"Holiday of holidays" festival in Haifa: between hope and reality.

Author:Yelenevskaya, Maria
Position:Report

Introduction: Haifa as a Mixed City

All localities in Israel are divided into three groups according to their ethnic composition: Jewish, Arab and mixed. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), eight urban localities are defined as mixed. These towns "with a large majority of Jews, but with a considerable minority of Arabs" are: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Haifa, Akko, Ramla, Lod, Ma'alotTorshiha and Nazerat Illit (CBS, Statistical Abstract of Israel 2010, 2011, 29). Life in these cities is a subject of heated academic and public discussions. Academics who study planning and development strategies, distribution of housing, public space and resources believe that on the one hand, Arab neighborhoods are treated as 'internal frontiers' into which Jewish presence keeps expanding thus turning mixed cities into urban ethnocracies, where citizenship is unequal, and resources and services are allocated on the basis of ethnicity rather than residency (Yiftachel, and Yacobi 2003, 680, 690). On the other hand, the mixed city context may be favorable for forming perceptions of coexistence (Falah et al. 2000, 792). Among the mixed urban localities, Haifa, the third largest city of Israel, has gained the reputation of a model of tolerance among mixed localities. This might be partially explained by the history of Haifa, where Jews and Arabs lived under the same municipality prior to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 (Yacobi 2009, 1). In the empirical study conducted by Falah et al., the ranking for positive perceptions of coexistence is highest in Haifa for Arab respondents and second highest for Jewish respondents (2000, 787). At the same time, the international conference From Mixed to Shared: The Haifa Alternative organized by the NGO New Israel Fund reported results of a study based on the discussions with 165 residents in 22 focus groups which indicated that "the majority of the town's residents live in a sort of cultural indifference devoid of neither desire to interact with members of other populations nor outright hostility" (New Israel Fund 2010). In addition, like in other Israeli towns, the interethnic relations in Haifa visibly deteriorated in the period of the 2nd Intifada also known as Intifada Al Aqsa (2000-2005), when there were several terrorist attacks in Haifa buses and restaurants and clashes between Arab demonstrators and policemen. Animosities that soared in that period were hardly alleviated by the fact that among the victims of the terrorists were not only Jewish but also Arab and Druze residents of Haifa.

The total population of the Haifa district which includes the city's suburbs is 880,000. The Arab sector makes 213,600, the rest being "Jews and others" (CBS, Statistical Abstract of Israel 2009, 2010, 106). (2) Like other mixed cities, Haifa is still ethnically divided into the so called

"Arab" and "Jewish" neighborhoods. The former are located in the low-prestige areas of the city. In fact, Jews also live there, although not by choice but due to financial constraints. Rich neighborhoods are primarily occupied by Jews, although socially upward mobile Arab families have corners in them as well. One Arab neighborhood in the old part of the city stayed empty for 50 years after the War of Independence which took place in 1948 after the State of Israel had been proclaimed. According to Israeli law, abandoned houses cannot be transferred to other owners for a period of 50 years. Since Palestinian refugees are not allowed to return to Israel, the real estate was appropriated by the city and today this district is in the process of renovation. Most of the restored buildings house offices and shops.

On a daily basis interaction between Jews and Arabs occurs in the work place, for example in hospitals where both Jews and Arabs can be found among the staff and patients, in shopping centers and malls, in pharmacies and post-offices, and at the universities and colleges (see Blumen & Tzafrir 2011). One can add that at the universities, there are many more Arabs among the students than among the professors, engineers, librarians, and secretaries. Notably, although there are four mixed bilingual schools in Israel (3) none of them is in Haifa (Mor-Sommerfeld et al. 2007, 11). Yet some Arab and Druze parents send their children who intend to go to the university to Jewish high schools in order to facilitate their further studies, because instruction at Israeli universities is in Hebrew. In addition, both Arab and Jewish children, including Russian-speaking immigrants, study together at the Rubin Conservatory located in one of the Arab neighborhoods of the city. Despite a long history of living under the same jurisdiction and abundance of contact zones, Jews and Arabs in Haifa continue being apart maintaining social networks and engaging in leisure activities primarily within their own ethno-cultural groups.

Attempts to bring Haifa communities closer to each other are made by Beit Hagefen--the Arab-Jewish Center founded in 1963 (information about Beit Hagefen's activities can be found on its website (http://www.beit-hagefen.com/En_Web/En_%20Home_Index.htm, accessed 9/01/2012). Its current head, Asaf Ronen, says that from 2003 to 2010 the center was in crisis and only now is trying to reinvigorate residents' interest in its initiatives (Korin 2012). One of the most successful among them is the December festival known as Holiday of Holidays. It was launched in 1993 as a joint venture of the Municipality of Haifa and Beit Hagefen. The name and the time of the festival was chosen because the holidays of the three main religions represented in Haifa--Christmas, Hanukkah and Ramadan happened to be almost at the same time in that year. Moslems use the lunar calendar, and since then neither Ramadan nor any other Moslem holiday has fallen on December, yet in the consciousness of the residents the festival is still associated with the three religions, although the events of the festival are secular. The first experience of holding an intercultural festival was successful and from year to year it is getting more popular attracting Israelis from all over the country as well as foreign tourists. Today it is generously covered in the media, including electronic sources. The festival has its own web page which posts the schedule of events, announcements and photographs (http://www.haifahag.co.il/, accessed 10/12/2011). It is covered on the site of the Haifa Municipality (http://www.haifa.muni.il/Haifa/Pages/NewsItem.aspx?One1Id=306, last accessed 20/01/2012) and on the homepage of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (http://www.altawasul.com/MFAAR/israel+beyond+politics/society+coexistence+and+peace/Holiday-of-HolidaysFestival-celebrated-in-Haifa-13122011.htm, last accessed on 20/01/2012). Note that on the municipal site the page is given in Hebrew, Arabic and English, and the Ministry adds the Russian page. In 2011 we also found that the festival was advertised on the web pages of travel agencies in Russia and Ukraine (see e.g., http://tours-service.ru/news/9161 and http://www.rv.org.ua/blog/prazdnik-prazdnikovv-haife/, (4) last accessed 20/01/2012). The articles on the official Israeli sites underscore the inter-confessional nature of the holiday, contributing to peaceful coexistence of ethno-religious groups. Sites for tourists, on the other hand, emphasize a playful and happy atmosphere and the entertaining nature of the events.

This essay is based on participant observation and monitoring of websites. We have attended events of Holiday of Holidays since the year it was launched, first coming as curious members of the audience, and in the last two years talking to participants, watching behavior and reactions of children and adults, collecting advertising leaflets, making notes in our ethnographic diaries. In January 2012 we interviewed the head of Beit Hagefen, Asaf Ronen. We read and analyzed internet materials devoted to the festival on institutional and non-institutional sites, such as discussion forums and blogs in English, Hebrew and Russian. Unfortunately, we were unable to cover sites in Arabic, although we spoke about the festival with our Arabic-speaking colleagues and students. Moreover, we conducted a short online interview with Roseland Daeem, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature of the University of Haifa, specializing in folklore, and a lecturer at the Academic Arab College of Education.

The Holiday of Holidays in Haifa is an attempt to promote Haifa's image of a tolerant multicultural city by creating a unifying festival. At the same time, for years Haifa has struggled to shed its image of a provincial city, which has little to offer to young and ambitious people. (5) A widely used method of revitalization of a city's image, developing its economy and place identity, and capitalizing on cultural resources is conducting festivals (Cheng-Yi and Woan-Chiau 2009, 13171322). This trend is a distinctive feature of...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP