Living in a Mixed City

"Friday marks the UN's World Tolerance Day. Tolerance, as everyone who lives in Jerusalem knows, is the key in a mixed city. It is therefore fitting to hold this conference at the Jerusalem International YMCA. The Jerusalem Foundation has worked for the past 45 years to enabled all the groups that make up the city to live in it together, with a minimum amount of tension and conflict and to give each of these groups the feeling that the city is its home to each and every one of them."


Thus opened Mark Sofer, President of the Jerusalem Foundation, the Shared Living in a Mixed City Conference, initiated by the Foundation thanks to the support of The Hamburg Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Culture of Prof. Dr. Jan Philipp Reemtsma (Germany) and the Anne Frank Fonds (Switzerland).  


The conference took place November 13 to 16t, 2012, and opened with special remarks given by award winning author A.B. Yehoshua, followed by a festive performance by a Jewish singer, Galit Giat, and an Arab singer, Lubna Salama, and the Shirana women's choir from the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa. The Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies were planning partners in the conference.  


Over two days of lectures, the conference covered a wide range of issues related to Mixed Cities and all tolled, some 300 – 400 people enjoyed the conference.


The conference had many different panels that focused on implications and applications for Jerusalem. In the closing session, all panelists, including representatives of the Jerusalem Municipality, called for all of Jerusalem's populations to participate in the decision-making process, to better answer their needs. Panelists also noted the importance of showcasing Jerusalem's diversity as a positive aspect, turning the conflicts so often associated with Jerusalem into an opportunity for fruitful dialogue.


There were panel discussions that focused on accommodating all interest groups in urban planning decision-making in urban planning, the absence of the Arab voice in decision-making, the need for grassroots input, language in the public sphere accepting the 'other', public use of religious sites of all faiths, women's participation in the public sphere and conflict resolution. 


Guest lecturers from abroad, Professor Mark Purcell, from the Department of Urban Design & Planning, University of Washington, and Prof. Richard Hecht, from the University of California, Santa Barbara brought examples from around the world about individuals' right to a city and how to successfully navigate the difficulties inherent in a mixed city.  


Many touched on mixed cities in Israel.  A.B. Yehoshua spoke of Haifa as an example of a successful mixed Jewish–Arab city with Professor Rachel Alterman, of the Technion Institute in Haifa, concurring. Others were more cautious, noting that although scholastic and other achievements of Haifa's Arabs are relatively equal to that of the city's Jews, Arabs remain a minority at 10% of the population, short of qualifying it as a "mixed city." 


As for Jerusalem, some called it 'the ultimate mixed city' while others said it is divided into three sectors (Arab, ultra-Orthodox and everyone else) that live parallel lives with little or no intersection, meeting only in public spheres. 


"In these past two days we tried to take examples from faraway places to improve our city.  Our intention was to learn from the macro as well as the micro.  And the answer must come from the bottom," said Nadim Sheiban Director of Projects at the Jerusalem Foundation.  


"This is the first time we've had a conference like this, that examines a Mixed City from a range of different perspectives – architecture, gender, religion, education, language, to name a few. This conference was unique in bringing scholars and activists in these field together in the same forum," said Leah Tobias, Executive Director of the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace. 


To view photos from the event click here.