A New Dawn in the Negev Wants a Better Future for Bedouins

The organization works to connect the Bedouin and Jewish communities that live in Israel’s Negev Desert and form new relationships that break through social barriers.


At-risk Bedouin kids from A New Dawn taking part in Good Deeds Day

At-risk Bedouin kids from A New Dawn taking part in Good Deeds Day (Courtesy of A New Dawn)

A New Dawn for the Negev is a grassroots Bedouin – Jewish community-based organization that works to unite the residents of the Negev Desert in Southern Israel.

The organization's founder Jamal Alkirnawi believes that actively connecting the Bedouin and Jewish communities that live in the Negev allows new relationships to break through social barriers and that cooperation and joint projects can improve life in the Negev for all people.

Alkirnawi, a Bedouin social worker who worked for Ben Gurion University in Beersheba as an academic counselor for Arab students, saw that the Bedouin students were often at a disadvantage having grown up in poverty and in a traditional culture. These students often experienced culture shock when they entered the Hebrew speaking university. Alkirnawi, who grew up in Rahat, one of the seven Bedouin townships in the Negev, understood their difficulties first hand.

Rahat was established in 1972 and is now considered a city. Many of its residents are transitioning from a nomadic existence to a permanent residence and that comes with a host of social, educational, and economic issues. The Bedouin community has a 35 percent high school dropout rate and is the lowest socioeconomic class in Israeli society. Transitions are difficult.

Alkirnawi established New Dawn in the Negev to empower Bedouin youth to develop intercultural skills by offering classes in Hebrew, English, technology, and music, and by providing opportunities for the youth to meet people and cultures that are different from their own through international youth exchanges. The organization also provides a safe space for youth at its youth center.

At the same time, the organization is working to make the rich Bedouin culture accessible to a new generation of youth in Rahat so that they can appreciate their roots. According to the organization, "A New Dawn documents and shares traditional cultural practices that, for generations, have represented the essence of Bedouin life."

A new Dawn runs many excellent programs and here are three of its most successful:

Secure Future for Youth

New Dawn has had lots of success in working with at-risk youth who have dropped out of school in its Secure Future for Youth program. The program works with 50 teens at a time for a total of 200 per year in separate classes for boys and girls. Secure Future for Youth takes a holistic approach and works to strengthen the teens' self-confidence, decision-making, and communication skills, and provides much needed vocational assistance for successful integration into the Israeli workforce.

The teens receive one-on-one mentoring by volunteers and small group learning in English and Hebrew, including a Hebrew for Business course so that they can improve their Hebrew enough to use it in the workplace.

The vocational training includes digital marketing, computers, and building Arabic websites - skills that are badly needed in the country. A new website building class will be taught by WIX, an industry leader in online codeless website building. The graduates of this program will develop a social business that will be hosted at New Dawn's youth center.

The program also has parent workshops to give the parents the necessary tools to support their children emotionally and educationally.

The teens have the chance to take part in extracurricular sports to increase positive self-images, help develop leadership skills, and motivate youth to be successful. Volunteering in the community for things like neighborhood clean-ups on Good Deeds Day is also encouraged.

This program has a 70 percent success rate with graduates getting jobs or going on to higher education, according to Alkirnawi.

(Courtesy of A New Dawn)

Sarab: Strings of Change

This is one of A New Dawn's most successful projects. Sarab, meaning Oasis in Arabic, provides quality music education, starting with elementary school students in 1st through 4th grade from two Rahat schools to promote creativity and an appreciation of the arts. Children who learn music are taught valuable skills like thinking and language skills that will enable them to do better in school and in life.

The program began in 2015 and is headed by Omer Meir Wellber, a well-known conductor and composer and the music director of the Raanana Symphony Orchestra. For some students, this was the first time they were taught by a Jewish teacher.

By the second year, 67 children participated in Sarab, and they competed in a Negev-wide youth ensemble at the Beersheba Conservatory. In 2018, Sarab included over 200 students and this year, with increased funding, 400 students. Twenty of the most successful students are able to continue their musical studies at the Conservatory every year.

New Dawn supports these budding musicians by providing each student with a musical instrument, subsidized private lessons, and transportation to and from their classes. "Music can be the start of a different, better life for the Bedouin community, and a new basis for establishing fruitful cooperation and communication between the Bedouin and the Jewish communities," the organization says.

(Courtesy of A New Dawn)

We, Them and I

This project brings together Bedouin, Jewish, and German youth in an exchange program. The project began in 2014 and the fifth delegation of German youth in the 10th and 11th grades from Stuttgart, Germany just recently visited.

The purpose of the program titled "We, Them and I," is used to build bridges to learn acceptance of other cultures and exploring identity in a multicultural society. Bringing these young people together helps to change prejudices.

The German delegation (10 youth and 4 adults) stayed with families in the Bedouin village of Abu-Talul and the Jewish Lehavim local council. The teens learned about Bedouin, Jewish, and Israeli culture. They traveled to Jerusalem and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and the Western Wall. They also spent time at the Eshel Hanasi High School in Beersheba, where they produced a radio program.

The teens also discussed the serious issues related to the polarization of Bedouins and Jews, unrecognized Bedouin settlements and land claims, as well as the overall political situation in the Negev.

"It is exciting for me to see how young people cope with the complex reality of the Bedouin society that not everyone knows. Conversely, how these young people, together with the German youth, discover a culture that is foreign to them and thus shape the future. Our program provides an empowering experience in which thinking and perception are undermined and changes processes. For us, empathy is the ultimate goal," said Alkirnawi.

The program was funded by the German EVZ Foundation, by Friendship Across Borders (FAB), a German non-governmental organization, and A New Dawn. A delegation of Israeli Bedouin and Jewish youth will go to Germany in March 2019.

(Courtesy of A New Dawn)