Amid terror wave in Israel, Haifa remains beacon of coexistence

This week, as Israel is dealing with a wave of Palestinian terror attacks across the country ranging from stabbings to car-rammings—and in one case on Tuesday, the reported use of a meat cleaver—there is one major Israeli city that seems to have been spared the violence so far. In fact, the city has long been known as a beacon of Arab-Israel coexistence amid eruptions of conflict everywhere else in the country. 

Haifa's Baha'i World Centre and its gardens. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Lying on the Mediterranean coast on and below the Carmel Mountain, Haifa is the third-largest city in Israel with a population of nearly 300,000. According to most readily available statistics, the city's population breaks down to approximately 82 percent Jewish, 4 percent Muslim Arab, and 14 percent Christian (Arab and Non-Arab). Haifa is also home to the World Centre of the Baha'i faith.

"It's beautiful to be now in the city of Haifa and be able to see how different people live together, and efforts are made to really promote dialogue and understanding. But not just for the sake of dialogue and understanding. It's for the sake of living together in the same geographic space," said Sarah Vader, a member of the Baha'i faith who works for the World Centre, according to US News.

Haifa is where I grew up before moving to the U.S. as a child, and in most of the years that I lived there, the city saw very few terror attacks, with the exceptions occurring around the year 2001 during the second Intifada.

"Haifa has become a symbol of coexistence," said Hani Elfar, former director of Haifa's Beit Hagefen Arab Jewish Cultural Center and a Christian Arab, in large part because "Jews and Arabs lived together [here] before the establishment of the state of Israel."

"We get together. We study together. We grow up together. We live together. We work together" and "somehow it works," echoed Meir Ben Zeev, a Jewish resident of Haifa. 

"Jesus was not here in Haifa. Moses was not here in Haifa. Mohammed was not here in Haifa," Ben Zeev said. "The place is relaxed."

"Jerusalem is not a holy city. How people act there, all of them—Jews, Muslims, Christians—they destroy the holiness," said Moad Ode, an Israeli Muslim from Haifa. "But if you come to this place you see the holiness in people's eye and how they behave and live their life."

"Honestly, I do not think Haifa is a special place. Haifa is not a special city...Haifa represents how normal human beings should live. We are normal here," Ode added.

Posted on October 13, 2015 .