The Sir Charles Clore Jewish-Arab Community Center, Akko, Israel, is a working example of an alternative to the cycle of separation, violence and mistrust writes Jack Mendel who met with it’s director Muhammad Fahili, to see how he has built a shining light of integration and co-operation.
Akko is a city with two-thirds Jews, and one third Arab. They live side by side, but for so long never really interacted.
In 1990, Muhammad Fahili began a project to build aN Arab-Jewish centre in Akko, to help coexistence. The centre he has created has developed into an institution providing high quality, low-cost services, for poor kids, irrespective of background.
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With everything from parenting and literacy assistance, to summer camps and women’s clubs, Fahili, as he is affectionately, has transformed the neighbourhood, and relations in the city, through a simple desire to break down mistrust, and build a more equal and respectful culture.
The Sir Charles Clore Jewish Arab Community centre, Akko, is a foundation, so it makes no money, and relies on the generosity of donations. Named after Sir Charles Clore, who was a businessman from the UK, Fahili outlines how “I was working in Akko in bomb shelters for Jewish and Arab kids. Vivien Clore (the daughter of Sir Charles) saw me helping with a small club, and asked to help too”.
“I said I have a vision to build a Jewish-Arab community centre in Akko.” Shortly after, we sent an application for funds, and it was successful, so we built the first floor on top of the bomb shelter in the Muslim neighbourhood of Akko, in 1990.”
“We Started to work with kids in the neighbourhood, and I volunteered for 8 years, and she also supported the centre for 8 years.”
“Many many people wanted to come to the centre from outside the neighbourhood, but we didn’t have enough space.”
As the centre grew as a cultural and educational hub for poor kids of all backgrounds, it also grew in demand. “We had more and more people, so once more I asked Vivien Clore for some more money to build a second floor. In 2000 we finished the building, and since that time we opened the centre for the whole of Akko, and not only for the neighbourhood.”
“Everybody now knows about us because we have been going for twenty years.
“We came to be very well known because we were very professional.”
“We have professional teachers; Jews and Arab, Muslim Christian.. International.. everybody.”
“We have very professional resources there like computers and all the things needed for special courses, all of which are subsidised.”
He continues to proudly outline that “around 700 people per week” come to the centre for our services.
“We have day care, we have for pensioners.. “From 3 months in the day care, to 3 years” and after that we start teaching them languages.”
“It is for all ages.”
“We have youth groups, pensioners groups, Educational facilities about early childhood development, extracurricular activities & informal education for all Age Groups.
There is even a Centre for Arab & Jewish Women.
It was clear that the centre had been built on the basis of respect for each other, in one of the most diverse cities in Israel.
I asked whether in the last 20 years, the city’s integration and coexistence has got better, and whether it could be a good model for other cities. Before I could even finish my sentence, he rapidly said Yes.
“I encourage the Government to build more community centres, but unfortunately nobody will, because it costs money. We have 4 community centres that belong to the city. Not everybody can afford it, and we don’t make money.”
“We prefer to be independent and not belong to the City or the Government. We are working with poor kids. If it becomes a part of the Government or the City, they will raise the price. Nobody will come.
“Also we don’t deal with religious or political factors. We are independent in that regard too. If you belong to a city or government, you might have to meet their policies. Remember, every four or five years, the Government will change, and maybe you have to change with it.
One of the core goals of the organisation being to break down the separation and mistrust, to which I asked whether anyone had challenged him on, as not being radical enough.
“We of course have some Arab and Jews that both say it. It is not hardline enough, but the vast majority of people encourage the centres. They see it’s very useful for the kids. They give us a push, not a pull. We are talking about poor kids remember.
I had heard a lot about the summer camp which is run by Fahili’s centre; largely seen as the most integral feature of the centre.
I asked Fahili about it, and he was exceptionally keen to speak about this.
“We have the camp. It is very very important. For about 2 weeks in July, we take about 200 kids; Jews and Arabs, and we take them out every day.”
“Busses come, we take them out and we go to the Kibbutz Ness Amim and they have a big pool, a place to play soccer and basketball, the zoo.. lots of activities outside.”
But it also was clearly tough, because only 200 children, Jews and Arab, could attend, and many want to come.
They simply don’t have the money, and they already charge 250 Shekel, compared to others that charge over 1000.
I asked whether the status quo would be sustainable, especially if he wants to keep it independent? He responded optimistically, but you could certainly tell he was still a little concerned.
“We’re doing our best. We have the Sobell foundation, for many years in the summer camps. We have many other donors that give a thousand pounds here and 500 pounds there. As long as we have a summer camp, it is alright.”
Up until now it has not been a problem [to not have enough money], and for at least another two years, it won’t be as the Sobell foundation are in an agreement.
As a finishing note, I asked what he hopes politically to help the centre, and he responded; “I want the leftist parties.”
“I don’t like the Arab parties. I don’t vote for them. I don’t agree with them”
“I believe if you want to make change, then you have to be from inside not the outside.”