Group opens youth treatment center at Umm el-Fahm

"Our goal is to help all populations in Israel," Christian-Jewish group's director-general tells 'Post'.

Umm El-Fahm 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Umm El-Fahm 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Umm el-Fahm, Israel's largest Muslim city, might seem like an unlikely place for a treatment center for youth at risk funded by a coalition of Christians and Jews, but Dvora Ganani-Elad, director-general of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), says her organization is concerned for all of Israel's citizens, regardless of their race or religion. "Our goal is to help all populations in Israel," Ganani-Elad told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, just days after Beit Yedidut opened its doors in the Arab-Israeli town. "We work with more than 150 cities and towns - all of them are at a low socioeconomic level - and obviously among those there are many Arab-Israeli towns, too." According to Ganani-Elad, the organization donates some NIS 20 million to Israel's minorities, including the Beduin and Druse communities. Umm el-Fahm has received more than NIS 1.3m. from the federation in the past three years. But the establishment in Umm el-Fahm of Beit Yedidut, which was inaugurated last Thursday, comes less than three months after far-Right Jewish activists marched through the Arab town, sparking severe clashes between the demonstrators and residents there. Those behind the protest said their goal was to throw into question the town's loyalty to the Jewish state after the radical Islamic Movement was voted into office. In addition, many less extreme Jewish Israelis see Umm el-Fahm as a symbol of hostility because of its outspoken allegiance to Arab nationalism and its continual show of solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. "Our donors' main concern is providing help to all those living in Israel," emphasized Ganani-Elad. "And we are very open about all our projects." The IFCJ raises roughly $90m. a year for its work in Israel and Jewish communities worldwide. The vast majority of its donors are religious Christians based in the US. "They treat a person as a person regardless of religious or cultural background," said the new center's director, Samir Mehajna, referring to the IFCJ and its previous work in the Arab town. A social worker for youth at risk for the past 18 years, Mehajna welcomed the opening of Beit Yedidut and said it would "finally give the youths in our community some positive support." "There are other programs available [in Umm el-Fahm], but many youths just hang around aimlessly on the streets," added Mehajna, who has been running programs for teens for the past year. He estimates that Beit Yedidut will provide programs for 60-90 teens deemed at risk by the social welfare services. "We plan to establish a committee with the youths and encourage them to decide for themselves what kind of programs they would enjoy," explained Mehajna. He added that the center would also reach out to parents to become involved in the activities, and would offer guidance to struggling families. The center, which was created in cooperation with the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, also has a computer room and will run classes in basic computer skills, said Mehajna. Roughly 21 percent of Umm el-Fahm's 47,000-strong population is under 25, with more than 1,500 children already receiving treatment from the local social welfare department.