The October 13, 2008 issue of the New York Times carried the headline "Israeli City Divided by Sectarian Violence”. Isabel Kershner reported that the mixed city of Akko had been "rocked" by rioting and sectarian violence after an apparent misunderstanding between Jewish and Arab residents spiraled out of control. By the time the rioting ended, the relationship between the Jewish and Arab residents of the city was marked by hostility and mistrust.
SHATIL responded to the 2008 riots with a new initiative: an Akko-based Arab-Jewish Civil Leadership Task Force, a working group of Arab and Jewish community leaders. The men and women in the group meet regularly to work towards a common vision of a shared society. Their goal is to prevent the recurrence of the 2008 violence and – more optimistically – to foster opportunities for Jewish-Arab cooperative ventures in Akko.
Amiram Goldin, who coordinates the Task Force on behalf of SHATIL, waxes eloquent about his team in Akko: "Many people do a good job of talking about cooperating. The Task Force is an unusual example of people who actually cooperate and do important work together." The Task Force has been especially active in planning and hosting joint cultural events, which are a means of improving relations between the different residents of the city, of branding Akko as a multicultural city, and of encouraging new faces to join the Task Force.
The Task Force is currently organizing a series of cultural evenings, spotlighting the work of Jewish and Arab artists, writers and musicians. One hundred and twenty people came to the opening event at the venerable Akko Theater to hear from Palestinian-Israeli Sayed Kashua. Kashua is well-known both as the author of Dancing Arabs and Let It Be Morning (as well as other works) and as the writer of the popular television series Arab Labor. The evening was a success. The manager of the theater was especially pleased: "The space was full, and for a change, the audience was made up of local Akko residents and not theater buffs who come to Akko just for the annual festival."
Thanks to the Task Force and good will on the part of both Jewish and Arab residents of the city, Akko may no longer be an "Israeli city divided by sectarian violence," but a place of promise and hope.