How can we stop the violence in Arab society? - opinion

The government has access to an existing model that gives hope for a better future, it simply needs to take action.

ARAB ISRAELIS demonstrate against violence, organized crime and killings in their communities, outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem in 2019. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
ARAB ISRAELIS demonstrate against violence, organized crime and killings in their communities, outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem in 2019.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Problems in the Arab sector in Israel have recently reached a boiling point, while limited post-high school options for Arabs in Israel have been further limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government has access to an existing model that gives hope for a better future, it simply needs to take action.
The coronavirus has impacted millions of people in countless ways. It will be years before we understand the full economic implications of COVID-19, but studies have already demonstrated that those who are 18-30 years old are the first in line to suffer its effects in terms of unemployment and under-employment.
In Israel, the 30,000-plus Arabs who graduate high school each year are even more vulnerable than their other peers in the young population of Israel. Traditionally, Arabs have had few opportunities for professional advancement. Unlike their Jewish counterparts, Arab high school graduates do not have a clearly delineated path of army or national service.
Roughly 40% of 18-21-year-old Arabs are defined as “NEET’s – Not in Education, Employment or Training.” This lack of direction and prospects for the future places them at high risk for entry into the world of violence and crime.
Even though the number of Arab students in higher education has more than doubled in the past 10 years, from 23,000 to 47,000, these students have significant disadvantages. Many experience hardships. Their families cannot afford to support them through university, their access to technology is poor, and the demands of learning both Hebrew and English in a short amount of time are cumbersome.
Bedouin-Arab students in the Negev, who are more likely than other Arabs to lack access to both computers and the Internet, face even greater difficulties participating in higher education. The added burden of the pandemic and its accompanying demand for remote learning has proven too onerous for many Bedouin-Arab students to handle, leading them to drop out.
The solution
Recently, multiple episodes of extreme violence in the Arab sector have demonstrated the devastating outcomes of under-engaged youth. Young people with nothing to do and little promise for the future are drawn to crime when faced with what seems like little to no alternative. Young Arabs sorely need a competing model, one which offers them skills, education and the chance to advance their communities instead of dragging them down.
Change is most effective when it stems from within a society. For the past 10 years, the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation and Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (AJEEC-NISPED), an NGO that started in the Negev and now works nationally, has been running a wide-ranging civic volunteering gap-year program. Its gap-year programs in Arab and Bedouin-Arab towns across Israel prepare Arab post-high school students for higher education and/or the workforce, while giving them the opportunity to volunteer within their communities.
The students assist the local population as they attend courses and workshops designed to help them mainstream into Israeli societal structures. Throughout the year, they work on personal development, learn Hebrew, improve their matriculation scores, receive employment guidance and gain learning skills.
The extra attention to these young people’s preparedness for university and work is a game-changer: 85% of the program graduates have continued on to higher education and/or employment. That’s twice as many as non-program participants. The program delivers the improved learning skills and increased confidence that give Arab youths the boost they need to enter and remain in education and employment.
Involving young Arabs in the work force and institutions of higher learning yields social and economic benefits for the Arab population and for Israeli society as a whole. The time has come for policymakers and government ministries to adopt the Arab gap-year program – which produces bright young people who contribute to society – and expand it to every Arab town in Israel.
Even a relatively modest investment in these programs will immensely benefit the State of Israel, as they produce desired results such as a lower crime rate, the involvement of more citizens in the workplace, and a wider taxpayer base. It is in the government’s best interest to sponsor and support a model like AJEEC’s gap-year program, which can stop the downward spiral into violence among young Arabs.

The writers are co-executive directors of AJEEC-NISPED, an NGO that operates a gap year and informal education program in Arab localities around the country.