Katef Murad Salame began her academic career at the Beit Jann Comprehensive High School, known as the top school in Israel for Bagrut (matriculation tests) eligibility, and continued as a student of communication studies. Later, (20 years ago), she began a new communication studies program at the comprehensive Druze high school in Julis. She progressed to overseeing media and cinema education in the Arab sector for the Ministry of Education. She then went on to become a fellow at the Mandel School for Educational Leadership. Today, Katef is a joint academic director of the teachers’ training program “Hotam”, and lectures at the department of communication and at the teacher training unit at Oranim College, and also acts as co-facilitator for programs and projects about ‘shared life’ at the college. Katef’s journey is fascinating, as both a pioneer and a promotor of an equality agenda. Her quest has centered around equality and that’s dictated her work. Not only in Arab society, but also as a woman who demands equality for all women. Katef is special, and it took me quite a while to set-up an interview with her, I really wanted to share her story, her journey and her insights. Once you read her interview you will understand that she’s a groundbreaker, an opinionated leader who kept reiterating to me that everything that she achieved was done through teamwork and with partners. “Keren, don’t say that I’ve led by myself, because that’s just not true. In all cases, we were a team of women that together were able to pave the path, and together we have led, and that, I think is the secret!! This togetherness that creates a common success, it seems to me that that’s part of the concept of connections” Katef stated unequivocally.

Katef lives today in Hurfeish, married to Moayad and the mother of Jad and Dan.

So Katef, when did you start your involvement in connecting Arabs and Jews? When did you start exploring your national identity? And when did you start your involvement with the Arab-Jewish issue?

Katef: That’s such a ‘Jewish’ question! A Jew living in Israel can go through life without knowing any Arabs, without learning Arabic, without recognizing the difference between Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. A Jewish person’s knowledge of Arabs could be limited to hearing the Muezzin’s cries of Allah Akbar (and this mostly startles him) and to the Arab doctor he meets at the hospital or the nice student sitting next to him in the lecture hall of 150 students.

On the Arab side it’s different, an Arab meets a Jew and Jewish culture almost daily, at work, at the mall, at Bituach Leumi, as the DMV, in official letters that he receives, in the music playing, when stopping for coffee on Highway 6, in books and articles that he reads during his academic career, of course the professors, the media, everywhere. I really think that an Arab in Israel would need to make a concerted effort to go through a day without meeting a Jew!

You’re right Katef, that is the situation, but nevertheless, where did it all start for you, beyond the day-to-day?

As an Arab woman, the Arab-Jewish issue has held my interest from a very early age. My first significant encounter with it was during my academic studies at Haifa University. I started studying communications and psychology, both departments had a Jewish student majority and an Arab student minority. That was my first major encounter with Jewish society and with Arab (non-Druze) society. However, the encounter wasn’t through the formal framework of studies, where the professors each dealt in his area of expertise and were as a rule blind to the cultural diversity of the group, and certainly it didn’t occur to them to ask the very obvious question, how would the students absorb this new content being taught to them, through the filter of their own unique cultural context.

This made me angry, for being unprepared, untaught, not having asked the right questions…and this aggravation started me on the path of formulating my national identity.

Did developing your identity also have a political aspect?

Haifa University is a very political academic institution, you would really need to make an effort to disengage from politics. You can say that everything is political in the university corridors. There were informal discussions with students, friendships formed in the dorms and at school, interesting discourse circles that were a platform for discussions about a shared life. It’s been well over twenty years since then, and I’m still going through the process of establishing my own unique and group identity.

When and how did you become a discussion leader for these issues?

I came to university to study psychology. I dreamt of Freud sitting on his chair and listening to his patient, helping him transform his unconscious to conscious thoughts and answer questions that mostly begin with ‘why?’. But because I had to take another major, I also signed up for communication studies. Funnily enough, I quickly realized that that was my calling, to work in communications, social processes, I was enchanted with the theories of Constructing Reality, Framing and Neomarxism. Ultimately, I left psychology and instead started to study political science in order to complete my picture of social processes, building knowledge, history and historiography, the rise of nationalism and the nation state and the difference between multiple cultures and cultural diversity. Through all this, I continued my journey to establish a national group identity.

During my third year in school, it dawned on me that my destiny wasn’t to be on TV or radio, although I’m in love with radio! I realized that I like being with people and that I was born to be an educator! Up to that point, I didn’t realize how deeply my father, who was an educator and history teacher, had influenced me. When I began studying for a teaching certificate in communications, there weren’t many Arab schools teaching communications, for the practical part of my studies I was assigned to the Leo Baeck school in Haifa where I met Ornat Turin, the legendary communications teacher who would one day become head of the media education department at Gordon College. Ornat was the first communications teacher that I’d met, a teacher who breathed “critical pedagogy”, who used the critical doctrine of Paulo Freire as the key to every lesson she taught, this was certainly political education. A year later I was assigned to the Carmel Zvulun Regional High School and met Evanna Ratner. Dr. Evanna Ratner is now the head of the Film and Media Department at the Ministry of Education. Evanna re-started my commitment to Arab-Jewish dialog and encounters, ever since then, we have become partners in many programs and circles and have become very good friends. My two mentors had a central role in the development of my educational identity as an educator and communications teacher.

When I completed my studies and started to teach communications at the Julis Comprehensive High School, I taught in Hebrew despite it being a Druze high school, just because the resources were in Hebrew. But within three years I started leading the communications teachers in the Arab sector, I refused to acknowledge the separation between the ‘Druze sector’ and the ‘Arab sector’, and together with Evanna who had developed the program “dialog through cinema” we started to bring together teachers and communications students. From that point on the way was clear.

What were the main stations in your professional career?

The main and most significant station was the media and cinema teacher community, from there I continued to teacher training at Haifa University and Oranim College, the Mandel School for Educational Leadership, the Center for Humanistic Education at Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot, and then on to the college for teacher training – Oranim and the Hotam program, where I am today. These days I also accompany multi-cultural delegations abroad, where you meet people from many cultures and refugees come to talk to us. Everything that I experience with the students and its documentation form another major station. I’d like to expand on these trips someday, as they deserve their own article. In the meantime, you can listen here to a radio story with Eran Singer about the interesting trip I made last year. A fascinating film made by three students from Oranim following a trip to Berlin, a trip that I led together with Dr. Miki Motola and Ohad Ufaz from Oranim. Highly recommended!!!

When did you make the change from teaching communications to facilitating groups? Throughout all this, did you continue your involvement with the Arab-Jewish issue and leading processes?

As a communications teacher I studied group facilitation at the Center for Humanistic Education at Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot where I discovered my passion for facilitating and specifically for facilitating dialog/conflict groups. I was trained by Orly Gal and Shahira Shalabi (today the deputy mayor of Haifa). I had differing experiences with the two, both powerful women, both equal in this endeavor. For the first time the Arab facilitator was stronger and more present than the Jewish one, truly a different, possibly a corrective experience for me. It was there that I started to compare what I went through to the dialog encounters I’d been part of in Givat Haviva and Neve Shalom, and began forming my professional identity as a facilitator for dialog groups.

And what is it?

It took time for me to conceptualize it for myself. I think that my political maturation was a lot like adolescence, I would swing between extremities from one side to the other on the pendulum. From a Druze girl brought up in a home suffused with Israeli identity, the Arab identity was present but sublimated and the Palestinian identity was nonexistant – I came to a point where I adopted Paulo Freire’s principles which caused me to see the Arab-Jewish reality in terms of oppressors and the oppressed. And I felt like it was my job to expose to Jews the processes and tools of this oppression. Those were the extremities. Today, I am at a different point. I believe that my identity is complex (please don’t use the word ‘confused’, I am not confused, I have a complex identity) and it contains many sub-identities (speaking of identity politics), and this is what I tell my students: I am an Arab woman, a Druze, a Palestinian, an Israeli, and probably more… When I’m in Ramallah I feel something unique, to sit in a coffee house and listen to Fairuz, read Gibran and Darwish’s poetry on the walls, hear proper Arabic, that fills me up. On the other hand, I know for a fact that I want to be here, in this country. When I’m abroad and hear Hebrew, I feel like I belong, when there’s a basketball game I route for Maccabi Tel Aviv, and the country’s character is important to me, as I’m very politically involved and teach involvement and activism. At the same time, my ethnic identity as a Druze is present in my life and important to me. I want to live in a Democracy where any one can fulfill her different identities fully: political, gender, sexual, etc.

How did this become your academic path?  

When I finished working at the Center for Humanistic Education and moved to Oranim, people who knew me were afraid that I’d distance myself from the practical aspects of the Arab-Jewish dialog encounters. They thought that I’d fully commit to the theoretical texts. Happily, I arrived at an academic institution with a very pragmatic educational outlook, both practical and communal. With an educational outlook combining formal with informal while involved with the personal and group identity of its students. I realized that I had found my place. The juxtaposition of theory and field work is also a priority for the college, and cultural diversity stands out from the moment you enter the college gates. It wasn’t chance that I began facilitating Arab-Jewish dialogs and multi-cultural dialogs in general.

So, what do you think of dialog encounters today? How should they be run?

I believe that you can’t have a real dialog just from the encounter, the contact approach that has ruled here for years is not enough, I’m less critical than I used to be about the hummus/labneh encounters, I believe that it’s important for mutual visits, and it’s not the dominant experience for most of us. Most of us have a Jewish/Arab friend but we’ve never been to their house, cooked together, celebrated together. On the other hand, to form our identities we need to allow ourselves at least once in our lifetimes to take part in an Arab-Jewish group dynamic where you can discuss anything, not from a confrontational standpoint but from a listening standpoint. I believe in the narrative approach where the encounter begins with the family stories of the participants and only after there’s acquaintance, trust and the ability to listen you can start to deal with the deeper and more challenging issues like fear, trust, Zionism and Palestinianism, shared citizenship, etc.  I also believe that there are more than two narratives, the Israeli and the Palestinian, there are many in-between narratives, there are plenty of stories or as I say at the beginning of the dialog and family story circle, everyone has a story…

How does this look in real life?

Here’s a short description of a scene from a dialog circle in the ‘Arab-Jewish Civilian Dialog’ course, led by my co-facilitator, Dr. David Netzer from Oranim College and myself. At the middle of the course, we were dealing with the subject of fear and I was asking the participants to describe their fear. A Jewish participant said that she’s not religious, doesn’t observe Shabbat nor does she fast on Yom Kippur, but she is afraid that she’ll wake up one day and the country will be gone, she’s afraid she won’t be able to speak Hebrew freely, won’t be able to celebrate her holidays, won’t be able to rest on Shabbat…the Arab participant listened and at the end she turned to the Jewish participant and said, “your fear is my every day, I am a Christian Arab, I go to school on Sundays, go to a college where my language is nonexistent, cannot celebrate my holidays without missing school…” this encounter for me was a defining moment, a significant moment, there was nothing to say afterwards. Just silence and an understanding that this is the experience of the Arab minority that lives in Israel.

But this is a specific scene where the Jew needs to understand and include the Arab, what about the reverse process?

It exists as well, here is a second scene from the same course. In the family stories we have a student of Ethiopian origin tell the story of his immigration (Aliyah) to Israel, he describes the difficult journey that he and his family went through since their decision to immigrate, a journey that lasted months, he speaks of his parents and their desire for Zion, and the Arab participants were quiet and in shock. An Arab participant came to him at the end of the meeting and said, “I now understand that your connection to this country is much deeper and more serious than I thought, I now understand why my immigrant (Olim) friends jump up when I say jokingly, couldn’t you have picked another place in the world.” By the way, at that same meeting, the student of Ethiopian origin said that he identifies with the Arab participants on the subject of racism in Israel and the difficulties faced dealing with the majority in society.

What type of groups have you led before and which do you lead today?

I used to facilitate groups of teachers and students, today I mostly work with teacher trainers. I think that the degree of impact will rise, and we’ll be able to add practices of dialog and group facilitation into more classrooms and teaching environments. Incidentally, we have a lot to do in terms of teaching, many challenges…I teach courses in teaching, communications, group facilitation and dialog, and each year I have a new challenge. For example, this year I am also teaching roving courses for the Israeli Hope in Academia program together with Ayelet Ilany from Oranim. These are fascinating courses based on four-day journeys to meet the different communities that make up Israeli society, the four tribes of the president, if you will.

Describe what makes working with student teachers special

I think that working with student teachers promises that our students will experience a different kind of teaching, in my work I hope that the teachers who I accompany will enter their classrooms questioning their basic assumptions about the class, the students, their families and the narratives that direct their identities. I bring to the teaching courses plenty of dialog practices and not only in the dialog courses that I teach, important practices of listening, talking with the directive of me and not you, identifying and avoiding judgmental discourse, personal discourse, emotional discourse, awareness of stereotypes and prejudices and the desire to fight the racism prevalent in intolerant discourse.

Today I see that the most dominant professional identity for me is being a trainer for teachers, I’m busy with how to train them to lead processes of change in the classroom, how to see and know their students, understand their backgrounds through the prism of personal, gender, familial, ethnic, national and religious connotations.

Do you think that you’ve achieved your goals?

On a personal level, I feel that I’m in a better place than anything I could have ever dreamt of. If I’d recorded myself at twenty talking about myself at forty, I’m sure I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be in this place, and I believe that determination, industriousness and desire for learning and personal development can guarantee that we reach that place that we would never have dreamt of. Today I believe that I have a long road ahead of me, mostly I think that my passion for work, training, facilitation and teaching prevent me from progressing with research, and there are many areas that I would love to explore and write about.

What drives you in your work?

My belief that it’s possible! My belief that people are equal! It may sound strange, but I enjoy seeing and hearing a range of voices, colors and cultures and I can’t understand how people can believe that having been born a certain gender, religion or race gives them any kind of advantage over others. How these same people can explain to their children that they are better, more qualified, better appreciated just because of something that they were born with and not something that they’ve done and accomplished, I find that crazy. I want to stand in front of my two boys and truthfully say that I’ve attempted and done all I could for them to have a different reality, I want their reality to have more equality and freedom. I believe that our lives in this country are challenging indeed, but I wouldn’t change this place for any other in the world. I was born here, and my children were born here…on this piece of land, there is something to live for…

Where will you be in five years?

Here, in Oranim College, training teachers, setting aside more time for research and writing. And enjoying accompanying more and more students in their personal and professional development processes.