Using Google Hangouts+, Google has been working on an innovative project in the Middle East to use technology to bridge the cultural gaps between young Arab and Israeli students through online video conferencing.
The project, called "Hangout Bridges: Bridges to Peace," began in September of 2013 and was just concluded earlier this month through a partnership with ORT, Israel's largest educational network of schools and colleges, and the Peres Center for Peace, according to a June 10 post by Doron Avni, the senior policy manager for Google in the Middle East, Africa, Turkey & Israel, on the Google Official Blog.
"The fortressed city of Acre lies on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in northern Israel," wrote Avni. "An important Middle Eastern city in ancient times, it's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its fortified walls, citadel, mosques, synagogues, khans, baths and Crusader structures, Acre has always been a meeting place for East and West, new and old. Today, it's a mixed Jewish-Arab city, but people from the two communities interact all too rarely. Mistrust, and sometimes outright hostility, keep the two communities apart."
To try to change that, Google decided to use the Internet to see if some of those old barriers could be broken down, wrote Avni. Starting last September, 40 students from the separate Arab and Jewish schools in the city, as well as 200 Arab, Jewish, Druze and Bedouin students from other communities in Israel, became involved in the Hangout Bridges: Bridges to Peace project, wrote Avni. The idea was to "use Hangouts to help create understanding—and friendship—between these communities."
Through the project, the students were grouped together by their teachers into multi-cultural Google+ circles and then got to know each other online. They even began working together on joint projects, with each circle meeting about 10 times on Hangouts, then in a series of face-to-face meetings, according to Avni.
The project ended last week with a finale event at Google's Campus Tel Aviv, a tech hub for developers and entrepreneurs. The students presented the projects they worked on through the program, including a walking tour of Acre using Google Maps that sought to uncover the rich Jewish-Arab history of the ancient city and educational Hebrew-Arabic Websites that address racism and prejudice in sports, as well as providing information on relevant legislation.
This was the second year for the Hangout Bridges program in Israel, wrote Avni. This fall, the program aims to double the number of participants. "We hope we can expand to other countries and help—in a small way—build bridges of mutual understanding around the world," he wrote.
Google has used its Hangouts services for other innovative projects. In December 2013, Google hosted its first-ever "Hangout-a-thon" to allow online visitors to make donations to their favorite charities as part of the annual "Giving Tuesday," which was begun in 2012 by New York City's 92nd Street Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association (92nd Street Y).
Google+ Hangouts was launched in June 2011, originally as a video chat app that allowed up to 10 users to communicate together in an online session.