Israeli Arab Philanthropists Target Needy Jewish Students to Foster 'Shared Society'

Small nonprofit makes history by becoming the first to be exclusively founded and run by Arabs that is handing out scholarships to Jews

Students at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, January 7, 2019.
Emil Salman

There are plenty of examples of Jews who donate money to support disadvantaged Arab citizens of Israel. But Arabs who donate money to support disadvantaged Jewish citizens of the state?

A relatively small Israeli non-profit has made history by becoming the first to be founded and run by Arab philanthropists that is handing out scholarships to Jews.

Al-Kitab (Arabic for “The Book”), an educational non-profit based in the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, is dedicated to funding needy students interested in pursuing higher education. Until now, the organization, which registered as a non-profit about five years ago, has handed out scholarships exclusively to Arab students.

But this year, for the first time, it decided to span out and make scholarships available to Jewish students as well.

“We see this as a way of incentivizing Jewish students to engage in efforts aimed at promoting shared society and Jewish-Arab coexistence,” Dr. Ziad Mahameed, a local physician who serves as secretary of the non-profit, told Haaretz.

Dr. Ziad Mahameed in Umm al-Fahm, October 2019.
Amir Levy

At a special ceremony held late last month to mark the start of the new school year, 10 Jewish students at the Hadassah Medical Center nursing school in Jerusalem were given scholarships to finance Arabic-language classes during their studies. “Since many of their patients will be Arabic-speakers, we thought this was a good way to encourage them to learn the language,” said the doctor.

Another 12 Jewish students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who volunteer with disadvantaged youth in the Arab section of the city, will each receive a 2,000 shekel ($580) one-time grant.

Al-Kitab receives most of its funding from local businessman Fathi Fawzi Mahameed, the CEO of a large real estate development company in Umm al-Fahm. The non-profit typically hands out about 1 million shekels a year in scholarships.

Ziad Mahameed said that handing out the scholarships to nursing students at Hebrew University was especially meaningful for him, as a graduate of the program. “Before going to medical school, I studied nursing at Hadassah,” he said. “So for me, this was coming full circle.”

Commenting on the criteria for the scholarships to Jewish students, Batya Kallus, Israel program director at The Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society, said: "It's a very smart move on their part. In general, just giving out scholarships without pushing for effective use is a waste of time."

Ziad Mahameed, who is active in the local branch of the communist party, said he hoped the initiative would also contribute to recent efforts to improve the image of his hometown – long regarded as a hotbed of religious and political extremism and therefore considered unwelcoming to Jews.