Fund recipient Bairbre Flood was supported to travel to Israel and Palestine to produce a documentary on how marginalised Palestinian and Israeli communities have more in common with one another than is usually portrayed in western media. The following is a blog post offering further insight into Bairbre’s project. Learn more about Bairbre’s project here.
Back up in Nazareth for their national conference, there’s a sense of excitement as the groups start two days of talks, workshops, and informal meetings. Women have come from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tamra, Maghar, Nazareth illit and Yafa, from both Jewish and Palestinian communities to share their experiences, and learn from each other how to create a fairer society here.
Nurit Barak, the Jewish co-director of Mahapach-Taghir (which means change in Hebrew-Arabic) and Fida Nara, the Palestinian co-director, are busy welcoming the different groups – many of whom seem to know each other. I’ve spent the past two weeks traveling throughout Israel, seeing how these groups are organising themselves to fight for what they feel is most needed – whether that’s better municipal services and after-school programmes, or the ongoing issue of domestic violence, or helping those in marginalised areas access further education.
‘It’s very empowering to hear the women, about their experience,’ Ghadir, a young woman from Yafa, Nazareth tells me. ‘Usually the Arab women encourage us to get married at a young age, but these kind of women say, ‘No! Go to college, don’t get married at a young age’. Their ideas have changed the minute they became part of Mahapach.’
‘How important is it that it’s a Jewish and Palestinian organisation?’ I ask her.
‘It’s so important,’ she said. ‘I’ve felt racism before and it’s ugly, the feelings are so ugly. And to be part of a group that is Jewish and Arab – and they smile at you – it’s so simple, a smile is so simple, but has a lot of meanings.’
Yusuf Diab, a student at Haifa University, is a volunteer tutor with the group from Tamra; an Arab town in Northern Israel which I’d visited the week before.
‘I like to be in places like this. To help other people,’ he said. ‘We can’t divide this world to make it women have their own things to do and men have better rights. I always love justice in the world, and I want to work to have justice in this world.’
Another young student, Rosalya, lives near Talpiot, Jerusalem and studies at the Hebrew University. She heard about Mahapach through their scholarship scheme, ‘but more than that I’m very interested in youth movements,’ she said. ‘I’d like to have the tools to change. To have some other people’s thoughts, to know how they think, and why.’
One of the places I hadn’t visited was Maghar – a mainly Druze town in Northern Israel – and I finally get a chance to talk to the women from there. Zakia Suwad tells me that Mahapach-Taghir changed her life in so many ways.
‘All the time I wanted a place to talk about my feelings but I didn’t have this place,’ she said. ‘And Mahapach gave me the place to go and find and discover myself.’ Her friend, Raja Fawaz, adds that she went back to study after she became involved with Mahapach. ‘I feel this change,’ she tells me emphatically.
Everyone’s getting up to go to the workshops, and I join in with one by the coordinator of the Maghar group, Heleay Asakleh, and Nurit translates for me. After some initial discussion, Heleay suggests we play a game with simple rules. We all stand in a line and are given a character on a piece of paper; maybe an Arab doctor or Jewish single parent – I’m given Bedouin woman – and when Heleay reads a statement, if it applies to you, you move forward one step. Statements like; ‘you can go to college’ or ‘you can buy land.’ To almost everything Nurit shakes her head, ‘you can’t,’ she said. Another woman was in a similar place at the start of the line. ‘I’m a Sudanese refugee,’ she shouts over to me.
Then we all went back inside, and everyone shared how they thought their character could progress. Many weren’t sure.
‘In this game maybe you don’t know if you can do the steps or not,’ Nurit keeps translating for me, ‘Because you don’t know those societies.’
The discussion became more and more heated.
‘They argue about the options of the Bedouin,’ Nurit said. ‘And as you can see, no-one is Bedouin here.’
Especially about the Bedouin, nobody seems to really know.
I don’t know myself, and only later come across Bedouin women such as Amal Abu Alkhom of Bedouin Women For Themselves – or Naima Alzbede who works to encourage Bedouin women towards financial independence and community volunteering.
Nurit notes that maybe this is something Mahapach-Taghir should be considering; working with Bedouin women.
‘Also when we argue about the options of the Bedouin,’ she said. ‘We need to remember that sometimes the government gives you options, but they’re not good options – because in the Negev the government is trying to concentrate all the Bedouin in just a few towns…and leave their traditional way of life.’
We meet Fida who’d been watching the game, and she tells me it’s the first time Heleay has given a workshop like this. ‘For me, just to see Heleay in this process, in this year – it’s amazing,’ she said. ‘If everybody gets the same opportunity, we all can do things.’
As the conference starts to wind down, I’ve time for one last interview before the music starts for the night. Angela Sorowicz is part of the group from the Nazareth Illit. (a city renamed in 2019 as Nof HaGalil – View Of The Galilee) and she tells me within their group there are a lot of Arabic speaking Jewish women who came as refugees from Iraq, Yemen, Morocco and other Arab countries a couple of generations ago. They made contact with the Palestinian group in Yafa, Nazareth through Mahapach, she tells me.
‘And after the meeting the women are still connected… – they became friends between themselves, without Mahapach,’ she said. ‘I learn from Mahapach how all the people from the groups can be together in a good atmosphere. Here it’s so nice to be together, and I’m sad that when we go out from here, it’s not happening in the reality space.’
I’m still trying to gauge the general political situation here at the moment and ask her if she thinks things are getting better or worse. She pauses.
‘I very much hope that it will be better,’ she said quietly, looking at her sons.
‘I want to believe it will be better.’
Learn more about Bairbre’s project here.