Through educational delegations to Arab countries, Dror Israel educators are strengthening regional connections.
The program began this October with a partnership between HaNoar HaOved, the youth movement associated with Dror Israel, and the Moroccan Mimouna Association. A cohort of 15 Israeli young adult educators - Jews (many of Moroccan descent), Arabs and Druze – took part in the week-long delegation to Morocco. There, they met with their Moroccan peers, who will be visiting Israel for the second leg of the program in December.
On the trip, the cohort learned together, explored the country, and enjoyed Moroccan delicacies. They began by learning together about Moroccan history and the changing relationship between the two countries over the years. The Moroccan participants shared about current pressing social issues and the group discussed challenges related to antisemitism and Islamophobia They also learned about the local Moroccan Jewish community, its rich history, and the challenges they face today.
Dror Israel educators, through the associated HaNoar HaOved youth movement, have worked for decades creating shared society through facilitating informal, educational encounters between diverse groups and populations in Israel. Over the years, this educational model has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of participants throughout the country, bringing together Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and more. The youth movement is the country’s most diverse, with 20% of its participants coming from Arab cities and towns. The ongoing educational encounters between youth of different background focus on learning to find shared values while valuing differences.
With the Abraham Accords, Dror Israel's educators identified a new opportunity to take this successful approach beyond Israel’s borders and began reaching out to youth organizations in the countries which recently signed the accords.
The accords were created by national leaders and government officials, not youth. But Tom Vizel, a Dror Israel leader organizing the initiative, wondered if they impacted sentiment on the ground. “How do youth in neighboring Middle Eastern countries view Israel? How much do they know about Israel? And how much do Israeli youth know about nearby countries?”
He understood that Dror Israel and its associated youth movement HaNoar HaOved had a unique ability to create change on the ground. “We are not diplomats; we are not the politicians who are going to be signing the next peace agreement; but now that these Accords are in place, we have the opportunity to come in as educators and create meaningful partnerships.”
Einat Levi, Israeli Consultant for Regional Partnership with Morocco and the Middle East region, said that in the past, on-the-ground partnerships for youth and young adults were incredibly difficult to organize, due to the diplomatic bureaucracy required. “Now, [after the Abraham Accords] it is the right moment to bring the youth together and empower them to play the role they can and have to play in the region.”
Thus was created Dror Israel’s Youth 4 MENA (Middle East and North Africa) project. This initiative aims to bring together youth and young adult organizations which operate in MENA region countries to create educational partnerships and real connections. The project centers around creating bi-national cohorts of educators who travel on delegations to one another's’ countries, share meaningful experiences and learn about one another's cultures. These young adults then become educational ambassadors when they return home, tasked with sharing what they have learned with at least another 10 local youth. Their experience and new connections are amplified through the creation of educational programming and virtual encounters.
Many regional organizations have gotten involved with this new initiative, including organizations from Sudan, Bahrain, Turkey, UAE and more. It has also gained attention and cooperation from Israel’s Ministries of Interior and of Regional Cooperation as well as other governmental bodies.
While in Morocco, the group had the opportunity to meet with the Israeli ambassador in Morocco, Mrs. Alona Fischer-Kam. Of the encounter, Mrs Fischer-Kam wrote, “There are small moments of satisfaction in diplomatic work. One of them was the encounter between Moroccan and Israeli youth, Jews and Muslims alike, through the delegation of HaNoar HaOved organized with the Ministry for Regional Cooperation, which is very active in Morocco. The delegation met with young adults from the Mimouna organization for a seminar which dealt with the relationship between Morocco and Israel as well as between Jews and Muslims. The Moroccan youth are active in preserving Jewish heritage sites and advancing tolerance and coexistence. It was such a joyful meeting that I even found myself dancing with them.”
Ms. Levi remarked after meeting the delegation, “After today, I must admit that I'm even more optimistic than ever!”
We look forward to the Moroccan delegation’s upcoming visit to Israel and to expanding this project to more countries.