Vitali Tkachov is an Active Citizen from Israel. His participation in the programme encouraged him to start a theatre group for people with stutters. Here he talks about his experiences.
On July 22, Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian terrorist, performed two deadly attacks against the civilian population of his country. He wrote in his manifesto that one of his main purposes was to stop the Islamisation of Europe. Breivik believes that Muslims can’t live together with Europeans in peace, and must be expelled.
Many of our group were hosted by Muslims. Many of them were religious. During those seven days I attended a number of events which I never believed that I, an Israeli Jew, would be able to.
One month earlier, in a visit to Salford, UK, I experienced multiculturalism at its best.
In a visit which lasted seven days, myself and nine other Active Citizens from Israel learned about community life in Salford. Along with crime and security issues, we also saw how people from many different countries, cultures and backgrounds can live together with respect and dignity.
Our group was warmly accepted in an East Asian Community Centre, which mainly serves the Muslim community. Together we ate traditional dishes, which are not so different from our Israeli ones; we danced, laughed and discussed issues which we have in common.
Another unique event was when we were invited to a Pakistani wedding. Imagine, a group of 10 Israelis, mainly Jews, attending a wedding in which all of the hundreds of guests are Muslims, and being treated as close friends.
Problems as a result of immigration are not a new phenomenon. I myself immigrated to Israel at the age of seven from the former Soviet Union, and I remember how tough it can it be. Immigration can be used as an excuse for hate crimes, but it can also be a window for people to get to know new cultures and ways of life.
In Salford, I saw how Muslims and Jews can live together side by side, which can be a positive example for the situation in Israel.
With all the wars and conflicts in the world, we sometimes forget what unites us as people. Co-existence is not about political agreements or religion, it is about respect, understanding and communication between people.
I believe that such visits are a great way to break stigmas and make peace, at least between people, as a first step for peace between nations.