On behalf of SDC’s staff and Board of Trustees, I am writing this letter to close one of the most intense and tumultuous years of our era, year 2020. Let’s face it, 2020 has been a stressful year for all humanity. As a civil society organization, we were put to the test of what we really were capable of in times of hardship and uncertainty. Our staff has been stretched in capacities, responsibilities and simply managing chaos. During the year we experienced the full pendulum from exhaustion, high anxiety, great sadness, to joy and reassurance. What a year it has been! Now as we are closing the book on 2020, it is remarkable to consider just how many challenges we’ve faced over the past year and yet; how many blessings we found in stories of success; working together with teachers, students, civic groups, children and elderlies and quickly responding and helping them deal with the “new life order”.
2020 was not only challenging but also sensible in reminding us of our reality and the difficult state of most our beneficiaries which intensified by the pandemic that brought social equity to the fore. Inequalities and insufficient services to the Arab community in Haifa continued to be an issue. Working on our projects in 2020 has been rough, and I just wanted to acknowledge that. We had to creatively adjust many of our plans to accommodate immediate needs triggered by the pandemic. Needs that required modifications of our priorities and in sometimes alteration of approaches. People needed not only technical knowledge on use of electronic platforms, computers at home, internet capacity but also, they expressed clear needs for psychosocial support, coping, reassurance and resilience skills.
Nonetheless, while 2020 carried to us many bad news it is fair to recognize in this letter that good things have also happened. For the SDC it is the year during which we articulated and wrote our Theory of Change, developed a three-year strategy and identified the SDC’s four-pathways of change that became our core programs until 2023. It is also the year in which we invested in our organizational capacity building and restructuring, had some joy in focusing inward– taking a breath, taking stock. As the executive director of the SDC I am incredibly grateful and struck by the fact that 2020 gave us many good things at the personal and professional levels, and has made the SDC a better organization in many tangible ways. With deep appreciation for our staff team– which is by far the most important part of our organization – the SDC is poised for significant growth and impact in the years ahead which reinforces our passion, energy and commitment for continued progress in the upcoming fifth decade of our organization.
In close, I want to thank all of you. Our funders, sponsors, partners and communities, thank you. Your investment and your commitment to SDC’s mission is highly appreciated. Our progress depends entirely on your faith in our abilities and your generosity of spirit and resource. From the bottom of my heart, on behalf of the entire organization, thank you. To all of you and your families, I wish you a healthy and prosperous 2021.
To celebrate and commemorate women and mothers as part of international women’s day, The Social Development Committee organized an annual mixed activity event in late March of 2019 for a third year in a row, this time celebrating women’s health, ambition, and self-love. The attendees gathered by the beach side and were given shirts sporting the event’s motto “Change Begins with a Step”, afterwards the 70 Arab women from the ages of 20 to 70 walked as group for five kilometers along the shore.
After the stroll commenced, the attendees had breakfast in union at “Mazat” Restaurant where speeches were given by members of the SDC and then by a member of the city hall of Haifa.
The speeches were followed by a beautiful musical performance that garnered the amazement of those present. The event was finalized by a lecture from a female Arab athlete “Alfat Heidar” from Haifa, in which she talked about her tough yet empowering journey through the field of athletics.
It is important to note that this event’s purpose was to highlight a woman’s importance in creating change and that a woman must know her worth to herself, her family and to society in order to create a better future.
The Social Development Committee organized a speech-giving contest “The Little Orator” in the Arabic language between the students of Haifa for a second year in a row in April of 2019. The Arabic language in Israel has a very low status and has been heavily marginalized by the government despite the fact that it is, besides Hebrew, widely spoken throughout the country and it is considered to be an official language.
The contest’s purpose is to celebrate the Arabic language in its poetic and artistic form by having student’s ranging from different ages throughout the schools of Haifa give speeches in an abundance of topics such as the power of words, cyberbullying, preservation of the environment and wild habitats, the effect of advertisements on the public viewer and much more. The contestants were tested on their skill of speech writing (as it had to be in formal Arabic), their utilization of time (they were given four minutes only to present their speech) and last but not least their presence on stage as to whether they can maintain the audience’s attention and get their message to be understood.
The contest had 19 participants form seven different schools. Ages ranged from 5th grade until 10th grade, and the participants were presented in three different levels; elementary, middle, and high school. After the final speech was given the emcee expressed gratitude to the participating schools and their Arabic teachers, as well as the four judges. A beautiful musical performance ensued while the judges chose the winners of the first, second and third place of the three different levels. Afterwards the awards were given to students who gave amazing speeches in a plethora of interesting topics and dozens of pictures were taken, people called it a night, and thus the Arabic language reigned victorious.
The Social Development Committee held its annual assembly on June 26th, 2018 in The Colony Hotel in Haifa, in which all board-members and administrators participated. The chairman of the board, Mr. Johny Mansour, opened the meeting with a word of welcome during which he praised the effort of the staff in the continuation of their work, which was based on the vision of the Committee’s founder, the late Mr. Hussein Ighbaria.
In turn, Jumana Ighbaria Haman, lawyer and director of The Social Development Committee, then continued with presenting about the committees projects and efforts of the past year, showcasing it’s’ collaboration with schools and various other institutions in executing many workshops on different issues for both students and teachers.
The meeting also dedicated time to review the past year’s financial report, presented by the Committee’s auditor Sharbel Khreish along with the treasurer of the SDC, Eyad Salaimi.
Both expressed the need to utilize the committee’s funds to their full extent, in order to aid future workshops and programs.
Financial and narrative reports were then approved on by the board by vote.
At the end of the meeting, the next attendees renewed their membership of the administrative board: Johny Mansour, Muhammad Myari, lawyer Sana’a Sarya, activists Rehab Bashtawi, Amima Gheshi, Yasmeen Matar, Ali Tatour, and engineers Khalid Mahamid and Lisa Gharzouzi, teacher Fahem Dakar, and previous municipal member and engineer Hisham Abdu, in addition to the auditors and treasurers Sharbel Khreish and Iyad Salaimi.
Within the framework of the “Safe Community” project the SDC implements activities every year, which aim to make people aware of their civil rights. One of these projects is the commemoration of International Children’s Day, during which the SDC works with Arab schools in Haifa, to provide children information about their rights in a playful way.
The participating schools included Carmel School, Saint John’s School, the Italian School, Sisters of Nazareth, Ahmadyya School and Saint John’s kindergarten.
One of the activities was reading stories based on key values of tolerance, solidarity, kindness, Puppet Theater and music, to display all about Children and their rights.
The second activity was the distribution of an activity book “Me and My Rights”, which included fun activities and coloring pages and stickers, which were all about the rights children are entitled to along with each page such as the right to housing, the right to security and so on.
The books were meant to convey the same message to children and to mature their knowledge of the subject in a simplified and fun manner, but nonetheless displayed the actual rights for their welfare and protection.
According to Faihaa Awad, director of educational projects as such at The Social Development Committee: “We maintained within the ‘Safe Community’ project activities focus on the ideology of accepting others by way of stories, to help children take in the true meaning and the message behind it using theater, body language, and visual interpretation. Stories are of utmost importance to children, for it passes on values and principles, and flourishes a child’s personality, as the child encases themselves in the story and takes on the role of the hero, it frees them of reality and extents of the world in which they live. We’ve gotten positive feedback from students and teachers, and feedback on the significance of such programs and the future possibility of more.”
We would like to extend our thanks and appreciation to all the school administrators and program coordinators for their cooperation, and to the shareholders for the “Me and My Rights” prints, in sponsorship with A.S.E Engineering under the management of Amir Eissawi and G.U.Y Computers director Anis Ghantoos
The Arab community in Haifa is part of Haifa, and its citizens are citizens of Haifa, but they are not able to take advantage of its facilities and resources which is injustice. Therefore we consider the municipal elections in Haifa as an opportunity to stand up against this injustice experienced by the majority of the Arab community. The Arab community is entitled to be a part of the city, to express their identity and opinions, in addition to acquire full municipal services, equal public resources, and being a part of the livelihood of the city and the resources it provides its inhabitants.
These rights are ones we’re entitled to, they are not privileges. We aim to obtain our personal and social rights via the elections.
During several meetings and gatherings since December 2017 with activists and community members, the SDC made a list of demands which will be presented to mayoral candidates who will participate in the local elections on the 30 of October 2018.
The list has been composed according the challenges and needs of the Arab community in Haifa after discussions during these meetings with all stakeholders and using the experiences of the SDC who is facing the challenges the community has on a daily base. It will be used as a tool to make all mayoral candidates aware of the challenges of our community, so that can no longer neglect the Arab community and take into account the needs and rights of this community.
The list is divided into different types of demands and answers the several challenges the Arab community face such as:
Demands for Citizen rights
The right to fair distribution and equal services for all groups based on equality as Haifa is a shared city for all communities and groups, and not, as it is nowadays, less budgets and services in the Arab communities.
The rights to express their own culture, identity and language which must be respected by the local institutions.
The right to organize our own organizations, associations and institutions that present our community not only as civilians and people, but also as an official ethnic group. The municipality must recognize this right and treat it with respect and not use discriminatory and unfair policies.
The Arab community in Haifa consists of some 33,000 residents, some 12% of the total population of Haifa. Most of those individuals reside in ten neighborhoods. These traditionally Arab areas suffer from severe neglect including insufficient infrastructure, poorly maintained housing and restrictions on property ownership. Most housing is administered by government housing companies such as Amidar; Amidar is responsible for maintenance and renovations however they often fail to fulfill their legal obligations. This results in substandard living conditions for many of Haifa’s Arab residents. For many reasons, including challenges in obtaining financing from banks, many Arab citizens are virtually pushed out of the housing market. Simultaneously, many of these old and historic neighborhoods are slated for re-development and gentrification by the Haifa municipality making housing prices prohibitively expensive for the traditionally Arab residents of these areas.
The right of information. The Arab community demands that the municipality will informed and include the Arab community in urban planning processes which will have an impact on the life of Arab citizens , so they have a voice in their own future.
We demand the mayoral candidates to create solutions for the severe housing crisis among Arab youngsters by designing construction projects and building service facilities for young Arab couples, which will encourage young couples to stay in the area.
We demand for enabling our community, especially in old neighborhoods, to attain housing payments to renovate apartments in old buildings and to improve the living conditions of the original owners, as well as giving the original owners the ability to seize the property back to ownership from governmental housing companies.
We demand from the municipality to renovate historical buildings and placing them under the management of our community, such as cultural centers and clubs as needed.
We demand building projects which will benefit the old neighborhoods of Haifa, and to open opportunities for more building projects and renovations.
Demands for Equal municipal Budgets:
The Arab community of Haifa is 13 % of the entire population in Haifa. As such they should receive at least 13 % of the municipal budgets to receive services and to improve infrastructure and so on. In reality the budget allocated to the Arab community is about 5 % of the municipal annual budget. This results in almost no services for the Arab senior citizens, hardly any communal Center sufficient for the Arab neighborhoods, underdeveloped public transport and so on.
Therefore our demands are:
Equal allocation of budgets and public services for the Arab community, as is for the Jewish society, in accordance with the idea of a multicultural Haifa
Proper representation of the Arab community, proportional to our population, in municipal roles, decision making positions and from institutions funded by the government/municipality
Granting jobs to Arab workers and providing opportunities to work and be staff members in municipal institutions.
The establishment of new fully funded organizations and community centers in Arab neighborhoods, which goal is to organize projects for the youth which will give them something to do and prevent them for being out in the street and get into trouble.
Demands for Advanced Infrastructure:
Since 1948, no real renovation has been done in the old, historical Arab neighborhoods.
Also since then, the infrastructure such as sewage and water, streets and so on, haven’t been renewed. There are hardly green spaces in the Arab neighborhoods, and many houses are on the verge of collapse.
Budgets from the municipality for renewing and developing old Arab infrastructure in neighborhoods, as well as land networks (sewage and water), streets, stairways and alleys.
Budgets to treat old historical houses as historical monuments and to renovate them, as many of them are collapsing.
Budgets to renew green spaces, such as neglected parks and gardens, continue to maintain them and open them for the public. The available neglected open spaces in the neighborhoods can become new green spaces and/or public parks, so citizens of the Arab neighborhoods have a space to escape the crowdedness of their neighborhoods.
Demands for improved Education:
In Haifa we have some twelve Arab schools, who receive Muslim and Christian students.
We make a difference between governmental schools and private schools.
In Haifa 73% of Arab students in Haifa are enrolled in private Christian schools; opposite 27 % of Arab students are in the governmental schools. The reason for the majority of students go to private schools is because the governmental schools are under budgeted, classes are overcrowded and the education the children receive is not of a high quality. Therefore most of the students go to Christian schools, which are governed by religious institutions such as the Church. But this requires a large financial contribution from the parents. Also the private schools underwent large budget cuts, against which were many protests some years ago.
The Hawar School in Wadi Nisnas demands since years, improvement of their school building as currently it is insufficient and even dangerous to receive their students.
Our demands concerning education are:
Adequate education for our students which is free of charge, improvement of governmental schools, higher budgets.
Providing financial and occupational aid to public schools to raise the educational acquirement of our next generations
Developing the building of The Public School of Hawar in Haifa, expanding its premises and field to accommodate development, and supporting the school especially since it has achieved a lot of success in performance.
The goal of the campaign is to make the voices of our community heard and to be taken notice of, to have the municipality’s attention, and to obtain our legal rights in all matters of education, living conditions, basic public needs, etc..
In October 2018 there will be the local elections in which every village; town and city will elect a new mayor. The SDC is working on a project which aims to make Arab citizens aware of their power during elections, and how they can use their vote to improve their community.
For this “election” project, we will use all our findings of the past such as all data about housing, the situation of the Arab senior citizens, the needs of our marginalized and neglected neighborhoods, and all other challenges the Arab community is facing. Candidates for mayor and political parties will be confronted with these findings, which will be highlighted during several meetings and debates. In June 2018, the SDC launched the campaign “30th Actober” with the emphasis on the need to “Act”.
The campaign includes information, brochures, photo campaigns and videos. Together with participating community members and activists of numerous Arab neighborhoods, two meetings were held in July, for which mayoral candidates Ainat Kalech Rotam and the lawyer David Atsiony attended. They were given a summarized list of the public demands written by the campaign committee.
The candidates were given the chance to display their agendas and work plans on the Arab community’s needs in Haifa. Participants got the opportunity to convey their opinions on the matter afterwards, and inquire about matters that displayed their views, political concepts, and their concern on issues such as the issue of the Al-Midan Theater (which has had it’s budget cut by the municipality), freedom of expression and activism, no Arab representation on decision-making level, inadequate budgets for the Arab neighborhoods and lack of services.
As for the SDC Director, Jumana Ighbaria, she commented on the aforementioned activities saying: “We are entitled to our rights in this city, the place of our nationality and identity, in addition to our right in equal public service and attention from the municipality. The point of these meetings is to shed light on our needs as a minority, to take us into consideration and include us into their work plans. We will continue, in the Social Development Committee, to interact and keep up with our community and activists within this project from various neighborhoods before and after elections to achieve our goal of obtaining the rights we are entitled to. We will also conduct further meetings with the electoral candidates in the coming month, as well as new projects and workshops in said neighborhoods.”
For international Women’s Day this year, the Social Development Committee organized a cultural event; one hundred women came from all of Haifa’s social groups. The women learned of the origin of Palestinian women’s art of celebration and singing, and listened to local rhythms sung by women. The SDC’s Khulud Furani-Sirya held a dialogue with professionals who broke boundaries and challenged themselves and those around them. They included the first female cosmetic surgeon, the founder and principal of a school for arts and creativity, a specialist in child growth who founded a children’s daycare that emphasizes healthy child growth and practices an untraditional curriculum.
Al-Hewar School for Alternative Learning- Art and Creativity is an Arab elementary school in Haifa facing numerous problems. The cause of these problems is shortage of spaces. This is incompatible with the school’s vision, which is to be a school for art and creativity, the first its kind for Arabs in Haifa.
The school is overcrowded, which is causing violence between students. The school is missing essential rooms and facilities such as a library, gym, laboratory, computer room, a school counselor’s room, a physical education hall, and an adequate teacher’s lounge. Al-Hewar school has 293 students and only 2 bathrooms. The school has no emergency exit that is compatible the Israeli Ministry of Education’s standards.
With the intention of adding a classroom a few years back, the municipality placed a trailer on the schoolyard, making the schoolyard ever more tight and crowded. The location of the school also poses a problem: traffic caused by shortage of parking spaces disrupts classes. This also makes the school’s location unsafe for young children who walk to their nearby homes.
The current head of al-Hewar Parents Committee, Professor Mogher Khamaisi, stated in a position paper “The municipality’s procrastination comes at the expense of children and their parents. We refuse to start a new school year with the current conditions… It is inconceivable that a school for Art and Creativity does not have a single art room; teachers are teaching art classes in hallways and staff. We will have to go to court unless the municipality of Haifa attends to our demands.”
In 2013, concerned parents from the school first met with the Mayor of Haifa in order to bring his attention to the situation and request immediate solution. The parents then appointed Mossawa Center to follow the case, who in turn sent letters to officials demanding action. These letters did not accomplish anything other than receiving empty promises without obligation or commitment to follow through.
This is why al-Hewar School Parents Committee, the Social Development Committee, the Organization for Distributive Justice, and the Haifa University Law Clinic-in cooperation with Mossawa Center- are now working hand in hand to find a solution. These organizations sent another letter to the mayor of Haifa and the Israeli Ministry of Education; where they asked both parties to abide the laws and conditions set by the Ministry of Education itself, as al-Hewar school does not enjoy the services it rightfully deserves.
The letter also warned that failing to attend to al-Hewar school’s needs would result in legal action against the neglectful parties.
Samar Qudha, a lawyer from the University of Haifa Legal Clinic, has sent numerous letters over the past few months to the Mayor of Haifa and the Haifa district executive in the Israeli Ministry of Education. In the letters, Qudha requested a solution with its own work plan, deadlines, and budget.
So far, efforts have not been successful; official circles are still neglecting the Arab students of al-Hewar school and are not attending to this pressing matter.