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Kidma Project Helps Students Face Their Identities

"Maybe if you painted your face black for Purim, then you would know how I feel."
"If I'm not an Israeli that doesn't make me less Jewish."
"Is it typical for Jews to leave and Arabs to stay and try to convince?"

These are some of the comments aired during a course entitled, "A Meeting of Identities: Between Gender Identity and National Identity." Sponsored by Kidma: Project for the Advancement of Women at the University of Haifa, the class is composed of sixteen women: 8 Jewish and 8 Arab. The course meets each Tuesday for over three hours during one academic semester. The women are guided by two female facilitators from Nisan Young Women Leaders, the only organization dedicated to the advancement of young women in Israel.

"Although Arabs and Jews are in class together, they never connect. Most of the time, they listen to the lessons. This is the first time they have to talk to each other," explains Tali Raz, the Israeli Jewish facilitator of the group. Recognizing the situation, Kidma established this course in the spring of 2005 with the intention of facilitating dialogue among Arab and Jewish women.
Although a small group, the course includes women from a variety of backgrounds, including Christian, Muslim, and Druze Arabs, American Jews, and Israeli Jews from the FSU and Ethiopia. Each woman had to be interviewed prior to being accepted into the course, which earns them four academic credit points upon completion. The topics covered include streams of feminism and the role of women in times of social change, peace organizations, and militarism. A variety of guests are invited to speak about their role as activists for feminist organizations.

The course is organized around a feminist model. Dalia Halabi, the Israeli Arab facilitator, explains, "In most conflicts there is a patriarchal point of view. We are trying to use a different dialogue based on feminist pedagogy and critical theory to encourage dialogue based on empathy, listening, and acceptance even if I disagree with you."
"If you look in the newspaper, you see only males who are negotiating. They bring their agenda. A big contribution of feminist theory is to help conflict resolution…we are trying to combine the two at the civil society level."
Because the focus of the course is on identity, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is frequently discussed. As a result, Dalia states, "There are a lot of hard moments. This is a difficult issue to speak about. But we don’t try to diminish things or hide; rather, we emphasize the issue of power relations."

"I don't always enjoy class--sometimes it evokes feelings of anger and pain. I want to shout and say it's not fair," said Mayce, a 22-year-old Druze student from the Golan. Sophia, a pseudonym for a 21-year-old Arabic-speaking student who asked to remain anonymous, describes her frustration over the two-sided issue. "It is very hard because there is no solution to the conflict…I'm an outside watcher. I attack the Jews when I have to and the Arabs when I have to."

All the women interviewed cited the difficulty of explaining their identity in the framework of gender and nationality. "If I don't identify myself enough, someone in the course does it for me…I feel Israeli and that I have an influence from everything here," affirms Irit, a 25-year-old Jewish student. On the other side of the spectrum, Mayce explains, "I don't feel a part of this country. I've never been in Syria, but I don't belong to Israel…I'm just here." Sophia finds herself somewhere in the middle; "After taking a course on national identity last year, I saw myself as an Israeli because I live in this country…but in my heart I am with the Palestinians."

Often the variety of viewpoints represented in the course lead to heated debate. After watching Children of Arna, a film that depicts how Palestinian children from a theater group became involved in the Intifada, the reactions were extremely volatile. The participants' sensitivity to the subject matter was clear after one participant left the room in anger. In the dialogue that ensued, the women anxiously described their feelings toward the film. "Angry," "frustrated," and "confused" were the most popular emotions.

The facilitators see these feelings as normal at the mid-way point of the course. "I would like to see them as a group to work together, but they have to go through the battle,” Tali comments. “This is the reality. They have to handle the situation. If they don’t talk about the difficult things, how will change happen?"

Tali's co-facilitator, Dalia, agrees. "When you meet the other, you meet yourself…you confront things in you that you don't want to see…If I first see who I am and accept myself--the weaknesses, prejudices, and stereotypes inside me--tthis will bring a better understanding of the other."

To have a better understanding of "the other" was the most common response when participants were asked why they chose to take the course. Irit, a Middle East History major, wanted to gain a greater understanding of Arabic culture, as well as to explore work in a feminist organization. Mayse, who is studying English literature, was also interested in feminism but sought to understand the Jewish viewpoint after completing a previous Kidma course only for Arab women.

Mollie, a 21-year-old American student in the University’s Overseas Studies Program, thought the course would be a "sound box for different opinions." A Political Communication major, Mollie got her wish. "Although there is a huge conflict when people express their opinions in class, it is amazing to be expressing and hearing different opinions,” she says. “So many times people stick to their cultural groups and guess what the other side is thinking. It's nice to actually hear the other side."
Dalia believes that "as a whole, all the participants in this course won't leave the same. All the questions they ask and what they think about a matter is not what they came with. I believe that awareness isn't something easy to have."
Tali adds, "If they go home and don't think about doing anything inside, this is a failure. But a success is to see them getting angry and talking after each lesson…You can see and hear the emotion. I believe in the hard process. If everyone had the solution, it would be different."

Claudia Goodich-Avram, Kidma’s program coordinator, cites the lack of women in the decision-making process of politics as a large problem. Her hope is that the students involved in Kidma's courses will become volunteers or activists in a feminist organization. "The main outcome is to see what they can do, as a way of raising consciousness from the feminine perspective and also trying to resolve conflict," Claudia stated.

Kidma has been working for the past twenty years to advance the status and improve the lives of all women in Israel. It offers a variety of courses, seminars, and workshops to increase women's access to the academic and institutional tools needed to improve their lives. A financially independent institution within the university, Kidma depends on outside support to continue strengthening women's rights in Israel. –M.-A.F.


In This Issue:

President’s Focus - Battling Unjust Resolutions

Prof. Azy Barak’s SAHAR Offers a Vital Virtual Shoulder to Those with Nowhere Else to Turn

University Joins War on Drugs,
Campaign Is Integral to Interdisciplinary Clinical Center’s Service

Kidma Project Helps Students Face Their Identities

University Will Not Be Silent in Face of UK Boycott

Anat Liberman Is New External Relations Head

Prof. Majid Al-Haj to Be New Dean of Research

Prof. Sophia Menache – New Dean of Graduate Studies

Prof. Menachem Mor—Dean of Humanities

Virtual Open House Proves a Big Hit

Students Have an Address for Complaints: Professor Schatzker, Their Ombudsman

Computer Science and Occupational Therapy Team Up for Virtual Reality Conference
Student Develops Innovative Technology to Deal with Post-Traumatic Stress

Giora Lehavi: His Job Is to Check on Quality Management, and Other Standards

University’s Sports Teams Prove a Winner in More Ways than One

Student Publishes His Road to Wisdom

Honors and Awards

Mother and Son—in utero—Studied Hebrew at University’s Summer Ulpan

University’s China Connection Continues

Unique Algorithm Enables Better Mobile Wireless Communication




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