To Know Each Other

Michal Sela - Givat Haviva

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Face to Face

October 8 was supposed to kick off the busiest year in 15 years at Givat Haviva, one of Israel’s leading Jewish-Arab educational organizations.  

Jewish and Palestinian Arab students from across the country were scheduled to start their flagship encounter program, “Face to Face” which brings youth together for a series of dialogues aimed at fostering understanding and reducing fear of one another. 

The Givat Haviva team, made up of  Jewish and Palestinian Arab educators and mediators, had worked extremely hard preparing. After recent years of Covid, teacher strikes, and political tensions, morale on the grassy campus of Givat Haviva  was high, with everyone looking forward to an impactful year ahead. 

But instead of opening their doors, war was at their doorstep, and staff members were digesting the shock and realization that everything had changed overnight. 

“It was very obvious that nothing is going to happen,” said Michal Sela, the CEO of Givat Haviva, speaking of their opening day and week. Within about three weeks, she said, “We understood that it’s not the not right time for Jewish-Arab encounters.”

Emotions were just too charged and raw to bring Arab and Jewish high school students together, especially because for many this would be their first encounter with one another, says Sela. 

“It’s not the right time when the tension is so high, when the fear levels and anxiety levels are so high to bring young students together for the first time in their lives. Because this encounter is hard and complex even in normal times. We don’t think it’s the right time to do it,” says Sela. Some of the schools they work with, for example, are from the border with Gaza, and some students had been among those taken hostage  or had teachers killed on October 7.

Encountering One Another

In the program, high school classes are paired and come together for mediated dialogues over the course of a year. This includes intensive overnight retreats where they share dorm rooms and meals.

In place of the encounter programs, Givat Haviva Jewish and Arab mediators have been leading individual classes as a way to still engage with subjects of living in a shared society, like equality, pluralism, and identity.

Michal, especially in the early weeks of the war, was helping oversee difficult conversations happening among staff members.

“I think that what helped us was the understanding that we know each other, and we’re still speaking and talking to the same people that we were on the sixth (of October).”

“So it’s possible to have a conversation and disagree, or maybe even say the wrong thing in the beginning,” she says. “So we did it through a lot of really hard conversations. And luckily, we have the skills to do it because we’re in the education business. So, we know how to engage in productive dialogue and how to work in groups. And we use the method that we use on youth, and teachers, and groups on ourselves.”

Coming Up

Michal came of age in what she calls a “vibrant and very political” Jerusalem of the 1990s. As a member of the left-wing Hashomer Hatsair youth movement, she was going to political protests from the age of 11. Her political identity was forged amid first the promise of the Oslo peace deal, followed by the earthquake of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and the Second Intifadah, and later the mass social protests of 2011. Work in journalism and the Knesset followed, before she segued professionally to Shared Society work.

Givat Haviva was created in 1949, just a year after Israel became a state. Its mission was to build connections between Arabs and Jews – a fairly radical notion at the time. Almost seventy-five years later, it’s still hardly mainstream. It exists as both an organization and a physical campus in central Israel, about an hour north of Tel Aviv, and has two main objectives: equality for Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens and working to improve relationships between them and Jewish citizens.

In addition to the encounter programs, it also runs teacher trainings and a boarding school of 140 Arab, Jewish and international high school students. Those have continued to run. At the school, students have written a social contract about how to talk to each other about October 7 and the war.


Givat Haviva has also been conducting Shared Society education teacher trainings for  Jewish and Arab teachers which have been in high demand since October 7. Its art center recently began a six-week on campus residency for Jewish and Arab artists, the end of which they will put on an exhibit together. 

In 2023, the budget for encounter style programming was a mere 800,000 shekels, about $200,000, she says. 

“But it’s essential (Jewish and Arab) students are able to communicate with each other, to understand each other’s cultures and hear the other’s narrative,” says Michal. 

“We need political change and we need a serious change in education policy in Israel. We know that. I think that the positive thing is that we’re ready for that. And we have programs and we have an agenda. And we have a lot of advice for the new education minister I hope that we’ll have during 2024. And maybe he or she will understand  that shared society education is really important for the security and well being of Israel as a democracy.”

Dina Kraft

Writer and Journalist

Dina Kraft is a writer and journalist based in Tel Aviv.  She is the Opinion Editor for Haaretz English and co-author of My Friend Anne Frank. She has written from the region for over two decades for The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and The Los Angeles Times, reporting on Israeli and Palestinian politics, culture and society.

Dina is drawn to stories featuring unlikely connections, dual narratives and the impact of conflict and crisis on ordinary lives. She hosts the podcast “Groundwork” and previously “The Branch”, which tell the stories of relationships between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

Dina is a long-time foreign correspondent who began her overseas career in the Jerusalem bureau of The Associated Press. She was later posted to AP’s Johannesburg bureau where she covered southern Africa. She’s also reported from Senegal, Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Russia, and Ukraine