The situation is tense right now in Israel. Sirens can be heard from the south to Nahariya near the Lebanese border. But even as the rockets are falling, NIF is stepping up its critical work. We talked with Sultan Abu Obaid, head of the SHATIL branch in Be’er Sheva, on how the staff is managing to do their work while under fire. SHATIL is NIF’s action arm.
Can you tell me about your work during this time?
Sultan: As always, SHATIL continues to deal with issues of shared society and social justice. An extra issue now is the protection and defense of the Bedouin. Most of the Bedouin villages are in open areas which are not covered by Iron Dome, and don’t have protection or shelters at home. We are trying to create media interest in this issue, and to solve the problem by lobbying the government.
We are also helping organizations to recruit volunteers for different activities. For example, we’ve been helping the organizers of a camp for children with cancer at Soroka Hospital find volunteers. There are both Jewish and Arab children there – cancer doesn’t discriminate between blood and blood.
In addition, we are dealing with the ongoing issue of the unrecognized villages in the Negev, and with the establishment of the Negev Council, which will work on behalf of the entire region.
Are you succeeding in establishing joint Jewish-Arab projects during this time?
Sultan: Definitely. We are always trying to set up joint Jewish-Arab projects. We were just in touch with Mauricio Belter, the rabbi of the Eshel Avraham community in Be’er Sheva, regarding a meal for Jews and Arabs to break the fast on Tuesday (Ramadan and 17th Tevet). There was also contact with Kibbutz Shoval – hate graffiti had been written at the entrance. They want to do a joint event with residents of the Bedouin village of Rahat in order to lessen the tension – we are helping with the initiative.
How is the staff doing?
Sultan: The people who work here live in the south. Some live in the western Negev and are under fire all the time. Some are from Kibbutz Orim, some from Sderot, and others are under fire in Ashkelon. We are trying to maintain regular life and to work as much as possible on our projects.
Is there more tension between Jews and Arabs at the moment?
Sultan: Among everyone SHATIL works with, there’s a feeling that people want to do things together, and to advance joint projects. For example, we have a network of people who want to work together for calm. Last Thursday we met with members of the network, and issued a call for shared society proposals.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Sultan: Yes. I am praying that this round will finish in peace and more people won’t be harmed. As citizens of the State of Israel, we have to work for a diplomatic solution – without it we will be in danger internally and externally. Peace is everyone’s ideal and we need to advance it and pressure the government to reach an agreement with the Palestinian people. When it happens, it will be good for everyone.