Today is Yom Haatzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day – and to mark the day we are featuring a special blog by Dr Alice Wood, Director of the UK Task Force on issues facing Arab citizens of Israel – a coalition of organisations committed to the welfare of Israel and its secure and peaceful existence.
“It’s Israel’s 64th birthday today, which commemorates its Declaration of Independence in 1948. The Declaration of Independence document was produced by David Ben Gurion and others and contains within it the guiding principles on which the State of Israel was founded:
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL… will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
It is precisely this section of the text which inspires our work at the UK Task Force working to raise awareness of issues relating to Arab citizens of Israel.
Why do we do this?
The Task Force shares the concern of many in the Israeli government and society that the integration of Israel’s Arab population is the biggest domestic challenge the country currently faces, affecting Israel’s economy, security and global standing. So, given that the British Jews care deeply aboutIsrael’s future, it is natural that they want to learn more about these issues. And that’s where we come in.
But why are these issues important?
Well, some facts: 20% ofIsrael’s population is Arab and 50% of Arabs in Israel live in poverty compared to 20% of Israelis overall. Moreover, research shows that socio-economic gaps between Jews and Arabs are widening year-on-year, to the detriment of the Arab population. The reasons for this are multiple and complex – but it is widely recognized that narrowing these gaps will benefit Israel.
Creating equality will safeguard both the Jewish and democratic principles upon which the state was founded, in accordance with Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Equality will also strengthen Israel’s economy. (Currently, Israel’s economy is losing 31bn shekels a year as the result of the failure to utilise the potential of the Arab workforce). And finally, equality will also ensure a stable and peaceful future for Israel, improving social relations and breaking down barriers and prejudices. The Task Force therefore provides British Jews with the resources to support Israel in helping to integrate its Arab population.
How does volunteering relate to what you do?
One of the organisations that the Task Force is supporting builds positive relations between Arabs and Jews through volunteering. The Volunteer Tent in Be’er Sheva run by two remarkable women (one Jewish, one Arab) was founded in 2002 with the goal of strengthening community responsibility and active citizenship in the Negev.
The Tent recruits, organises and trains Arab and Jewish volunteers in the Negev (youth, college students, adults), who then engage in volunteering at educational institutions, third sector organisations, community institutions and a diverse group of other agencies in need of volunteering for the benefit of the community.
We visited the Tent during our recent UK Task Force study trip to the Negev in February and saw the incredible work they are doing to build strong relations between Jews and Arabs through volunteering. In November last year, the Tent was burnt down in an arson attack and – tribute to the esteem in which it is held by the community – was rebuilt and refurbished with remarkable speed and when we visited in February it was as good as new.
The video below shows the strength of Israeli society (Jews and Arabs) coming together at a time of crisis to rebuild their volunteering centre and is a fitting tribute to Israel – on its birthday – which in the face of great adversity has prevailed and a fitting tribute to JVN, who build cohesion in our own UK Jewish community through volunteering. Watch it all. ”