A New Dawn in the Negev seeks lasting change for Israel's Beduin community

"The Beduin youth have never seen Westerners or Jews. They never used the Hebrew language. It is as if they are not even living in Israel."

Exploring issues of identity and racism: The German Youth Exchange (photo credit: NEW DAWN IN THE NEGEV)
Exploring issues of identity and racism: The German Youth Exchange
(photo credit: NEW DAWN IN THE NEGEV)
Jamal Alkirnawi has a dream. That dream begins with Beduin youth. He believes that enduring change in the Beduin community of the Negev will come about through three main channels: education, leadership and employment.
Alkirnawi grew up in Rahat; he knows well both its destitution and latent potential. The Beduin population is in the lowest socioeconomic class of Israeli society.
Combined with a rapidly growing population, a high school dropout rate of 35%, and the challenges of modernization versus tradition, the Beduin community of the Negev is in a tumultuous and vulnerable position.
The dire situation became clear to Alkirnawi when he returned to his alma mater, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, to work for seven years as the academic counselor for Arab students. It was during this time that he saw to what extent the Beduin students were operating at a disadvantage relative to the rest of the student body as a whole.
“I realized when I was working at the university that the Beduin students suffer from a lack of Hebrew and that they have a lot of obstacles standing in the way of their education,” Alkirnawi says.
“I saw that the change cannot happen when they are in university; it must happen before that. We need to take care of our children and youth. We can’t wait until age 18 to implement a program of change. I believe that education starts in early childhood.”
This experience planted the seed that would in 2009 sprout into developing the organization A New Dawn in the Negev. As founder and executive director of A New Dawn, Alkirnawi sought to make his dream a reality; to help the Beduin community of the Negev by introducing a new system of creating change and dealing with that change by empowering the very people it’s meant to help.
“We cannot wait for a favor to save our lives,” he adds. “We need to take initiative and responsibility, and to give the people the power to do it and be a part of it. This is the core idea of the organization. The Beduin youth have never seen Westerners or Jews. They never used the Hebrew language. It is as if they are not even living in Israel. I want to break this segregation for the community and to bring in new air. It’s not only about the segregation between families, schools and tribes; it’s about being a part of the outside world.”
Using the three core components of education, leadership and employment, A New Dawn has a myriad of initiatives aimed at achieving three equivalent goals; equality, coexistence and peace. The newest project is offered in conjunction with Eran, providers of emotional first aid by phone and Internet on a national level for groups such as Holocaust survivors, the elderly and IDF soldiers. The Emotional First Aid Hotline is the first of its kind in Arabic and will be available for residents of the Negev. The hotline will provide a safe way to communicate about emergency, personal and communal issues.
“The youth need counseling and emotional support,” Alkirnawi states. “So we are providing a hotline to help adults and youth, and to guide them. All we need is guidance in our lives.”
The Emotional First Aid Hotline is still in the development stage. The organization is about to start a seven- month course to train volunteers who will answer the phones and provide support and counseling. Alkirnawi emphasizes that the volunteers are providing a very important service and that their training needs to reflect that. A New Dawn will rely on Eran’s knowledge, expertise and professionalism in this area for the Beduin volunteers. Alkirnawi hopes that the hotline will be up and running by October, once the first round of volunteers has gone through training.
Another new initiative is the organization’s Explore Rahat – Cultural Tourism program. The project will train 15 Beduin young women as tour guides for groups provided by affiliate organizations such as Taglit- Birthright and Masa.
“We are training them to become leaders who will speak positively about what we are doing in the Negev to touring groups that the organization will provide,” Alkirnawi says.
“They will tell the story of the new generation of Rahat. Then they will prepare a meal and a little market for the visiting tour groups, which will bring them some much-needed money and working in creating something new and positive.” The Cultural Tourism program will be launched next month.
A New Dawn’s bedrock, umbrella program is Secure Future for Youth, geared toward youth at risk in the Beduin community who have dropped out of school.
Operating out of the organization’s community center, the youth-at-risk programming is diverse and vibrant.
Projects include employment training, leadership development and social business ventures.
“The youth-at-risk program is very important,” Alkirnawi says. “The youth have the power, but we need to bring them opportunities.”
A New Dawn is set to launch a social business, Web Developer by Wix, with 40 teenagers from the program. In collaboration with Wix, the organization has trained the youth to be Web developers. The program will employ them as developers all over Israel to build websites using the Wix platform. The Wix Web Developer is one branch of the larger philosophy of employment training. A New Dawn aims to give Beduin youth-at-risk the skills that they will need to work and establish careers, even if they have dropped out of school.
“With the employment program, we are helping the youth by giving them training and allowing them to interact with other people,” Alkirnawi adds.
“It’s a social entrepreneurship program that brings them opportunities for work at earlier ages. No one teaches them how to become a worker, or how to be prepared for interviews. These are seen as small things, but the young teenagers need to be educated on that so they can get work. It’s an attitude. We have been working with 100 young people each year to help them hone their talents and strengthen their skills.”
Alkirnawi emphasizes that the change has to come from the ground up. Education is paramount in this regard; investing in and helping to improve the Beduin educational system is an issue at which A New Dawn works tirelessly. It brings volunteers from all over the world, to gain insights and varied perspectives on the system, specifically that of the elementary schools.
The volunteers work there for one year. A New Dawn partners with Masa to bring the volunteers, along with the Education Ministry, which gives them permission to go inside the schools. In addition, A New Dawn established the first Beduin classical music school, Sarab – Strings of Change.
“We want to enrich the curriculum for the Beduin youth,” Alkirnawi says. “We want to teach them math and art. We want to bring opportunities from all over the world, to help them see that the world is bigger than where they are living. This enables them to be part of that world.”
One of the most fascinating initiatives on offer is the Germany Youth Exchange. Now in its fourth cycle, the Arab/Jewish/German youth exchange provides young participants from all three communities with the chance to get to know and learn from one another, while exploring issues of identity and racism.
Beduin Israeli, Jewish Israeli and German youth participate in dialogue circles and field trips to sites of significance to one another’s history. The field trips include Holocaust memorial sites in Germany, as well as various sites in the Negev and throughout Israel. In partnership with the German organization Europeans for Peace, and Friends Without Borders, the Germany Youth Exchange is opening eyes as well as hearts by bringing German students to Israel for one week, including a visit to Rahat, and sending Israeli Beduin and Jews to Germany.
“Last year, we established a new collaboration with a Jewish high school, so that Beduin and Jews can host German students together in Rahat,” Alkirnawi says.
“They also travel together to Germany to learn about dialogue, how to deal with one another and to speak about the Holocaust. These are issues that may have not been dealt with before. The Beduin have never learned about the Holocaust. The Germans have never learned about the Beduin. The Jews have never learned about German society, outside of the Nazis. This again brings an opportunity to the youth to explore the world and learn about others. They connect to each other and learn from each other. This is what it’s all about. It’s not just a week here and a week there; it’s a process of learning.”
Beduin and Jewish students hosted German students during the last cycle in November. A New Dawn continues to meet with parents of both Jewish and Beduin students to discuss the overall experience and what can be improved.
Another significant initiative that A New Dawn proudly runs is called Shared Society and Living Together.
Begun three years ago, the program tackles the fundamental truth that Jews and Beduin are living side by side in the Negev. The organization Community Stage at Kibbutz Kramim, in partnership with A New Dawn, founded the B’nei Shimon Council, which serves to facilitate communication between the neighboring communities and encourages work in joint projects.
“There is now a Beduin-Jewish Center in Rahat, which means that together they can bring the change, not one side or the other,” Alkirnawi says. “We have a responsibility to create change. We live together and we want to share that responsibility together because we are stronger together.”
The shared society born from this partnership meets every month to discuss what has happened, what the future may hold, how the council can create an increased impact and how to establish more projects together. The next planned project is an art festival, where Jews and Beduin will create plastic art. It is expected to come to fruition in a few months.
“When we created A New Dawn, it was to fulfill the needs of the Beduin community in the Negev. Our community needs a lot of investment. This is not just in terms of giving them opportunities, but in them taking on leadership roles. We have a dream. We want to extend our impact to different villages in the Beduin community, so that is what I want to focus on in the next year.
“Today we have evidence that our model works. My dream is that our organization will be impactful on national and international levels. Through our website and Facebook page, we want to bring opportunities from around the globe to our community and bring our community to them. Making worldwide connections is really the dream.”
For more information: www.anewdawninthenegev.org/