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The Arab-Jewish Gap Year

Building foundations for advancement and bridges of understanding between Bedouin Arabs and Jews in the Negev region of Israel.

Photo of Ephraim Shimoni
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

The Bedouin Arab of Israel's southern Negev desert region have been forced, since the establishment of the state of Israel, to abandon their ancient semi-nomadic lifestyles and contend with a policy of forced settlement into sedentary towns and villages. Many live in unrecognized villages with little access to essential services. These villages have been and continue to be subject to demolition. The Jewish population of the Negev lives in close proximity with their Bedouin neighbors. Beyond incidental and casual daily contact there is a large disconnect between both communities. Bedouin and Jewish you attend separate schools and rarely interact in a social setting. Nothing illustrated the disparate experiences that color the Bedouin/Jewish communities in the Negev more than what happens after high school graduation. Jewish youth throughout the country will either join the Army right away to fulfill obligatory service and Bedouin youth who are not subject to the draft will look for work. Thereafter there is hardly any opportunity for both groups to interact in any meaningful way. The Arab-Jewish Gap year, an initiative created by AJEEC-NISPED, the largest nonprofit in the Negev region that was created by local activists from the Bedouin community in partnership with Jewish activists, brings together Jewish and Bedouin for a year upon their graduation from high school. Bedouin and Jewish high school graduates from many municipalities are brought together and trained to be volunteers at elementary schools in both communities. This addresses a critical area wherein Bedouin and Jewish youth receive valuable exposure to both communities. The volunteers weekly training sessions and platforms through which they can educate each other on the issues important to their communities and builds crucial bridges of understanding that will ultimately create the platform for shared action and support for the struggles of Bedouin community.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The Bedouin Arab of Israel's southern Negev desert region has been forced, since the establishment of the state of Israel, to abandon their ancient semi-nomadic lifestyles and contend with a policy of forced settlement into sedentary towns and villages. Numbering some 250,000 people, they represent one-third of the population of the Negev. The Bedouin suffer from high unemployment, 85% for women and 30% percent for men and a low high school graduation rate of 10%.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Creating relationships between young Bedouins and their Jewish neighborhoods provides critical relationship and a bridge into each other's worlds where none had previously exist. The Bedouin community, which exists on the fringes of society, lack the resources and connections that are crucial to publicize their predicaments and in essence make their struggle the struggle of society at large. The Arab-Jewish Gap year means to build a real bridge of understanding where no has existed before.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Education is widely recognized as a crucial avenue to success. The Bedouin community, despite its challenges, works very hard to take advantage of any available opportunity to advance themselves and in the face of daunting challenges persist in their desires to move beyond mere existence and survival. Bedouins are counted among the medical, education, engineering, legal and other advanced institutions that exist in the Negev; however, these opportunities are extremely difficult to access for the plurality of the society and most especially for those living in the unrecognized villages. We are aiming to create an expansive network of Bedouin and Jewish high school graduates who volunteer in Bedouin elementary schools provide essential elements that garner inspiration among the community at large that such success is achievable.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

The stark gulf that exists both materially and culturally between the Bedouin and Jewish communities in the Negev serves to conceal the national disaster that has and continues to exist. As with all displaced people, the Bedouin exist at the edge of society, barely acknowledged and hardly considered. There is hardly a mention of their plight in the national media and their struggles barely registered among the maelstrom of conflict in the region. Above all, the Bedouin community wants their plight publicized, understood and dealt with among all levels of Israeli society. The Arab-Jewish Gap year provided an essential element through the establishment of a critical mass of society that understands the Bedouin predicament and can work towards a solution based on mutual understanding, not stagnancy based on ignorance. The growing network of alumni, participants and partners in the communities have already attested to the success and utility of the program.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Be'er Sheva is considered to be the"capital" of Israel's southern Negev desert region. During the last few decades, it has been transformed from a sleepy backwater barely recognized by the privileged majority living in the confines of Tel-Aviv and its prosperous coastal satellites and suburbs. With the implementation of a dedicated development plan which included the construction of high-tech parks, residential areas and the expansion of Ben Gurion University and its affiliated Soroka Hospital; the city has come to rival the rest of the country. All this growth and development afforded to by in large the Jewish inhabitants of the city and of the Negev occurred at the expense of Bedouin communities. The stark differences that characterize the modern predominately Jewish municipalities of the Negev and the barely livable Bedouin villages that exist in their midst belie the desperate need for meaningful connections between the communities.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

The Bedouin community is spread throughout the Negev desert in towns and villages half of which are not recognized by the state of Israel. Bedouins who live in recognized towns and villages do have access to essential services but in a number and quality significantly inferior compared to those in Jewish majority municipalities. Approximately half the Bedouin population of the Negev lives in unrecognized towns and villages. They suffer a lack of basic services ubiquitous in a modern state like Israel. Running water, electricity, educational institutions and indeed any form of urban infrastructure is nearly nonexistent. They travel on dangerous dirt paths and over great distances to access services they need. At its core, the Bedouin community is a deeply religious, rigidly patriarchal and an extended family or clan-based society. Understanding these challenges and placing them at the forefront of national discussion an understanding is an essential overarching goal of our program.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

The Bedouin community is made up of a large group of interrelated clans or extended families. They share an ancient and abiding culture based on faith, shared communal responsibility and support. They are famous the world over for their outstanding hospitality. It is no cliche to say that the general rule is that it is easy to forge a relationship with the Bedouin community and once gained nearly impossible to lose. Understanding the cultural and religious imperatives that are crucial to the community and establishing a relationship built on respect of these ideals provides an avenue through which building relationships between Jews and Bedouins in not only possible but indeed highly likely. When Jewish participants merely interact with their Bedouin partners and engage with them in joint training sessions; and with Bedouin students in their elementary schools, they have already passed a crucial milestone through which a genuine and mutually beneficial relationship can be established.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

AJEEC-NISPED, at its very core and makeup, is an organization of Jews and Bedouins working as equal partners on every level in the organization. We have created and continue to maintain crucial partnerships with representatives of every level of Jewish and Bedouin civil society. We recruit our Bedouin participants from among Bedouin high schools in the Negev and with whom we have worked since the program was first launched in 2002. We have partners and stakeholders among the towns and villages of the Negev including but not limited to; municipal and religious leaders, educators, professionals, lay leaders, and activists. Our Jewish participants are referred to us through the auspices of the Israel Scout Movement; which has a large membership of Jewish youth throughout the country. As we expand our program throughout the Negev we hope to extend our partners include Bedouin participants in as many municipalities as possible.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Majority Adoption: We have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base (i.e. 50% to 83% of the target population or 50,000 to 1,000,000 users).

Group or Organization Name


Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Founded in 1998, AJEEC-NISPED (Arab-Jewish Center for Equality Empowerment and Cooperation – Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development) is a non-profit organization of Jews and Arabs, based in Beersheva, Israel. Programs, in areas including economic development, social enterprises, volunteerism, early childhood education, health, and Jewish-Arab partnership, aim to be holistic, empowering, and culturally competent. The nearly 200 full-time employees at the organization and related social business, including 80% from the Negev Bedouin community, and over 1,300 youth volunteers work on a variety of programs to promote socio-economic development in the Negev and beyond. The organization is divided into six departments. Four are dedicated to specific thematic areas and primarily but not exclusively work with the Negev: health and environment; the Arab Volunteer Center ("the Tent"), early childhood and economic development.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State

Be'er Sheva

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Sevde Şengün

Hi @Ephraim Shimoni great to have your idea on the platform for the challenge. As the ideas phase comes to an end within few hours, we would encourage you to again have a last look at the evaluation criteria here:
Also, it will be exciting for your to check out other ideas on the platform, provide some feedback and explore potential areas of collaboration with them!