university commencement ceremonies.
The debate surrounding “Hatikvah” is not limited to the University of Haifa. More recently, a Palestinian-Israeli Supreme Court Judge, Salim Jubran, stood out of respect during the playing of “Hatikvah” at an official function, but did not sing along with his colleagues. A nation-wide uproar followed with some right-wing members of the Knesset claiming Justice Jubran had been disrespectful.
Prime Minister Netanyahu surprised many by expressing his view that Justice Jubran did show respect by standing, but should not be expected to sing the lyrics, which describe 2,000 years of exile and the Jewish soul’s yearning for the return to Zion, as they do not relate to him as a Palestinian citizen of Israel.
To tackle this issue, which gets to the heart of Jewish-Palestinian tensions in Israel, a group of 22 students from the University of Haifa’s MA programme for Peace and Conflict Management met on campus this summer to hold an intensive workshop. The students – including Jewish-Israelis, Palestinian-Israelis and international Jewish and non-Jewish students – spent two days locked in a process of trying to reach a consensus on the issue of “Hatikvah”.
Facilitated by Professor Edy Kaufman, the consensus-building process employed was based on a conflict resolution method known as A.R.I.A. The method, developed by Dr Jay Rothman, consists of four stages: Adversarial, Reflective, Integrative and Action. This process is designed to resolve identity-based conflicts by encouraging creative thinking and a sense of common responsibility among participants who represent opposing sides in a conflict.
The process was at times highly emotional and conflictive, but yielded surprising results.
The first major surprise came in the form of an across-the-board consensus that “Hatikvah” ignores the existence of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Palestinian-Israelis and Jewish-Israelis, with other internationals representing the side they most identify with, all agreed that something must be done to address the issue of Palestinian exclusion from such a central and powerful symbol of citizenship.
The second point of widespread agreement was that “Hatikvah” should not be changed, with everyone recognising its importance to the Jewish people, both in Israel and abroad. With these two fundamental needs in mind, solutions to this point of contention could become building blocks on the road to improved relations between Palestinian-Israelis and Jewish-Israelis, as well as Palestinian-Israelis and the Israeli state.
The attempt to reach a consensus on practical steps was arguably the most heated stage of the process, with fierce opposition to many of the proposals. In the end, there was unanimous agreement on several ideas, relevant to both the university and societal levels. The participants used these to create a comprehensive plan to advance good relations amongst all citizens of Israel.
The proposed solutions fell into three main categories. The first aims to facilitate understanding, and consists of steps such as acknowledging the presence of the Palestinian citizens and their history in the land before singing “Hatikvah”, and requesting in both Arabic and Hebrew for all to stand at functions where it is being sung.
The second aims to forge a shared student identity that celebrates diversity by creating a unique University of Haifa anthem that would be a result of Palestinian-Jewish collaboration.
Finally, participants envisioned collaboration between Palestinian and Jewish citizens in Israel to create a civic national anthem, stressing the themes of collective belonging to the land, the land as the cradle of three monotheistic religions, mutual remembrance and a shared future. The anthem could be played at civic events, such as university commencement ceremonies and soccer games. “Hatikvah”, meanwhile, could be sung at more exclusively Jewish events such as Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies. Of course, institutions would be able to decide whether to play one or the other, or both.
We plan to submit our Consensus Document, entitled “Singing a Discordant Tune: Proposals for Bringing the ‘Hatikvah’ Contention to a Harmonious Conclusion” to the dean of students, the dean of the law school and to the Jewish-Arab Centre on campus.
While some of the ideas are beyond the purview of the university, our experience has proven that a great deal of understanding and cooperation can be achieved when we work together to tackle difficult, divisive and important issues.