'Despite growing need, Arab towns fail to use available funding'

IFCJ wants to help more Arabs, Druse and Beduin, chairwoman says.

Arab communities across Israel fail to utilize available funding for social welfare projects that could greatly improve living standards, according to Dvora Ganani-Elad, chairwoman of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which provides millions of dollars to the country's most underprivileged sectors. In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post recently, Ganani-Elad said the IFCJ would like to create more programs for the Arab, Druse and Beduin sectors, but social, cultural and organizational barriers prevent it from doing so. "There is no shortage of money for this purpose, but many Arab municipalities do not know how to utilize this funding or prepare concrete proposals to help their communities," she said. "I don't believe it's because they don't want the help, but rather because they do not have the professional staff to develop such ideas or because they are simply too busy with their day-to-day survival." According to information compiled by the IFCJ, it invests roughly 7 percent of its $60 million Israel-based budget on projects for minority populations. In fact, a report compiled this year by the IFCJ shows that in the 75 Arab Israeli towns, including Druse and recognized Beduin villages, the IFCJ has 11 projects for children and youth at risk; five for empowering women; six for assisting the elderly; seven emergency programs; and one each for fighting drugs and general violence in the community. Social worker Dareen Saakas, who runs a support center for teenage girls in Sheikh Dannun, east of Nahariya, said that without funding from the IFCJ young women in the surrounding communities would "never be culturally permitted to leave the house until they are married." "Most can't afford to study or have dropped out of school completely," said Saakas, who has been running programs for young Arab women for more than five years. "They would end up staying at home or being forced to marry at a very young age." She says there is a great need for centers such as hers, which provide young women with career training and social support in an environment deemed morally acceptable by their parents. "It was not easy setting up such a center," said Saakas, who first approached the IFCJ for funding four years ago. "At first there was paranoia from the local community, which did not accept that there were such difficulties facing the young women in their villages or were worried that young boys would be present, but now they see the girls coming here instead of sitting at home bored or wandering the streets. They see that the place is safe and that the activities really help them." Ganani-Elad said she would like to see more Arab communities developing such support centers for young Muslim women, who face a constant battle between modernity and maintaining their families' traditional cultures. "We like to use existing programs as models but so far have not been able to develop similar centers elsewhere," she said. IFCJ Founder and President Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein told the Post that despite the social, cultural and organizational barriers to developing programs in minority sectors in Israel, strengthening such communities was part of his commitment to the country on behalf of his donors, mostly devout Christians in the US. "We've already had much success in working with these citizens of Israel and we remain committed to supporting their efforts now and in the future," he said.