Coming together even when tensions are high

As the first speaker took the stage, one of my Bedouin colleagues smilingly looked out at the crowd of over 300 and confided, “They’re here! They’re all here. I really didn’t think they would come.” Her sentiments reflect the growing level of mistrust between Jewish and Bedouin communities in the Negev following the recent spate of terrorist attacks.

Last week, Desert Stars and Ajeec-Nisped, two leading Bedouin Leadership and Educational Nonprofits, invited two Jewish pre-military academies, Nachshon, and ‘Mechinat HaNegev’, for an afternoon for Bedouin and Jewish young leaders to get to know one another and begin a conversation in how to improve tensions between the two communities.

Credit: Tiltan Molad

The group heard from speakers including former MK Shai Piron, Hura mayor Habis Atawnah, co-CEO of Desert Stars Yousef Abu Jaffar, and founding chairwoman of AJEEC Dr. Amal Elsana-Alh’jooj,. The speakers urged the crowd to seize this opportunity to truly listen to the experience of ‘the other’ and to get to know one another on a deeper level. They stressed that this was only the beginning, and for true change to occur, each young person must form lasting relationships with people outside of their community.

The crowd then split off into groups of 20 for moderated discussions, and finally, into groups of two or three to speak frankly about the current situation and possible ways to move forward. They spoke about how each individual is comprised of many complex, overlapping identities. Many of these we share, but even those we don’t, we must try to understand.

Credit: Tiltan Molad

Two participants share their experience below:

Anwar, current student at Ben Gurion University and a participant in Desert Stars’ Accelerator Program.

“It was not easy for anyone to come to the meeting while emotions are still raw, during such a difficult period. It was important for me to talk about the situation and express my feelings and concerns, and hear what my Jewish peers think and feel. The ongoing reality in Israeli society is challenging, and in the recent events have affected us all.

We asked each other difficult questions and spoke about our feelings honestly. It wasn’t easy, but I believe only such a dialogue can produce closeness and understanding.

I left the conference feeling optimistic, it gave us hope. We must all take responsibility and create a different discourse, one that propels us towards a better reality.”

Credit: Tiltan Molad

Arbel from Nachshon Academy:

“As a young woman who has lived her whole life in a bubble on a Moshav in central Israel, I have had virtually no encounters with Bedouin society. I did not think I would have the opportunity to sit one on one with a Bedouin peer – certainly not to talk about the acute issues that trouble us daily.

Especially in times like these, when our reality is shaken up, raising so many questions – there is great importance in having a real discourse on the emotions and concerns that each side experiences. The meeting gave me an opportunity to get to know Bedouin society in a personal way – an opportunity that would not have been given to me otherwise.”

Credit: Tiltan Molad

The fact that these 300 young leaders came together is in itself inspiring. The most important part, however, is what will come next. Each participant is dedicating this year to learning what it means to be a leader. They are armed with the skills and tools to create their own social initiatives and projects in their home communities.

At Desert Stars, we operate a comprehensive alumni program to provide our graduates with a supportive network to help bring such initiatives into action. For example, last summer following the events of May, one of our alumni created a ‘social shig’ for 200 Jewish and Bedouin university students to come together in Be’er Sheva’s most popular park. We look forward to updating you with the unique projects and initiatives they create moving forward.

Credit: Tiltan Molad
About the Author
Menucha Saitowitz earned her degree in psychology and religion from Dartmouth University in 2010. Since making Aliyah in 2011, She has worked to develop Israel's periphery, with an emphasis on the South. She loves that she and her husband are raising their 4 sabras in Be'er Sheva, the heart of the Negev
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