Shafi Nujidat, an alumnus of the Wexner Israel Fellowship Program, is Head of the Department of Education of the Bu’eina-Nujidat Local Council, a Bedouin town located in the north of Israel. He is happy to host Wexner alumni in his town and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For many years, I have been Head of the Department of Education and Culture of the Bu’eina- Nujidat Local Council. Bu’eina-Nujidat is a town in the North of Israel, which has more than 8500 residents. It is known to many as a Bedouin (Arab) town on the main road between Nazareth and Tiberias, in the foothills of the Beit Netofa Valley. My position in the Local Council puts me in charge of ensuring the existence of educational services in the town; in practical terms, this means carrying out the educational policy of the Ministry of Education and the educational policy of the local authority.
In fact, I do these things in a rather unconventional manner, based on my belief that education is the most important lever for the advancement of society and of my community, my belief that it is necessary to break through barriers, to build partnerships with all kinds of entities, to empower people, and to be transparent, and my fervent desire to develop local educational leadership. Naturally, my ambition is to transcend the local level and to achieve accomplishments on a regional and national scale.
With great modesty, I can state that my educational system is considered to be one of the best in the Arab sector, and that it can compete successfully with the Jewish sector, at least in a number of areas.
In order to be more honest and transparent, I must state that, from time to time, there are considerations and limitations which I must take into account – some of which are “dropped” on me – and which, in my opinion, impede the advancement of the system. This frequently gives rise to frustrations. These considerations are generally local in nature and are related to the sociopolitical structure of the town; the limitations are mostly budgetary, as a result of the scarcity of resources at the disposal of the local authority, and principally due to a lack of proper budgeting by the Ministry of Education and additional Government ministries. In addition, the aims of the Ministry of Education are sometimes not congruent with those of the local authority.
As a result of the situation described above, I believe that I must operate in a manner which will allow the provision of responses to the existing dilemmas and distresses and will permit the advancement of ideas and programs which the present framework does not facilitate, or at the very least, limits their implementation. It is clear to me that I will have to establish an official entity, such as a non-profit organization or a similar entity, in order to do this. At the same time, I am concerned that I may not be able to raise sufficient resources for an entity of this type. What is certain, however, is that I will make my limited personal resources, such as my own house, available for this purpose. To this end, I will allocate space for an office in my home. I will be pleased to welcome to my home any person or group which may come to get to know me and/or the area, and to gain a direct impression both of me and of the people whom I am seeking as partners and helpers. I will be pleased to give visitors tours of my town and the surrounding area.
What is the value of this?
I believe that, as long as we refrain from bringing all of the children in Israel to the same level, we will continue to pay a heavy price. (I will not go into the definition of “we” at this time; I will be pleased to write more about that in the future.) The price is expressed in terms of the quality of human capital throughout the population. The gaps between the Arab population and the Jewish population are vast; unless those gaps are drastically reduced, the situation of Israel’s human capital will not improve.
In order to address the problem before it gets worse, it will be necessary to devote more resources to weaker population groups, with a view to extricating them from the vicious cycle of poverty. As you certainly know, poverty entails a number of ancillary phenomena: a high dropout rate, a low success rate in the matriculation examinations, an even lower percentage of higher education, crime, extremism, despair, exploitation and the like. Obviously, this also has repercussions in terms of the level of education, management and even leadership.
One of the things which manage to make me angry is seeing that many people have already resigned themselves to mediocrity. I wonder: are we aware of the price that this involves? I would like to focus on an attempt to find solutions, rather than searching for the people at fault. The search for responses and solutions must take place on two levels: the local level and the national/countrywide level. I am not trying to accuse one side at the expense of the other; still, it will be necessary to join hands and forces.
It is clear to me that the work will not be especially easy; it will even be difficult. It is just as clear to me that the approaches of many people and entities will have to be changed. I think that, with good counsel and a lot of help, this will be possible. A number of people close to me think the same way I do, and I am rather certain that we have the tools to begin.
I would like to whisper one last word in the ears of American Jewry, both as a citizen of Israel and especially as a Bedouin and an Arab. It is possible that we did not know how to approach you and ask for assistance; at the same time, I would like to state – and to promise – that your investment in improving the standard of living and services in Israel’s Arab community will surely lead to a considerable improvement throughout the State, which will reflect on its neighbors as well. There is an Arabic proverb which states: “The better off your neighbor is, the better off you will be.”