Co-existence Blooms in the Desert
Israel’s Negev desert is home to both Jews and Arabs. Like many other shared spaces in Israel, there is work being done to create equal opportunities for Israel’s citizens. One marginalized group is the Bedouin Arab population. Historically nomadic, Bedouin groups often seek to maintain their traditional style of life even in the modern state of Israel. One NGO called AJEEC-NISPED (Arab-Jewish Center for Empowerment, Equality, and Cooperation and the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Economic Development) is proactively working to improve the economic and social status of the Negev’s Bedouin population while facilitating their integration into the surrounding population.
AJEEC provides many programs and services, among them programs to promote positive relationships between Jews and Arabs. About 15 years ago, the organization established a gap year program that takes Jewish and Arab high school graduates and places them in a cohort to attend workshops, volunteer together in local schools, and participate enrichment programs. The program in the Negev modeled a successful method that has since expanded to other shared communities in Lod and Jaffa. AJEEC also creates shared educational spaces for high school and university students. One program for shared learning pairs schools from different communities so students can learn together while attending separate schools that respect each group’s distinct identities and practices.
The Bedouin community is one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged groups in Israel. AJEEC has implemented programming focused on increasing employment rates to establish permanent pathways to prosperity in Bedouin communities. They have developed several social entrepreneurship businesses to address the employment needs of Bedouin society, especially women. For example, they established El-Hudaj, a fitness center exclusively for Bedouin women. This was designed to combat high levels of obesity and diabetes among women while employing them to work at the facility. This model is groundbreaking - AJEEC provides funding and support for the center and the business returns help to contribute to the organization’s overall operating budget, alleviating the need for AJEEC to rely on fundraising alone.
AJEEC is also member of Collective Impact, one of our peacebuilding partners working to create a shared society by increasing the Arab employment rate, especially in the business sector. Through their programs, AJEEC has managed to improve the Bedouin employment rate significantly, especially among women.
The Arab population in Israel is diverse, and each community has different needs. AJEEC makes an important contribution to both shared society efforts and to the development of a more prosperous and healthy Bedouin community. Peacebuilding requires opportunities for healthy encounters between neighboring communities and equal economic opportunities in the communities themselves.