Kfar Bara (or Kafr Bara in Arabic) is not one of the most beautiful spots in Israel, nor is it the most interesting historically. It is not a very large locality, nor is it culturally diverse or multifaceted. However, Kfar Bara is wonderfully situated in the very center of the country, amidst a myriad of primarily Jewish cities, including Rosh Ha’ayin and Kfar Saba.
Historically, with the establishment of the State of Israel, the Green Line divided the Israeli Kfar Bara from its Jordanian counterpart at the time, creating a situation in which many of the families remaining in Israel have relatives in what today is territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Kfar Bara is characterized by a homogeneous population of 100% Muslim Arabs and has enjoyed relative electoral stability and strong local leadership for the last 15-odd years. That, alone, allows it to shine amidst its fellow Arab localities in Israel, given the stable leadership of Mayor Mahmoud Assi. The continuity of long-term, strategic initiatives in the village, as well as Mahmood’s popularity among the Arab population in Israel on the one hand, and the Israeli establishment on the other, makes this small, yet prominent venue worthy of closer study.
In general, Arab-Israelis look upon this locality as the Arab equivalent of Savyon, a posh and expensive town of Jewish inhabitants near Israel’s international airport.
Two of the main reasons for this are firstly, that its inhabitants are considered as the “high society” of Muslim Arab-Israelis in the geographical center of Israel, and secondly, that aesthetically, the village is well-planned and attractive to look at. In stark contrast to the vast majority of Arab localities throughout the country, in which urban planning was not carried out by the Israeli government until very recently, this village’s urban plan was set and authorized from the start in the mid-1960s.
Following this seemingly minor detail, no serious illegal construction took place amidst is populace, thereby lending the venue an organized, planned and aesthetic faחade. The 3,000-strong community is characterized by a relatively strong sense of collective responsibility, given the high number of university graduates and high level of education, thereby creating a general unique atmosphere of law and order.
Like the general Arab population in Israel, the vast majority of Kfar Bara’s inhabitants are young. In fact, approximately 80% of the villagers are under the age of 50. Interestingly, this reality affects the results of municipal elections in Arab localities, despite the still entrenched Hamullah system based on family-affiliated voting. More and more, one can see the young majority striving for change, education, a higher standard of living and innovation. This is a long-term process, which will take some years to come to fruition, yet it has certainly sewn its first seeds.
One of the fruits of the aforementioned quest for innovation and modernity evident in Kfar Bara is a very interesting shift from a former perception of shame concerning anything to do with disabled children to a much more mature and modern concept allowing families to be open and even proud of their autistic children. This awakening flowered into quite an astounding and unique regional school for autistic children, which allows kids, ranging in ages from 7-13 from all local governments in the area, to be schooled and groomed in Kfar Bara. The way this establishment, supported by the Education Ministry and the local leadership, is being led is in fact testament to the relatively high personal and educational level of the inhabitants of Kfar Bara. Their ability to embrace such an institution and proudly display it as an asset is key to its success.
Another fruit of the innovative and open-minded leadership, further reflecting the openness of the community- is a new “Innovative” Middle and High-school compound which is currently being planned by the local leadership, together with the Education Ministry. This innovative compound is only one of two such initiatives, funded by the Israeli government in Arab cities/towns throughout the country and that is, despite the fact that Kfar Bara is such a small locality.
The compound shall introduce a unique and quite astounding method of art and music as a mechanism to encourage learning and excellence. More interestingly, it will communicate with the aforementioned regional school for autistic children in a way which will enhance leadership skills amidst the pupils. Middle and High school pupils in the new compound shall be made mentors for the autistic children, who will also- in turn- lend their “mentors” much perspective. This is an endeavor which requires much involvement and long-term support from the local government, and would not have been made possible without the determination and commitment thereof. In fact, a special pedagogical adviser has been recruited by the municipality for this purpose, Hanan Khatib Drawshe, who will be instrumental in the creation of only two such projects in Arab localities in Israel.
In fact, Kfar Bara’s leadership role does not end with educational and cultural initiatives. It is well known that the majority of the Arab population in Israel is not culturally accommodated to living in apartment buildings, but rather in villas on the ground. Given the sore lack of land in the country, it is imperative to begin to introduce high-rise buildings in the Arab sector too and few are the municipal leaders who are courageous enough to take on this bold endeavor. Kfar Bara has already won a tender for the construction of approximately 300 apartment units within its area of jurisdiction, thereby joining the very few Arab municipalities that were willing to embrace this initiative.
In order to enhance the strategic road-map of Kfar Bara’s leadership, it has been decided that the municipality will also promote the establishment of a sustainable engine of growth, in the form of a commercial center. This endeavor shall not only be part and parcel of the private sector, providing employment to a significant number of local inhabitants, but it will also serve to promote social entrepreneurship, in that this commercial center shall provide services to the elderly, and offer employment opportunities for the disabled inhabitants of the entire region.
Finally, the municipality, along with the Economy Ministry, is promoting the establishment of another major sustainable source of income- namely, an industrial park, which shall diversify employment opportunities for local and nearby inhabitants and also strengthen the municipality’s income via business taxes. Adjacent to this park, a construction waste disposal and recycling plant has been established by the municipality, despite endless political strife and adversity from the local inhabitants.
Over time, the mayor’s vision of providing sustainable environmental solutions, which may also provide income for the local government, finally won over his adversaries on the matter.
As chairman of the regional environmental association of cities, including Kfar Kassem, Kfar Bara, Tira and Kalansawa and mayor of his own Kfar Bara (being reelected three times), Assi, who refuses to echo empty mantras and is adamant to stand by his values, is a figure to be reckoned with in the Arab-Israeli arena. n