In her address to the graduating cohort, MCLN director Adi Nir-Sagi read out a poem by Mahmoud Darwish called “Think of the Other.” “We expect the program graduates to make a contribution to society based on a vision of improving the quality of life of all the Negev’s residents, and to show courage and commitment to the cause,” she said. “In doing so, they must give consideration to society as a whole - Bedouin and Jews in the Negev - and take a clear view of the coalition of varied forces and challenges that need changing.”
The mayor of Rahat, Talal al-Krenawi, thanked the Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev for the program. “All of the projects developed by the program graduates are important initiatives. They focus on areas of activity that are not sufficiently dealt with in Bedouin society, and that need attention,” al-Karnawi said, and he promised that the municipality will support and cooperate with graduates on developing and implementing the initiatives.
After the opening speeches, the participants split into 11 different roundtable discussion groups, in which the graduates presented the social initiatives they worked on over the two years of the program, as their personal projects. The full list of these initiatives is as follows:
- Bedouin Women’s Center for education and empowerment in Ar’ara – Yasmin Abu Jama
- Young People’s Parliament – Ibrahim al-Sayed
- Intellectual Salon for Women in Rahat – Du’a al-Ukabi
- Addressing Sexual Harassment in Arab Society – Haned Abu Jaffar
- Center for Preserving Bedouin Heritage – Suliman Abu Sakut
- Social Club for People with Hearing and Speech Disabilities – Salome al-Zbarga
- Employment in Rahat for People with Hearing and Speech Disabilities – Hassan al-Abid
- Netball Team for Girls and Young Women at Risk – Alham al-Zbarga
- Arabic Studies in Jewish Schools – Bilal Ashkir
- Gaining Recognition for the Unrecognized Village of Abu Qwaider – Aref Abu Qwaider
- Competitive Soccer Team to represent Negev Arab Society – Jilal Abu Qwaider
The discussions in the groups were led by the graduates, and participants included professionals in the particular area under discussion from local authorities and other public bodies, experts, and community activists from related fields. The discussions led to a number of important insights, to alternative ideas and to suggestions for collaborations to promote the initiatives.
At the graduation ceremony held afterwards, one of the graduating participants, Haned Abu Jaffar, gave thanks to the program directors. “Each of us is a different kind of leader. What we all have in common is the desire to change and improve the Negev and to contribute to our communities,” she said, going on to thank Mandel Foundation chairman Morton Mandel. “Mr. Mandel, we want to express our thanks and appreciation for your contribution and your investment in us. Please be assured that you have invested in the right people in the right place. With initiatives like yours, there is no doubt that we will achieve a significant improvement of the Negev.”
The program directors also addressed the audience. “Leaders in Arab towns are characterized by a committed connection to place, driven by the belief that, in spite of the daily political and social challenges they face, they must work for a better reality,” said Dr. Safa Abu-Rabia. “Not because they have no option, but because they consciously choose faith and hope. This group studied its history and identity, as local people and as local leaders. Its real challenge was to create an open and critical internal debate based on the participants’ unflinching and uncompromising willingness to examine themselves, proudly, using critical tools, and to connect their discussion with their activities in the field.”
Co-director of the program Dr. Itzhak (Kiki) Aharonovich: “The process that the graduates have been through has invited them to look differently at reality - to examine it, to assess their own opinions and to weigh anew their values and the price they are willing to pay to uphold them. They have had the opportunity to hone their world-views and to ground them solidly.”
MCLN faculty member Kassim Alsraiha acted as master of ceremonies. The ceremony, which was held on June 10, concluded with the presentation of certificates to the new graduates and with a celebratory dinner.