The goal: The creation of a shared public space in Israel
The project’s premise is that the almost total exclusion of the Arab citizens’ language, culture and symbols from the public space in Israel is one of the main barriers to building an equal, democratic and shared society between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. The inclusion of both the Hebrew and Arabic cultures and languages in the shared public space is a precondition for a creating a society in which both Arabs and Jews will feel a sense of belonging. As a result they will both respect their differences and the special characteristics of each group. Sikkuy is determined to generate a wide-ranging change with the result that the public space in Israel will become a shared public space.
What is the public space?
The public space in Israel includes all of the places that are open to all the citizens of the state for social, cultural, educational, business and other activities.
This includes all governmental institutions and non-profit institutions such as museums, hospitals, institutions of higher education and parks. It also includes public infrastructure such as public transportation (trains, buses and airports), public buildings and cultural events such as festivals. As mentioned above, Arabic and Arab culture and symbols are almost entirely excluded from the public space and in academic, professional and business conferences the absence of Arab speakers is pronounced. Furthermore, the lack of information services in Arabic prevents the full receipt of rights and provision of assistance to members of Arab society who do not speak Hebrew and contributes to increasing the gaps between the two groups.
The robust presence of Arab culture and language in the public space will help bring both groups closer to each other.
Jewish citizens: Hearing Arabic and day to day contact with Arabic writing and symbols in the public space will reduce the antagonism, resentment and fear that many Jews harbor toward Arabs and the Arabic.
Arab citizens: Arabs will feel that the public space is also theirs and will feel less as “strangers” in their homeland. The status of Arabic and Arab culture in Arab society will increase and along with this the Arab citizens’ sense of belonging to the wider society in Israel.
All citizens: This project will advance the inception of a society shared by Arab and Jewish citizens.
The project will generate a positive change in the consciousness of decision makers as a result of the high visibility of the changes that the project will engender
In light of the current status of Arab-Jewish relations it is vital to achieve positive, highly visible results that lead to shared public space for the Arab and Jewish citizens.
The SPS project is working to create a significant number of places where shared public space is achieved on the practical level by insuring the representation of Arabs and/or Arab symbols/language/culture and the clear presence of spoken and written Arabic.
- Arab presence in public conferences: through the highly visible participation of Arab speakers, experts in a wide range of fields (and not necessarily expertise relevant to the Arab community only)
- Arabic language: spoken and written presence of Arabic in the public space
- Arab/ Palestinian culture: The participation of Arab artists and the presence of Arab/ Palestinian culture in festivals and museums.
- Locations where there is public information in Hebrew : Include information in Arabic, for example in signs, public address system, printed information, museum exhibitions, public websites, guiding in public sites and other public venues, signs on public transportation etc.
How can we turn the public space in Israel into a shared public space?
After a process of mapping public institutions, organizations and events that don’t include Arabic culture or language, the project contacts the decision makers at the organizing bodies, raises awareness, conducts a dialogue with them and creates a work plan for changes.
In 2012-2013 Sikkuy began a successful pilot program and from our experience, the overwhelming majority of institutions that we contacted responded positively and participated in a process of examining the presence of Arabic at all levels. And some began to implement changes as discussed below.
Despite this, when our request is not responded to positively, Sikkuy initiates a public campaign in order to apply pressure to those institutions. Public involvement provides a tail wind to our actions and emphasizes to the authorities the importance of shared public space to both Arabs and Jews.
The SPS project reaches out to the Arabic and Hebrew media in order to create public visibility for the process of change and when needed to also apply pressure on the decision makers.
Examples of our work in the field
- Request the integration of Arabic cultural events in festivals including the participation of Arab artists in the artistic management of the exhibitions, museums and festivals.
- Request the integration of Arab signs in hospitals, museums, libraries, community centers government offices, public and national parks.
- During the 2013 Passover holiday, Haifa hosted the annual international children’s theater festival. Two plays in Arabic were scheduled for the festival but the municipality refused to market and publicize the plays in Arabic posters and in the Arabic media. As a result of a new media campaign that Sikkuy led, hundreds of citizens sent e-mails to the minister of culture, to officials in the festival and the municipality demanding that the plays be publicized in Arabic. Sikkuy continues to monitor the situation as the international festival will take place in 2014 as well.
- As a result of the project’s efforts, by the end of the 2013, public transportation in the north will include Arabic signage. Furthermore, two of the websites of public transportation operators in the north have been translated to Arabic and two additional sites are in the process of translation to Arabic.
- After many meetings between Sikkuy and the Israeli Postal Company, the postal service will include information in Arabic in all its branches serving Arabs and Jews alike. This should be completed by the end of 2013.
- The SPS project will soon begin a pilot program with the daily radio and television public affairs programs to include Arab interviewees on various issues. The goal is that the Israeli public will be able to hear and watch Arab experts speak on issues of general public interest and not only on “Arab issues” as it is today.
- In cooperation with “Shutafut – Sharakah” – the forum of civil society organizations – Sikkuy has been working on integrating Arabs in public and scientific conferences. In the 2013 Sderot conference on Israeli society, 25 Arab speakers participated due to our intervention in contrast to the previous year when there were no Arab speakers. In the upcoming conference it is expected that even more Arabs will participate. Sikkuy is preparing a large data base of Arab experts and academics to assist conference organizers in Israel reach out to relevant Arab speakers.
The Shared Public Space (SPS) project would be more than happy to hear your suggestions. Moreover we need your assistance. If you see public institutions, signs or events that do not include Arabic we would grateful if you would document it and send it to us.