The Honorable Minister for Gender and Minority Equality, and the Advancement of Youth and Senior Citizens, Ms. Gila Gamliel; the Honorable German Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Andreas Michaelis; Mr. Ayman Odeh, Chair of the Joint List of Arab Parties; Ms. Ms. Zehava Galon, Chair of Meretz party; Prof. Eileen F. Babbitt and dear members of the Ridgefield Group; Ms. Judith Stelmach, representative of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel; mayors, representatives of government agencies, directors and activists in civil society associations, members of the business sector, friends and partners ; distinguished guests:
Welcome to the Third Givat Haviva Conference on Building a Shared Society in Israel.
Givat Haviva was founded 66 years ago. The first center for the partnership of Jews and Arabs was established here more than half a century ago.
It was founded by pioneers and groundbreakers. Many of our graduates are out in the field, leading organizations, heading municipalities, working as educators, active in the public sector and in the political sphere. And yet, reality seems to interfere with our vision and push it back…
It was exactly a year ago that we concluded our second conference on partnerships among the three sectors by forming strategies for the development of a shared society. We were ready to go out to meet with government ministers and present the conference recommendations, when the bloody cycle of last summer broke out.
The war broke out, many were killed, and a wave of racism overtook our country. The difficult summer was reflected in the recent elections and in the forming of the new government. A government that corresponds with the fears, the alienation, the exclusion and hatred that have grown between the Jewish-Zionist majority and the Arab-Palestinian minority that share this land.
What future can we look forward to, if we, the two nations that share this land, continue to plow this deep furrow of hatred, fear and mutual ignorance? Fear gives rise to racism, and from there it is only a short way to violent conflict and the complete loss of Israel's democratic character.
It is almost impossible to remember that it hasn't always been this way: That Menachem Begin led the peace process with our biggest enemy, Egypt; that in the time of Rabin's government, exactly 20 years ago, there were peace treaties signed with Jordan and the Palestinians, and wide bridges of Jewish-Arab partnership were built inside this country.
It is hard to remember that in Israel's Declaration of Independence there is a deep and meaningful link between the historical connection of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, where it had returned to build its national homeland, and the commitment to build here a common home that is based on full equality and deep partnership with the Palestinian inhabitants of the land.
What a tremendous distance between the founding vision of the State of Israel, as it is reflected in the Declaration of Independence, and the reality of our life today!
Time and again, we go out to fight yesterday's wars, when we don't even have the illusion that we can win them, only continue to survive. How long is this going to go on?
Israel of 2015 must "recalculate route", and quickly. For the sake of our future, of our children!
It is time to build the infrastructures for the alternative: To change conceptions. To break out of the fences that close us up as separate tribes. It is time to build a deep partnership between the two national groups that share this land. A partnership between those who define themselves as Jewish-Zionist and those who define themselves as Arab-Palestinian. Both are citizens of the State of Israel.
Such a partnership has no home today and no vision for the future. We see each other from afar. We are "transparent" for each other, angry and pained. Scarred by the wrongs we have wrought upon each other, we cannot forget and we cannot forgive. We are full of our own narratives of the past that separate us, and refuse to construct our joint story for the future.
We gather here because we are not going to let despair have the upper hand. We are people of hope, and we are committed to the future.
The time has come for us to roll up our sleeves and begin working on the alternative: The common dwelling place, where everybody feels at home; where all citizens respect each other, are tolerant, can embrace differences and share responsibility. A home where everybody feels a sense of belonging and of ownership.
Such a society will not be afraid of national differences. On the contrary, it will be able to recognize the economic, social, cultural and even political potential that is inherent in national variation.
Yes, it is possible!
Here in Israel there will be a state that maintains an egalitarian policy towards all its citizens; that will stop discrimination and mend historic wrongs, without creating new ones.
An egalitarian, pluralistic society will rise here in Israel when we stop yielding to fear and make room for a politics of hope.
This message will come from the bottom up. It still has no political home; this still is not the language of the government. But it is becoming clearer in the minds of many citizens; it is taking root in the hearts of Jews and Arabs alike, and it's time to start making it real!
Over the past two years, I have had the privilege to belong to the pioneer group of groundbreakers from the two nations who formulated a draft for a joint vision. This is the Ridgefield Group. It is a draft, for we do not pretend to know it all, for we believe in the wisdom of the masses, who will chew on our joint vision, discuss it, change it, put it in conversation. It is a draft, because it requires also the deeper insights of various experts. It is a draft, yet it is groundbreaking!
For the first time since the onset of the modern national conflict over this land, there is a proposal for a joint vision for both national groups, constructed together, by Arabs and Jews. It is a vision that presents the picture of a common future that may be the beacon of hope that is so deeply missed here.
Friends, it is time to begin to lay down the tracks for our future shared society. The tracks that go through the learning of Arabic by Jews and of Hebrew by Arabs. Through dialogue and joint learning, through common economic ventures, through partnership in the workplace, through the playground and the park that everyone will be sharing, through the knowledge and love of the other culture, through zero tolerance for racism and violence.
Friends, do not say, "The day will come" – let us bring that day!
Let us work together to make this harsh soil grow new flowers, flowers that could not grow here in the past century. The time has come!