NIF’s action-arm, Shatil, teamed up with NIF globally funded, National Committee for Heads of Arab Local Authorities (NCHALA) to help Palestinian citizens of Israel who run NGOs sharpen their advocacy skills. What they couldn’t have predicted was the incredible network of vital and unique young activists that would arise during training.

The story begins with a Shatil conference in November 2021 for Arab-led NGOs in Israel and shared society organizations called “Opening for Change – Opportunities and Challenges with the new Government and Knesset.” Following the conference, requests from participants for more information spurred Shatil and the NCHALA to run a training on how to advance policy for staff at Arab Israeli NGOs.

The November 2021-July 2022 training exposed 25 participants to the inner workings of local and national government. Through lectures, site visits, and hands-on assignments, participants acquired practical tools and learned new approaches for connecting with decision-makers and influencing policy change. The post-training evaluation feedback that the participants offered was exuberant — 83% of respondents ranked the course content as highly relevant.

Training coordinator Aya Zinatey reports: “There was this incredible thirst among the participants to connect with each other, even though they were geographically diverse, mostly had no prior acquaintance with one and other, and were not even familiar with the other NGOs.”

Participants shared their experiences on what made coming together so significant:

“I got to know influential people from all kinds of platforms, and to talk about issues that interest me, I felt that they wanted to hear me. I saw I could increase my activism and get support from other organizations in order to do so.”

“Regarding an issue that really perturbs me — ineffectual parent-teacher associations in mixed cities — I saw that I wasn’t alone, and that I could and did receive assistance from other course participants, my newly found colleagues.”

“It was really fun to meet people from different backgrounds both geographically and professionally. The connection created between us was special and instructive.”

Meanwhile, as the need for interaction among participants increased, they initiated regular meet-ups themselves, outside of the Shatil-led classes. By the end of the training, group members were making plans to continue to be in touch as a more formal network, guided by Shatil. The first of five planned meetings has already taken place in Lod – for some, it was a first-time visit to the town. In Lod, they met with MK Sami Abu Shehadeh and local Palestinian organizations including Omnia, where they learned that the NGO’s newly established Arabic-language library was about to be shut-down by the municipality due to internal political struggles in the community. Network members started strategizing together to help save the Lod library. They look forward to continuing the mutual support they have given one another, their deepening friendships, and cooperating on future projects with Shatil guidance.

In the words of one participant: “The strength and courage that exists in each and every one of us, encourages us to believe that by connecting and working together a lot can be done. It really is possible.”