On Shared Existence in the Negev

This week we talked with Jamal Alkirnawi, executive director of the organization “A New Dawn in the Negev”. Jamal has been part of two programs in the frame of the project “Living Diversity in Germany and Israel” and he shared with us his thoughts on the importance of diversity-conscious education in his organization as well as his experience with German and Beduin Israeli youth in both countries.

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In the center Jamal Alkirnawi during the conference “Living Diversity in Germany and Israel” © ConAct/Ruthe Zuntz

A few words about the New Dawn in the Negev…

As a community-based organization, A New Dawn in the Negev is intrinsically attuned to the challenges and opportunities of Bedouin society from the grassroots level. The Bedouin community of Israel’s Negev is a marginalized, indigenous population with low socioeconomic resources, both in relation to Israel’s mainstream population and its Arab non-Bedouin counterparts. In our organization we believe that education, employment, and leadership are the key elements helping youth and young adults rise out of poverty to become active, engaged citizens in civil society.

Diversity-conscious education is at the heart of our work…

We primarily work with Bedouin youths, and as such Arab-Israeli youth culture is particularly well represented in our institution. We also offer an intern program where international volunteers spend time working with us, teaching English and delivering informal educational activities to Bedouin youths in the western Negev. Accordingly, we are lucky enough to also represent English, American, French, Czech, German and Canadian youth cultures. We are a coexistence organization, so Jews and Muslim Arabs are both represented on our board, staff and volunteer cadre. Our volunteers are Christian, Jewish and Muslim, to expose the Bedouin youths we work with to a rich variety of diverse backgrounds.

There are accessibility barriers that parents or educators face when being a minority in a diverse society.

The majority are lacking in a cultural competence about what the minority is in need of. Minority people always seek attention from the majority groups which is often not something easily given. A second barrier is the language and culture barrier. Minority groups have to adapt to the customs of the majority groups and there is often different interpretations on which customs and how they ought to be conformed to. Another barrier is the recognition of the differences in the cultures between the majority and minority and to work towards a mutual respect rather than the often disregard of the other.

The educators are the key to promote diversity and learn about diversity, which is sometimes worked against by the government. They work very hard to remove barriers and work towards recognizing the differences in societies, learning about the holidays and customs of the other and learning to respect and embrace it. They work to welcome the minority and embrace a fruitful togetherness of a diverse society. They need to fight for the unity and diversity from the beginning of education to help kids know and embrace diversity. My son studies in a Jewish kindergarten. When I go to pick him up the young students come to me and ask, “Are you Arab? What is your name?” They are amazed at the novelty of my presence bringing diversity. This segregation needs to be broken from childhood so that it is not an obstacle when young people begin to work or attend university.

The interactions of youngsters in the Negev with German youngsters during youth exchange programs have proved to be memorable and inspirational for all sides.

First of all, the German youth’s curiosity of the Bedouins is the key. Their willingness to learn about the Bedouin culture spurs conversation. The Germans are able to learn about the diversity of the people in Israel which changes their presuppositions of what Israel has to offer. They are able to learn about the complexities of Israeli society at large and the diversities of its minorities. They learn about what it is to be Bedouin through their history and how they have changed to modern society and the complexities of their situation. This encounter spurs thinking about the minorities in Israel. They encounter a new Israel by learning from the Bedouin youth. Reality contrasts with their expectations when they experience the situation in a Bedouin village.

Likewise, the Bedouin youths are able to learn about the united German society which includes such diversity. That stands in stark contrast of the homogenous society that the Bedouin youth know. Also, they are able to learn about modern Germany, increasing their knowledge which is largely based on the limited curriculum about the First and Second World Wars. The Bedouin youth increased their hunger for understanding of the history of Germany as well as its modern society. They learn about the diversity of the people of Germany. And alongside the German youth they were able to learn about key points in history such as the Holocaust. When they get to visit Germany their ideas meet reality and they are able to see working diversity in a country and break their presuppositions of diverse society, but they also see that in a country like Germany the minorities can still face discrimination or be oppressed.

As we orchestrated this encounter of the two groups we provided translation to promote the exchange of ideas. We make sure that the groups have time to process and debrief within their own group and with the other. The two groups learning from each other can have a huge impact on how each sees a diverse society.

We need to use methods which emphasize the strength of societies where diversity and dignity go hand in hand.

Since the fall of the USSR, Germany has experienced a huge influx of Soviet immigrants who have fully integrated into German society in the past twenty or so years. Similarly, Israel’s large immigrant communities largely became absorbed into their new country within one or two generations, despite the challenges those communities faced – for example the Yemenite community in the 1950s. As Negev Bedouins are very homogenous, our youths would greatly benefit from understanding the success Germany and Israel have experienced through their respective diverse populations.

Learning intensively about the topic during my participation at the project “Living Diversity in Germany and Israel” makes me a believer of the power of diversity.

It has opened my heart to know the other and to work to embrace their culture. It encouraged me to learn to accept the beliefs and customs of others and to work together taking pride in our differences. I think it is important not to be blind and see only one color or group, but we need to be sensitive to the other. Our hearts need to be open to accept, sympathize with, and help the other. We should have a responsibility to help each other while embracing our differences and enjoying the differences we have without being judged or criticized or blamed. And there is no one replacing another – my history does not replace the other. All groups and all narratives can fit in the room without pushing against the other or being competitive with the other.

Find out more about the New Dawn in the Negev here:
Website: www.anewdawninthenegev.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/anewdawnegev
Twitter: http://twitter.com/anewdawnegev
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/a-new-dawn-in-the-negev

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