Israel is a multicultural country, a country made up of different ethnic groups: many having their own culture, language and even religion.
There isn’t much contact between some of the groups, especially between the secular Jews and the ultra orthodox Jews and between the Jewish population and the Arab population which comprises about 1/6th of Israel’s population.
The new technologies and especially the technology of online computer telecommunication endow us with new tools and possibilities for ongoing multi-cultural and multi-age communication between different ethnical groups. The new technologies know no stigma and no prejudice and as such easify and make possible neutral, less biased communication between groups, which are much apart.
This paper is about the creation of an on- going learning community Kamrat, a multicultural on- line learning community, between two schools, in Israel, in 2000: one Israeli Arab school (A) and the other Israeli Jewish school (J).
The tools used for the creation of this community were two: a closed network in Hebrew and the internet. Participants were learners in 7-9 grade. The project was conducted between January andMay 2000 (with one introductory meeting in November 1999). The communities participating in the project, master two different languages: the language of the Jewish Israeli community is Hebrew, where as the language of the Arab community is Arabic.
The project was conducted in the Hebrew language, and the Arab learners were encouraged to write some of the material uploaded in Arabic in Hebrew letters. Though both Arabic and Hebrew are Semitic languages, each has its own set of characters.
The Kamrat project is my brainchild, it was carried out by Ithamar Aphek, (my son) from the TelHi Networks in collaboration with Ulpan Akiva, an institute famous for its struggle for coexistence.
When I first out lined the Kamrat project, my vision was to have people from different backgrounds conduct an on-going dialog and to learn that people are people, no matter where they come from, and what language they use or religion they hold. It was as simple as that. I wanted to avoid the political issue, which is very intensive and stormy in Israel, and therefore, I was looking for neutral content, to be researched ,collected and uploaded by all the participants in the Kamrat project.
The Kamrat project centered around, “simple”, “little”, ordinary human themes, objects, items, proverbs and sayings passed from parents to children in their families and common in each of the participating community.
A. The Process (Starting the project)
The first step was to choose two schools to participate in the project. We didn’t have too many to choose from as schools in Israel and I guess in other countries as well, are over burdened with projects. Starting an additional project was met with some reluctance on the part of the teachers.
Finally two schools chose to participate in the Kamrat experiment: Mushreife an Arab ( A)Israeli village in the east of Israel and Ort Gutman, Jewish (J) Israeli in Natanya, a city in center Israel about 100 km from Mushreife.
A preparatory meeting of headmasters, teachers, supervisors and project directors
Though the Kamrat project is essentially about on-line co- learning, there were several meetings in person as well; a preparatory meeting in order for coordinators and headmasters to get deeply involved in the program and to get acquainted with its principles, bi- monthly meetings in the schools, each week in another school, run by Ithamar and Salah, and a final meeting for all the participating members in Ulpan Akiva.
A word about the closed network
We decided to use two different communication tools, both computer based. The first for rudimentary gathering of information and for on- going dialog between the participants, and the second, once all the material has been collected – the internet. The first tool, was a closed network in Hebrew, run by TelHi Networks, using the FirstClass software outdated 2.6 version. Unfortunately there are no good intranets in Hebrew and though the SoftArc Firstclass software in Hebrew doesn’t contain many much-desired features it still is, quite a good “intranet” in Hebrew.
All participants were connected to the aforementioned “intranet” from school and those who had an internet connection at home could also access the Hebrew network from home. All the work done by the participants, including on going interactions, was recorded on the TelHi closed intranet.
Deciding upon forums
As I have already mentioned, my vision was that of getting people to know other people as human beings, having much in common. We shunned away from any political issues, and resorted to what one could term as “community informatics.” We, myself and Ithamar, who later on together with Salah from Ulpan Akiva, ran the project, decided on five forums on which the entire Kamrat program was to focus: symbols and costumes, objects passed from parents to children, folktales, sayings and proverbs, and feasts and quizzes about famous people in the history of the participating groups.
In both participating schools a teacher was assigned to head the project and to work with the multiage, ungraded group on finding and uploading information regarding the aforementioned five areas to the intranet. It was this intranet, where the two very much apart segments of Israeli society met almost on a daily basis.