BACKGROUND: About the 2011 Goldberg IIE Prize Recipients
Amal Elsana Alh'jooj
Amal Elsana Alh'jooj, co-executive director of NISPED and founding director of AJEEC, was born in 1972, the fifth of thirteen children. Like many Bedouin children, Amal from age five herded sheep before trekking more than three kilometers to and from school—a run-down shack without electricity, running water or books.
As an adolescent, Amal was already inspired to change the objectionable equilibrium in which she found herself, her family, her tribe, the Bedouin Arabs of the Negev and the Arab minority in Israel. She began her career as a community organizer at 14, and at 17, established the first Arab Bedouin women's organization to improve the situation of Bedouin women in a patriarchal society resisting the changes effected by rapid transition to modernity.
Upon completing high school, she earned her BA in social work in Israel and her MA in community development at McGill University in Canada. At Ben-Gurion University she was one of two Bedouin women students and her creativity, strength and call to action were reflected in her activities. She chaired the Arab Students' Union and initiated a project to improve conditions in 22 Bedouin villages.
Upon her return from Canada, Amal worked to implement innovative methods of changing the stable but inherently unjust equilibrium characterizing the Palestinian national minority in Israel and the Bedouin of the Negev in particular. In 2000, her path joined with NISPED whose organizational vision and approach to sustainable human development presented Amal with the opportunity to develop a new model to meet pressing challenges. This approach, focused on the human aspects of development and applied to the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel dramatically diverged from existing models. Amal understood that models limited to the development of physical infrastructure are inadequate. A comprehensive transformative process and an emancipatory approach focused on the rebuilding of community confidence are necessary prerequisites for sustainable development.
Today, Amal is one of the key shapers of public opinion regarding the status of the Arab minority and the status of women in Israel. She is a member of the Prime Minister’s Commission for Economic Development of the Arab Sector; a member of the Steering Committee of Shutafut-Sharaka; a member of Shatil’s Negev Leaders Network.
Amal is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. To list a few: in 2010, she was chosen by The Marker as 1 of 101 most influential people in Israel; in 2008, she was a keynote speaker at the Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Institute; that same year, November 7 was proclaimed Amal Elsana Alh'jooj Day in Hartford Connecticut. In 2005 she was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize within the framework of the "One Thousand Women" submission; in 2003 she won the Lady Globes "Career Women of the Year" award.
Vivian Silver, Co-Executive Director of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (NISPED), is driven by two burning issues – creating a shared society between Jews and Palestinian Arabs in Israel, based on values of equality and empowerment and feminism. For the past four decades, Vivian has been active in social change work – first in Canada and then in Israel. Growing up in an observant but liberal home in Winnipeg, early on Vivian became active in the Jewish feminist movement.
She moved to Israel in 1974 where she was a founding member of the reestablished Kibbutz Gezer. She was elected the kibbutz's first secretary general and subsequently became Gezer's construction manager. Along the way, Vivian abandoned two convictions she had cherished in the Diaspora – religion and the conception that the kibbutz practiced equality between men and women. Increasingly disturbed by the widening gap in the treatment of Israel's Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens, Vivian focused her work in this realm.
She was the founder and first director of the Department to Advance Gender Equality in the United Kibbutz Movement and a member of the Knesset sub-committee for the Advancement of Women in Work and the Economy. She was a member of the board of directors of the New Israel Fund in the 80’s and a member of the steering committee of Shatil in the 90’s. She is a founding member and first Chair of Shutafut-Sharaka, a forum of civil society organizations committed to the advancement of democratic values and the promotion of an equal and shared society for all Israeli citizens, Jews and Arab-Palestinians alike. She is active in ALLMEP (Alliance for Middle-East Peace) and sits on the Public Advisory Committee of Midot, which evaluates non-profit organizations in Israel. Vivian is a member of Kibbutz Beeri and a founding member of the kibbutz’s philanthropic fund which supports grass-roots and social change projects in the Negev. She resides in the kibbutz with her husband, Lewis Zeigen, and their two sons, Chen and Yonatan.
The Arab Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation
AJEEC is multi-focal, comprehensive and holistic in addressing Israel's most pressing issue: how the Jewish national majority and the Palestinian Arab national minority may live together in a democratic state in a way that enables both to fully develop their social, cultural and political character without infringing the rights of the other. AJEEC's paramount goal is the creation of a shared society in Israel based on equality and empowerment of the Palestinian Arab minority within a society and country that has historically been shaped by its Jewish majority.
Specific goals include: The attainment of social, political and economic equality for the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel; The empowerment of the Arab-Bedouin community of the Negev; Cooperation between Jews and Arabs in Israel that is based on recognition and acceptance of each other’s social, cultural and political character.
AJEEC's primary target population is the Arab-Bedouin community of the Negev. Comprising over 180,000 people, this community constitutes the poorest sector of Israeli society. Over 30% of the men and 80% of the women are unemployed; there are high rates of illiteracy and crime. Years of neglect and discrimination have led to poverty, extensive dependency on the (limited) available social services and the psycho-social ramifications relating to poverty and dependence. The government's long-standing policy of limiting the Arab-Bedouin community to populate certain geographic areas has resulted in the establishment of 7 "recognized" villages, 9 newly recognized villages and the de facto creation of 36 "unrecognized" villages, the latter lacking basic services such as running water, electricity, roads, telephone service, sewage systems, building permits. Educational, health and social services are minimal if they exist at all.
An additional AJEEC target population is Israel's Jewish majority. In present-day Israel, there is absolute social segregation between Jews and Palestinian Arabs. The society that AJEEC leadership, staff and volunteers envision requires the active participation of an aware and enlightened majority able to recognize the "other's" narrative, formulate attitudes and perceptions based on knowledge and assume personal responsibility to effectuate change, including advocating for equal allocation of State and philanthropic resources.