Shatil Stories traditionally profiles civil society activists whom Shatil has empowered. They are only part of the story; social change cuts across sectors and disciplines. This year, we present six of the many public sector decision-makers with whom we cooperate as they lead change from their seats in municipalities, local councils, the Knesset and other institutions. Through their stories, a picture emerges of a diverse Israeli society committed to social justice and mutual respect.
Abbas Titi, mayor of Baaneh, is proud of the joint educational, sports and environmental projects the Arab village has with its closest Jewish neighbors, Karmiel and Misgav. “It’s not just words and programs, but shared living on a daily basis. We understand one another,” he says. “And Shatil is one of the pillars that guides us.”
Shatil works with the Beit Hakerem Cluster of eastern Galilee towns and villages, of which Baaneh is a member, to ensure that all communities have a voice and are treated equally and that the cluster promotes practical cooperation. An example of such cooperation: The cluster is hiring a company to provide joint environmental cleanup, recycling and garbage collection equally to all members.
Titi also works with Shatil in fighting state efforts to evacuate Ramia, a Bedouin village around which Karmiel was built and on promoting Moona, the world’s first Arab-Jewish space and science center, which he calls “a welcome effort that helps all our youth to leap ahead and connect to what is happening in the modern world.”
Titi appreciates Shatil’s work toward a shared society: “The wonderful Shatil/NIF staff, colleagues and donors are paving the road for the advancement of relations between Arabs and Jews from which we can pick ripe fruits that will help us make life better for all. I know there is pressure from the right, but there is no more just path than the one you are on.”
A B’nai Brak native with a B.A. from Bar Ilan University in law and computer science, Meirav Dean works in high tech and is a mother of seven living in Tel Mond. She prepared for her first public office by attending Shatil’s training for women serving on municipal religious councils.
“The fact that Shatil brought together women from throughout the country and not only gave us tools but enabled us to talk together about the shared problems we face, strengthens the religious councils,” says Dean. “Shatil also strengthened me by inviting me to elucidate the challenges of women in religious councils at the Knesset Committee for the Status of Women in the presence of the religious affairs minister. The committee chair said she will call a special meeting to discuss this issue. I had a feeling of great satisfaction and achievement.”
Dean’s aims are to work on the rarely-heard needs of women – such as the critical need to improve ritual baths — and to use the relevant government funds for the good of all and not just for the religious sector.
“When you are inside,” she says, “you can change things. I want to lower the barriers between the religious and secular populations and to bring them together…Shatil is a very important organization, and I’m glad I learned of its existence. It gives us great strength and support.”
As head of the Negev’s B’nai Shimon Regional Council, Sigal Moran is a member of Shatil’s Negev Leadership Network, which she calls a “great group and wonderful initiative…In Israel, we each live in our own bubble: secular, religious, Jewish, Arab. A platform like the Leadership Network gives me the opportunity to remove barriers, to have true dialogue, to deeply know someone like Sultan (Abu Abaid, director of Shatil Be’er Sheva.)”
Moran is active in the new Negev Council, which Shatil helped initiate. “Without Shatil, I don’t know if the Negev Council would be in existence,” she says. “It provided the infrastructure, the expertise and particularly Sultan, whose personal involvement — with his special personality and perspective — is critical. Like the Leadership Network, the Negev Council enables collaborations between Negev bodies and residents for improving life here.”
One of Moran’s most important collaborations is with the large Bedouin city of Rahat, located in her council’s jurisdiction. Moran assigned open spaces to Rahat for its natural expansion, reached a pathbreaking agreement for the city to provide services to the unrecognized Bedouin villages surrounding it, and is promoting tourism and agriculture with the city. “Shatil does amazing things and works in the way I believe in: They don’t sit around and complain, they take action,” says Moran. “Every meeting with Shatil leaves its mark on me.”
The director of the Nazareth Hospital EMMS, Bishara Bisharat is one of eight siblings whose parents were displaced from the village of Ma’alul in 1948. “Some children played with toys and some of us played in the trash dump,” he says. “People gave to me from what they didn’t have and that motivated me to want to help others, so I decided to study medicine.”
Bisharat earned an M.D. in Israel and an M.A. in health policy and management from Harvard. He was impressed with the participants of Shatil’s Nazareth health equality training, which his hospital hosted. “The participants came to get tools so they can give more, not to receive,” he says.Bisharat joined Shatil’s Citizens Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee and is guiding a forum project on preventing childhood obesity.
“In Shatil, I meet people with no personal interest who work together with communities for the communities’ sake; people who are creative, who give love, who always have a smile and who provide tools for working towards social change,” he says. “One can work with Arabs alone or with development towns alone, but I see that Shatil connects kibbutzniks, Arabs, city people, everyone. Working with Shatil gives me energy and hope that things will get better.”
MK Dr. Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) credits her work in Israel’s Knesset on behalf of women’s equality to the values she absorbed in her national religious upbringing. “Religious education steers us towards equality: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” she says.
Lavie worked closely with Shatil, the Israel Women’s Network, the Adva Center and Israel’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commission on the Equal Pay Project, a three-year effort to bridge wage gaps between women and men. The former professor in communications and gender studies finds it absurd that in Israel, one of the most highly developed countries in the world, the salary gap between men and women for the same work and same hours reaches 33 percent. As a consequence, Lavie passed a law, recommended by the project, requiring public companies, NGOs and other employers to report wages according to gender, as well as a law that eases the process for women employees to lodge discrimination complaints.
But legislation is not enough, she adds: It is essential to raise awareness and incorporate women’s equality into Israel’s political culture. Lavie notably connected the Project with the Israel Manufacturers’ Association, which became a partner in the effort to reduce gender-based wage gaps.
“The work with the Equal Pay Project was wonderful,” she says. “I believe in working with organizations in the field; they have contacts, they really know the ins and outs of the field. The moment a social change organization is involved, there are immensely devoted people with whom to work. Alone, we can’t accomplish much.”
Like many Ethiopian Jews, Mehereta Baruch was separated from her parents for six long years at the age of nine during Operation Moses. A caring social worker at Ron’s boarding school became a role model and inspired her to study psychology. “I could pour my heart out to her — and I saw this as something I wanted to do for others,” said Ron. “When I said I wanted to go to university, other children laughed at me.”
Armed with an M.A., Ron co-founded the NGOs Hiyot and Olim B’yachad and served as an emissary abroad before being catapulted to political leadership as deputy mayor of Tel Aviv. She is founding chair of Temerach (The Elected), the Forum of Ethiopian-Israeli Municipal Council Members, which grew out of a training led by Shatil, Tebeka and the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews for newly-elected city council members.
“We are a wonderful group, full of motivation,” she says. “Our aim is to demand that policy makers, with whom we have begun to meet, involve us in their decisions about the community and to monitor the millions of dollars meant for the community to ensure they are not swallowed up in various government offices. Shatil is our address for professional advice and guidance. It is an organization that enables discourse on every subject, with every group; an organization with a history, a future, and a trunk full of tools.”