SHATIL’s regional branches were established primarily to reach out to disempowered populations in Israel's periphery. SHATIL's southern office staff live in Be'er Sheva , Kiryat Gat, Rahat, Sderot and other communities – all within the range of rocket fire from Gaza. Several staff members live close enough to the border to hear every bomb dropped. Others, such as our Bedouin staff in Rahat, and who are under fire themselves, are consumed with worry about relatives in Gaza. The stresses of balancing family needs with work in a time of emergency have created a tumultuous atmosphere in the Be'er Sheva branch. And throughout SHATIL, staff are concerned about friends and family that have been called to the front-lines.
"The heart of the Be'er Sheva staff goes out to all civilians," said Yarona Ben Shalom, co-director of SHATIL’s Be'er Sheva office. Yarona has two small children and a husband who is a pediatrician at the Soroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva where seriously wounded soldiers and civilians have been evacuated. He has been working around the clock as the regional hospital is on alert.
Sultan Abu Abeid, co-director SHATIL Be'er Sheva; Warda ElKranawi, Bedouin Women Leadership Project coordinator; Shlomit Maman, media consultant; and Marina Maly, OD consultant
Dvora Dasta, a SHATIL organizational consultant who works mainly with the Ethiopian community, has been working from home in Kiryat Gat, where her three young children are spending their days at home. School and day care have been cancelled since the Hanukah vacation. The older ones receive school assignments by e-mail. Dvora has had many offers from friends, family and colleagues outside the danger area who want to host her but she prefers to remain at home. "My children and I prefer to stay in a familiar environment, despite the danger," says Dvora. "Familiarity, and the fact that everyone else is here and we are with them in this, brings comfort and solidarity in a crisis."
For Warda Elkrenawi, coordinator of SHATIL's Empowerment of Bedouin Women Project, this period has been particularly challenging. "I have friends and relatives in Gaza, so this situation is very difficult for me." At the same time, Warda's hometown of Rahat is subjected to rocket attacks. Since there are no sirens or shelters in Rahat, Israel's largest Bedouin city, SHATIL enlisted the help of Mubadara (Initiative) – a coalition of eleven Arab organizations initiated by SHATIL following the second Lebanon War to help alleviate the disproportionate harm inflicted on the North's Arab population. Relying on lessons from that war, Mubadara is engaged in communicating with the authorities and helping the Bedouin population cope with the present threats in a safer and more effective manner.
As ever in situations of war and escalation, SHATIL reaches out to, networks with and gives a voice to those who are not necessarily part of the mainstream consensus -- even in times of crisis. The Be'er Sheva office and SHATIL's media staff are working closely with A Different Voice, a grassroots group of residents of Sderot and the surrounding kibbutzim consisting of young and old, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, who are calling for an end to the hostilities and a ceasefire that will respect the rights of both sides. In addition, SHATIL is providing consultation to a group of Arab and Jewish students who got together to call for an end to the violence, as well as to established organizations promoting coexistence in the Negev – a mission that is all the more critical in such tense times.
Together with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), SHATIL has established a special hotline for residents in the South, which provides information about rights and procedures regarding the conflict in English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian. The hotline will provide residents with instructions from the Homefront Command and educate them about compensation, workers' rights, access to health services, and more.
We are all hoping for a speedy resolution to the crisis.