Engaging the young Arabs of E-Tur – and keeping them off a dangerous path

“We want our youth to be integrated in normative activities – community activities, culture and leisure time, aimed to give them more education and more involvement in their community."

Scenes from the meeting in E-Tur (photo credit: HITORERUT)
Scenes from the meeting in E-Tur
(photo credit: HITORERUT)
The meeting scheduled for this past Sunday afternoon at the boys’ junior high school in the E-Tur neighborhood was almost scrapped, following the cancellation of the van that was supposed to be provided by the municipality’s sanitation section (still on strike at that time) to transport employees and other attendees.
But the organizers – the youth department at the community and youth administration and residents of E-Tur – insisted it was too important to be canceled, and an alternative van was found. The meeting went forward, even starting on time.
Including youth instructors, employees of E-Tur’s community center, members of the committee presided over by Elad Malka (Hitorerut) and many residents – parents, teachers and students, from seventh grade to recent high-school graduates – more than 100 people attended, far surpassing the usual attendance at such meetings. The residents expected a lot, and obviously appreciated Malka’s decision to hold the meeting in an Arab neighborhood, not a simple decision these days (during the three and a half hours of the meeting, two terrorist knife attacks occurred – one on a southern road of the city, leading to Gush Etzion, and another in Hebron).
The main purpose of the meeting was to get a clear picture of the situation on the ground, as E-Tur can be perceived as a test case for Jerusalem’s other Arab neighborhoods. No fewer than 41,000 boys and girls aged between 13 and 18 live there, an age group designated by the municipality as sensitive (in that they could drop out of school or be influenced toward violence or criminality). Yet despite the need for professional oversight, only 10 youth instructors are operating in E-Tur.
“Add to those youth some 50,000 additional children between seven and 12 who will soon join the teenager segment. Here we are on the verge of having to instruct, accompany and help almost 100,000 young Arab boys and girls, who can turn into the perfect prey for fundamentalist preachers or criminality and drug addiction,” declared Ossama Ghanayim, director of the youth administration in the municipality’s Arab sector.
Four major themes were raised by the meeting organizers and attendees: sport and leisure time; entrepreneurship and advanced technologies studies; community projects; and foreign languages – more precisely, the question of Hebrew study among young Arab students.
It appeared that Hebrew learning is a rather ambivalent issue here. On one hand, most of the participants – parents, educators and students in various grades – agreed that knowledge of the language could be critical for their chances of success after completing school.
However, while Hebrew study is included in the curriculum in state schools (comprising less than half of the schools in the city’s Arab sector), the level of those teaching it is scandalously low.
“In most cases, the teachers are not even officially recognized as Hebrew teachers,” explained Abed Lambacher, who teaches at Riyadah, a private school offering Hebrew afternoon courses.
Lambacher, who graduated from one of these state schools in the neighborhood, completed his studies in Hebrew at a private (and expensive) school, and thus could study at the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Law. He has since become a Hebrew teacher and part owner of the most successful (and expensive) private school for Hebrew classes in the Arab sector.
“The attitude toward Hebrew learning is complicated,” admitted Lambacher and Amer Belache, a youth instructor in the neighborhood for the city’s youth administration. “All agree that knowledge of Hebrew is essential – without it you can’t get a job on the west side – and there are almost no other options. It’s the same if you want to continue your studies and go to the Hebrew University. But at state school, the level is ridiculously low and learning Hebrew outside the curriculum is your own decision, not an easy step here.”
Learning the language or not in state schools (in the private, non-official but recognized schools, even that low level of Hebrew study does not exist) is only one aspect of the difficulties met by the young generation in the Arab neighborhoods. Ghanayim, strongly backed by Malka, pointed out many dangers surrounding Arab teenagers that have to be addressed by the municipality.
“The vision we have is quite simple,” detailed Belache. “We want our youth to be integrated in normative activities – community activities, culture and leisure time, aimed to give them more education and more involvement in their community. This can include volunteer work as well as professional training.
In order to reach these goals, we need more instructors, more coordinators for youth activities and more community centers.”
“There is no question that providing more activities for the Arab youth is critical to reach some equality between the parts of the city,” asserted Malka.
“This is the motive of Hitorerut, to strive for equal conditions in the sectors. Compared to the meeting on the Arab sector held a year ago, we can see some improvement on the ground.
“But I am particularly happy to see how many residents participated in the meeting – it certainly broke the myth that Arab residents are indifferent and do not wish to cooperate with the municipality.”