In the midst of a sea of divisiveness, Sikkuy, a shared organization of Jewish and Arab citizens, is working to implement full equality on all levels between the Arab Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel. Since 1991 the non-profit organization, has been working to effect change within government ministries, public agencies, Arab local authorities, the media and among the general public. The goal: to promote far-reaching changes in government policies toward Arab citizens, reduce and eliminate discrimination and socio-economic gaps and create a new reality of a shared and equal society.
Despite the complex existing reality that includes a right-wing government and on-going incitement against Arab citizens, Sikkuy continues to proudly swim upstream and reach significant milestone achievements furthering an equal and shared society in Israel. These include, but are not limited to, ensuring alignment of the Finance Ministry’s discounted housing lottery to the needs of Arab communities, promoting a master plan for transportation infrastructure development in Arab towns and working to encourage the Ministry of Social Affairs to approve a budget of NIS 23 million for architectural planning for childcare centers in Arab neighborhoods. Sikkuy is also working to advance the study of Arabic in Jewish state schools, launched ACT, a project to encourage Arab and Jewish citizens to be active on social networks in order to create fairer and more positive coverage of Arab society in the media, protesting the Nation-State Law, and more.
In the words of Amjad Shbita and Ron Gerlitz, Sikky’s two Co-executive Directors, "Sikkuy is proud that even in a very complicated environment, Sikkuy was very successful in creating significant changes on the ground towards equal and shared society."
Caring about a shared and equal society
For Nisreen Morqus, Co-Director of Sikkuy’s Department for a Shared Society, promoting, expanding and shaping a reality that embraces an equal, shared society and shared public spaces is not a pipe dream; it’s a right that must be demanded and seized with conviction.
“Creating space and a presence for the Palestinian Arab minority’s language and identity is not something we should be thankful for when it is given to us; it is our right and we must demand it”, she says. “In order to create comprehensive change and further an equal and shared society, the presence of Arab citizens, our sense of belongingness and ownership over the shared space must be tangible. For example, by promoting a strong and equal presence of Arabic language and identity in public spaces and institutions alongside Hebrew language and culture.
Morqus’ intensive organizational activities focus on shared public spaces. Day in and day out, she fights stigmas, stereotypes and ignorance from the inside out, fully believing that the lack of the presence of the Arabic language in Israel alienates the community she comes from, which is consequentially marginalized.
“Getting to know our language and culture through their presence in the public space and through the arts can strengthen us all”, she declares, explaining that the Israeli public’s lack of knowledge of the Arabic language and identity serves as a significant stumbling block to the sharing of experiences. “In addition to legislation and budget constraints, of course”, she adds.
“Every time the idea of integrating more Arabic into Israeli society and public spaces is brought up, the answer is always the same, ‘What’s the need? Arabs speak Hebrew! This, of course, is not true. While many Arabs do understand and speak Hebrew, many others do not, including the very young and very old segments of the population. As such, areas where signage is only in Hebrew can be dangerous and even life-threatening to those who cannot comprehend. And that’s beside the fact that we have a right as a native minority to see, read and communicate in our mother tongue. Doing so would significantly strengthen our path towards a shared and equal society.”
Morqus’ drive to engender true societal change is palpable. She proudly recounts how Sikkuy was instrumental in bringing Arabic signage to Israeli public transportation, how the organization published a handbook for advancing public transportation in Arab local authorities, how Sikkuy continues to monitor the ongoing implementation of the relatively new regulation requiring the inclusion of Arabic on all bus routes and at all bus stations in Israel, how they persistently advocate for the presence of Arabic in critical cultural, leisure, and entertainment venues, such as amusement parks, water parks, national parks, museums, and so on, and how she and her fellow organization members care so much about this cause, that they will engage in complex advocacy activities, make contact with relevant bodies and organizations and create public dialogue, until agreements are successfully reached.
Another area in which Sikkuy seeks to promote a shared society and a more fair and just representation of Arab citizens and society is the Israeli public education system - by improving Arabic language studies for Jewish children and equipping teachers with the tools and knowledge they need regarding Jewish-Arab relations and Arab society as a whole. Sikkuy has also exhibited much success in creating significant representation of the Arab population within Hebrew language mass media. Sikkuy’s Representation Index and ACT project, mentioned above, have been instrumental in enabling the inclusion of members of the Arab public on Israeli television and radio programs and channels, especially on the news.
“You cannot work on something you don’t fully believe in; to bring about the change we seek, you must truly care about the future of our shared society”.
It starts in the home
The numbers speak for themselves. The Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel is growing at a rate of roughly 2.4 percent each year and accounts for fifth of the Israeli population, and yet the land dedicated towards Arab housing and other infrastructure remains the same. There is a clear discrimination and lack of land release for residential purposes for the Arab citizens and authorities.
These factors together contribute to serious shortage of housing and substandard conditions and a poor quality of life for Arab citizens of all ages, who mostly live in Arab local authorities across Israel. With this in mind, Fadi Shbita and Ofer Dagan, co-directors of Sikkuy’s Equality Policy Department, toil to create a new, better and more promising equal and shared future for ALL citizens of the State of Israel. Sikkuy was instrumental in influencing the important government’s decision #922 from December 2015 to increase its budget for Arab housing, making it more equal to that of Jewish housing. The implementation of 922 itself has not been a problem-free process, and the organization continues to act to drive its full implementation and bridge what is one of the country’s most significant gaps between the two populations.
“Recognizing the State as the home of two nations with two languages and two cultures, is a first step”, Shbita explains. He goes on to cite the main reason for the disparities between Arab and Jewish citizens as discrimination in the allocation of state resources. These notably include budgets, land, planning and construction, and social services, alongside discrimination in the employment of Arabs in both the public and the private sectors.
“At Sikkuy, we work to effect fundamental and comprehensive changes to existing policies, with the aim of reaching absolute equality in resource allocation between Jews and Arabs in Israel. In Umm al-Fahm for example, a large Arab city, there are just four bus lines - and even those are new,” he says. “By default, this forces people to remain close to home, keeping them from better jobs, services and more. For example, better day cares in Arab towns so the women can travel for work, better residential development so that 18% of the country’s population isn’t forced to live on 2.5% of the legal jurisdiction, etc.” Shbita dreams of a foreseeable future in which Arab children will enjoy exactly the same opportunities enjoyed by Jewish children in Israel, and the Arab community in Israel will at long last have the place it deserves – socially and economically - within a shared and equal society in Israel.
Dagan concurs, adding that he believes the Israeli government is not familiar enough with Palestinian Arab society and how it runs. As such, they do not adapt government policies to meet the population’s unique needs, even when policies are well-intended.
“There is a serious problem of distrust and suspicion between the Arab municipalities and the government”, Dagan explains. The Arab local authorities are often suspicious of the government and its ability to truly help their communities - and they have many historic reasons to do so, including 70 years of discrimination, increasing levels of incitement among politicians, etc. The government, on the other hand, often doubts the Arab authorities’ ability to resolve problems, which can be the case, due to a lack of available man power and professional knowledge and training. It’s a vicious cycle”.
A cycle Dagan believes can be broken, by forcing the government to take responsibility, add manpower to Arab local authorities and enable Arab communities to successfully navigate and resolve issues. “Working with Sikkuy has taught me that you can promote significant steps towards partnership and equality - even when you feel that the odds of success are bleak. Providing the Palestinian Arab population with the infrastructure necessary to meet their basic needs - housing, education, transportation, etc., is critical to achieving this desired reality”.
Take a chance on Sikkuy
Despite being faced with significant challenges, roadblocks and naysayers, Sikkuy continues to champion the fight for Israeli-Palestinian Arab equality and a shared society. Staffed with 30 committed professionals, the veteran non-profit organization’s conviction is that the way to assure a better and more just future for all the citizens of this country lies in the ability to build a shared and equal society for Jewish and Arab citizens - and needs your support to achieve this goal. With each donation, Sikkuy enhances the legitimacy of Jewish-Arab partnership and promotes Israeli society one step closer to an equal and shared future.
Give equality a fighting chance.
To support Sikkuy: http://www.sikkuy.org.il/en/donate/
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