GATHER Alumnus Jamal Alkirnawi Honored as Torch Lighter

GATHER Alumnus Jamal Alkirnawi, CEO of a New Dawn in the Desert, a Bedouin-Jewish organization in Rahat, Israel, was recently named as one of 12 prominent people in the Negev Desert, a sparsely populated, but culturally diverse and vibrant region of southern Israel. Along with an actor, an oncologist, a choreographer and others, Jamal was honored in a feature story by the Yediot Aharonot’s Be’er Sheva edition as a person who deserves to light a torch on Israel’s Independence Day. Every year, twelve prominent Israelis are assigned to be part of a national torch-lighting ceremony, and the newspaper’s nominations for prospective torch-lighters have won significant attention in the Negev and beyond.

In an interview, Jamal said he appreciated the newspaper’s recognition on multiple levels, as a Bedouin and as a resident of a region beset by poverty and attendant issues, but most of all as someone who has striven to forge links with Jewish Israelis. Bedouin are an Arab, mostly Muslim community with a nomadic heritage who make up a quarter of the residents in the Negev, and Jamal’s organization is based in Rahat, a town composed of settled Bedouin families. Like other Arab citizens of Israel, Bedouin face frequent discrimination in education and employment, and Jamal said the show of support from the national newspaper chain was particularly meaningful to his work demonstrating the important role his community is playing in the national scene.

[quote]It’s good that it shows that in the periphery of Israel, there are a lot of people who working to make Israel a better place to live. -- Jamal Alkirnawi[/quote]

Jamal continued, “I feel myself very much Israeli. I can’t be anything else, but I sincerely hope that my work will contribute to the whole of Israeli society.”

A New Dawn for the Negev offers a range of educational, development and exchange programs for youths as well as adults, but concentrates its efforts on those with the toughest challenges, including families in crisis and youths who have dropped out of school. In this regard, Jamal said the recognition for New Dawn’s efforts will also be encouraging to those he works with.

“They don’t always feel the state is there for them,” Jamal explained.

Jamal said the article has already led to an interview with channel I-24 and hundreds of congratulatory e-mails and phone calls.

“I have always worked for the opportunity to lead our young people to a better place in society, and my dream is the full integration of Bedouin society into Israeli society and to completely break the expectations of people who claim that it is impossible,” Jamal told the newspaper.

[quote]I am working for mutual responsibility, mutual respect. That's what I've been doing for years and that's what I'll continue to do.[/quote]