The Mandel program for local leadership in Beer Sheva undertook its second field trip of the year at the end of May, as part of its studies in “leadership and context.” This time, the trip centered on the Bedouin society in the Negev and on Yeruham, home to two of the program’s participants.
The tour began in Zarnuk, a village of the Abu Qwaider tribe, led by Jilal Abu Qwaider, a participant in cohort 2 of the Mandel local leadership program in Rahat. The visit to the village began at the Neve Midbar (“Desert Oasis”) experimental school, with a meeting with principal Hatem Abu Qwaider and his staff. The tour of the school included the dialogue tent, the ecological hothouse, the meteorology center and the library. The participants chatted with students and even danced with them during a physical fitness class.
From there, the group travelled to Ar’ara to visit the local academic college, founded and directed by Atef (Rafi) Masa’ed, a graduate of cohort 1 of the Mandel program for local leadership in Rahat. Atef presented the goals of the college and its development, and emphasized its importance in light of the high levels of unemployment and school dropout in Negev Bedouin society, particularly in Ar’ara. “It’s like the state threw us into the sea,” he said, “and the question is when we’ll be able to drag ourselves out and what condition we’ll be in.” These words led to a discussion on the responsibility for the current situation and for changing it: Is it really the responsibility of the state? And is it possible to bring about change within such a traditional society? The group left for Yeruham with many questions.
In Yeruham, the group was fed by Shula Knafo, a member of the Women Cooks of Yeruham group, organized by the Atid Bamidbar nonprofit. Over lunch, Shula talked about her life and about her role in the project. Next the group was taken on a tour of the town by Yeruham Mayor Michael Biton, who spoke about his plans for the town and about the challenges it faces.
During a closing discussion held at the recently-opened “Quality Time” café in Yeruham, the participants gave voice to some of their initial insights from their interactions with Bedouin society in the Negev, and in particular spoke of a sense of paralysis they felt in response. One of the participants summed up the day with a question: “Does a leader have to be able and willing to wield force?”