Yes, we should celebrate Israeli culture

When a six-year old does a project on a country, they tend to go for
the clichés; with France, it’s the frogs’ legs, with Spain it’s the
bullfights, with Italy it’s the tight-fitting clothes. So what would it
be for Israel?

 

Many might say “conflict”. Often, the only things we
hear about this country are part of a polarised and acrimonious debate.
A lot of people do not see a side of Israel that is incredibly vibrant,
exciting and dynamic. What we are trying to show with the Israeli
Cultural Festival this year is that there exists a country beyond the
politics.

When speaking recently with an Arab-Israeli about the idea of having a
festival to celebrate Israeli culture, his first response was “but how
can you show Israel’s culture? It’s far too diverse”. But that’s
precisely the point. The aim of this festival is not to persuade anyone
to take any particular point of view regarding the politics of the
region, but rather to broaden peoples’ knowledge and understanding. We
do not deny that controversies exist, or want to ignore or belittle
those affected by them. However, there is no need for anyone to only
have a singular and negative image of this country. Israel’s culture is
hugely mixed, intertwining elements of Arab, European, Russian,
Ethiopian and many other roots. Sitting between three continents, it
has often been described as a bridge between Eastern and Western
cultures.

Muslim, Christian and Druze Arabs make up over 20% of Israel’s
population, and we are equally keen to celebrate their input into
Israeli culture. Clearly, shisha pipes or humous and falafel are not
specifically Jewish – they are things which Israelis of any background
enjoy in common both with each other, and with their neighbours in the
Middle-East.

The focus of this festival is not Israel’s creation, but rather the
contribution that Israelis have made to the world regardless of race,
ethnicity or religion. Our academic events focus on three particular
areas: business, the environment and medical breakthroughs. The
developments made by Israel in these spheres will have a beneficial
impact in the world long after the present conflict has passed.

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Our lecture on entrepreneurship in Israel showed how it is a vital
incubator for smaller technology companies which have driven the
world’s economy in the 21st century. Much of modern-day Israel has been
built on what was once desert. Israeli scientists are world leaders in
agricultural technologies, particularly in areas deprived of water. In
recent years they have been instrumental in providing such technology,
for free, to developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The talk on
Israel’s contribution to the environment will seek to illustrate this
and the steps which Israel has taken towards developing methods of
sustaining scarce water resources.

Israeli hospitals treat equally all patients who come through their
doors, including Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and
are so highly regarded that they have become the subject of “medical
tourism”. Innovations made by doctors Israel’s world-leading research
centres have had an impact on saving lives worldwide. The Israeli
medical organisation “Save a Child’s Heart” is holding a stand at the
fair. It provides urgently-needed paediatric heart surgery and
follow-up care for children from third world and developing countries.
Their aim is to help all children, regardless of nationality or
financial circumstance, receive the best care that modern medicine has
to offer.

There exist many bilateral organisations and projects which bring
together Israelis and Palestinians; one such organisation which we are
showcasing at the fair is the “Face to Face” venture, which displays
enormous photographs of Palestinians and Israelis from similar cultural
backgrounds, side by side. The impact that this type of initiative can
have on “re-humanising” each nation in the eyes of the other is
incalculable.

We, from the Oxford Israeli Cultural Society do not want to be drawn
into the typical dogmatic and rancorous type of argument which provides
so little by way of reconciliation. Instead we would like this to be an
opportunity to open our hands to the Palestinian Society, and indeed
any other student group who wish to be involved. There is so much that
we share in terms of culture – instead of focusing on disagreements it
would be far more productive to look at what we have in common. In the
future we would be keen to celebrate all of the cultures that exist
throughout the region with a joint Israeli and Arab literary festival.
It is through co-operation and joint initiatives like these that we can
build understanding, and perhaps one day achieve peace.

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Links:

IFest Oxford