By Mel Frykberg
Israel has contributed to Global Citizenship in a number of ways including assisting students from developing countries to tackle development challenges, using the Jewish state’s experience in emergency situations to provide assistance and emergency relief around the world.
Israel’s founding fathers, including David Ben Gurion, expressed a vision to be a force for good in the world by sharing expertise and resources with developing countries.
“I am prouder of Israel’s international cooperation programme than I am of any other single project we have ever undertaken. It typifies the drive towards social justice that is at the very heart of Judaism,” said former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir as she highlighted the importance of Israel’s foreign aid programme.
A number of Israeli universities provide scholarships for students in developing countries to study public health and agriculture in Israel.
The Pears Foundation, a British Foundation, which works closely with Israeli universities and academia, is one such organisation, which provides support infrastructure for Israel’s emerging international development sector.
“Our initiative contributes essential skills and builds lasting relationships between Israel and the developing world,” said the organisation.
“Our programmes set out to create meaningful social change, increase respect and understanding and inspire people to support their communities and the causes they care about.”
As part of it Global Citizenship enterprise, Israel has also developed a formidable conflict resolution industry offering MA graduate programmes to international students.
“Israel has about 65 academic institutions and dozens of programmes involved in conflict resolution which is a significant number for a country of less than eight million people,” Professor Gad Barzilai, the dean of Haifa University’s Law Faculty told IDN.
However, Palestinian critics say there is a wide chasm between Israel’s expertise in theory and its behaviour on the ground.
“Israel giving advice on resolving conflict is a bit of an oxymoron when it fails to put its advice into practise,” media consultant, former Al Jazeera correspondent and Palestinian Authority (PA) spokeswoman, Nour Odeh told IDN.
Barzilai said that most Israeli academics were critical of the occupation and that they were more active than American academics when it came to involvement in human rights issues.
“Israel has enormous security challenges and this has to be part of the discussion. Israel is stuck in a turbulent Mideast and ISIS is only 9 miles away,” said Barzilai.
Odeh countered, “Israel has been using the security context since its inception and it’s become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy as well as a means of justifying the occupation.”
“While talking about security Israel continues to build more settlements and commit more human rights abuses, further fuelling the conflict,” added Odeh.
Under Barzilai, Haifa University’s Law Faculty holds about 40 conferences annually on human rights in Gaza, international law, and the rule of law under extreme circumstances, and many of its students are involved in human rights issues. The University also holds ‘legal clinics’ across the spectrum of human rights.
Students at Israeli schools also have at least one programme on democracy.
“From an early age Israelis are politically aware and concerned about the problems with our neighbours,” said Barzilai.
“The views on how to resolve the conflict, however, differ between the left-wing and the right-wing which compromise 50-50 of Israeli society respectively.
“Thirty percent of Israelis believe human rights trump security while the other 70 percent say security is more important.
“These views have been convoluted and polarised due to rocket attacks from Gaza. Some Israelis advocate a military solution, while others want a more peaceful resolution.
“Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is the most right-wing in Israel’s history it only has a narrow margin,” Barzilai told IDN.
Nour disagrees with Barzilai.
“Israeli settlers are part of Israel’s government and most Israeli governments have supported the settlements politically and economically,” said Odeh
“When Israelis say they are against the occupation one has to define their definition of the occupation which differs from that of the international community and international law.
“Many of them support the separation wall, the larger settlements remaining in place, and the continued Judaisation of East Jerusalem,” Odeh told IDN.
“I think the Israelis have an immature interpretation of the occupation with their refusal to acknowledge the historical background of the conflict and the dispossession of Palestinians.
“Let’s not forget Netanyahu won the 1996 elections by saying there were no Palestinians.”
Dr Keren Sharvit, heads Haifa University’s International MA Programme, Peace and Conflict Management Studies, a programme which has been running for four years with the majority of students coming from abroad and the rest Israeli.
“It is an inter-disciplinary programme founded on the social sciences, part of it in English,” Sharvit told IDN.
“My students study intergroup conflicts on the local level, diverse communities, ethnic conflict at the intra-state level and on the international level.
“In regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there are different perspectives and approaches.
“Some of the students research the community level, including how it would be possible for Israeli Jews and Palestinians to live in the same neighbourhood.
“Other students look at the issue at the state level in regard to what policies could be implemented to facilitate a better relationship between Jews and Arabs, the latter believing they are second-class citizens in Israel.
“On the international level the input of the global community is examined,” said Sharvit.
Despite Sharvit’s programme only running for four years, already some of her students have made significant contributions to the peace industry.
One of her graduates is the coordinator of the Haifa Centre for Dialogue and Conflict Resolution, which was created by the Haifa Municipality.
“Another of my students has developed a programme at Givat Haviva, The Centre for a Shared Society,” said Sharvit.
Sharvit says many Israelis are not concerned with resolving Israel’s conflict with the Arabs and believes there has to be more education.
“If we want to resolve our political problems there needs to be more work done to educate the public,” Sharvit told IDN.