Despite largely positive relations between Bedouin Arab and Jewish residents of the Negev, the last year has seen increased tension, especially over the issue of unrecognized Bedouin villages. The issue reached its climax in January, when Yacoub Abu al-Qi’an was killed by a police office under disputed circumstances in Umm al-Hiran.

Thankfully, local residents weren’t willing to let politics trump being good neighbors. The regional and local leaders of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, including Ajeeyal, the Arab branch of the movement, planned and implemented a Jewish-Arab summer camp program built on principles of mutual respect and understanding.

Waleed, Shahar, and Yair, from the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, oversaw a volunteer staff of more than 30 Jewish and Arab youth leaders, who in turn helped bring the plan to fruition. Approximately 80 students, grades 3-6, from Kibbutz Shuval and Rahat village, participated in the week-long program. The camp began with outdoor training (ODT), and included a visit to the Joe Alon museum for an experiential learning experience about Bedouin culture, including food, and arts and crafts. The camp continued on to the kibbutz, with a treasure hunt to orient everyone with the kibbutz better. The campers continued to alternate locations, visiting Rahat and the Ajeeyal center, and finishing at another nearby kibbutz for a refreshing dip in the pool.

 

 On Friday, the young staff had a closing ceremony, held with the mayor of Rahat, Talal Al-Krenawi; head of the regional council Sigal Moran; and the chairpersons of the youth groups involved. Sigal Moran noted the timing, juxtaposed with the 9th of Av, a Jewish national day of mourning, but also for focusing on interpersonal relationships. Moran expressed hope that this wonderful initiative could inspire future cooperation and increased goodwill.

The Director of the Joe Alon Center, Imi Sufan Ein Gedi, explained that the center hosted students from “both sides of the highway” for bilingual, multicultural meetings of educational substance, with all of the students learning a bit more about the other group—and even a bit about themselves. She also described witnessing the students, initially timid, gradually opening up and befriending one another.

Michal Kalomnovich, one of the Jewish counselors in the program, explained how mutual respect and love bridged all divides, even linguistic ones: although the Bedouin students didn’t know any Hebrew, “they showed their love in other ways,” via sports, crafts, and hugs goodbye. Recalling some previous efforts to bring the two communities together which were too short-lived to be successful, Michal said that this time, the students had such a good time that “they didn’t want to go home at the end.”

Steven Aiello

Founder, Debate for Peace

debateforpeace.wordpress.com

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