A new loan program designed to help small businesses thrive in specific areas aims to benefit employment sectors throughout the country which promote coexistence between Jews and Arabs by allowing them to work together. The Jewish-Arab Employment Zone Loan Fund is meant to give Israeli Arab business owners "the support to develop their businesses, create economic development and employment with a hope to fortify Jewish-Arab relations and build strong and stable communities in various regions of Israel," according to a statement this week from the United Jewish Communities (UJC), which is spearheading the project. The fund is part of the Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society, an initiative of the UJC/The Jewish Federations of North America, which is working with the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development (CJAED) to help small businesses grow. According to the UJC, loan funds in Israel have become an emerging strategy for Jewish Federations to provide resources for economic development, regional growth and the creation of new jobs over the past five years. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said this program would help businesses that in the past would not have had a chance to grow in Israel. "In recent years JAFI's success at developing and managing loan funds has been proven and replicated time and again. Like in our many previous projects, we have no doubt that this new fund will contribute significantly to Israel's economic growth," Sharansky said. "Together with CJAED, we see this initiative as an important part of our strategy to bring greater prosperity to all sectors of Israeli society." The loans will be available for the northern regions of Yokneam/Megiddo (Mevo Carmel), Karmiel and the neighboring Arab town of Bar Lev, as well as Lehavim, the Bnei Shimon Regional Council and the Beduin town of Rahat in the South. An initial investment of $200,000, according to the UJC, will provide loan guarantees that will permit as much as $800,000 in bank loans ranging from NIS 150,000 to NIS 500,000 ($40,000 to $130,000). The loans hope to aid small businesses that would otherwise have no access to conventional bank loans, and that will relocate to, or expand within, the employment zones. Businesses will qualify for a loan if they show potential to expand and provide future employment opportunities for the local population. Approved loans are to be paid back over six years. The businesses must develop a business plan as well as present proposals to the Jewish Agency and CJAED to be accepted into this program. A committee has been established to oversee the loan fund and approve the applications. In the Social Venture Fund's first year, it awarded grants totaling $878,375 to 15 education and economic development projects of varying size, scope and focus, all of which are committed to improving the lives of Arab citizens, according to the UJC.