Building a state together

If all goes according to plan, some 20 young Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians from the West Bank will arrive in California in January to intern and network at American companies.

The University of Haifa MBA students will spend two weeks in either San Francisco or Los Angeles courtesy of “Building Business Bridges,” one of several initiatives of Israel’s Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development.

Started 15 years ago, the Herzliyah-based organization believes the road to peace is paved by economic development.

“All of us Israelis believe that there’s only one way: living together and creating a future together and building Israel as a state together, or that’s it — we destroy it together. There’s no other way,” said Helmi Kittani, the Israeli Arab founder and co-director of CJAED.

Kittani was in San Francisco with his Jewish counterpart, co-director Ze’ev Jasper, to meet existing supporters as well as potential new ones.

Funded almost entirely by foreign individuals and foundations, CJAED — at — has a tough message to sell these days, yet it enjoys substantial support from a number of Bay Area Jews. But as the only fully integrated Jewish-Arab organization in Israel, it has a staff that strongly believes more Arabs working side-by-side with Israelis in the work place will only benefit everyone.

“We see this integration as critical to the future of Israel,” said Jasper, speaking of the state’s Arab citizens. “You cannot leave 20 percent of the population outside of the decision-making process and economic life, and expect quiet in the long term.”

CJAED is involved in a number of initiatives to do exactly that. One is improving the lives of Israel’s Bedouin population.

Half the entire Bedouin population of the Negev is living in “unrecognized” villages, making it like “a Third World country,” said Jasper. Villages unrecognized by the government receive no services: water, electricity or garbage collection.

According to Jasper, the government is aware of this discriminatory practice, but it’s slow to change.

“The Bedouins see what’s going on 1 kilometer from their town,” said Jasper. In some cases, a Jewish family lives on an isolated farm, “and of course they get everything, even though it costs the state millions. We cannot bear this situation. Every year that passes, it gets worse, and the Bedouins get more radical, poorer and more unhappy.”

The organization also has a women’s division that offers business courses and networking opportunities to Arab women. A handful of Arab-Jewish partnerships have resulted, as well as a successful Arab women’s pickle collective.

CJAED’s largest project is New Generation Technology. Located in Nazareth, in the Galilee, it’s the only such incubator in the Arab sector in Israel. Noting that it began in 2002, two years after the events of October 2000 — when 13 Israeli Arabs protesting the intifada were killed by Israeli police — Kittani said what makes the program remarkable is that both Arabs and Jews had invested millions of dollars in it.

CJAED has also been working with the government to create joint industrial zones. “These are good for the economy, good for the relationship between the two communities and good for the environment to have fewer zones in the cities,” said Jasper.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."