2022 Featured Activists: FIDA NARA TABONY
Meet Fida Nara Tabony, Director of Shatil, NIF’s Action Arm, in Haifa (read Part One of the profile here)
Fida’s days are split between working in the Shatil Haifa office and being in the field, which she loves. When asked what her work day looks like, Fida smiles.
“There’s never a dull moment,” she says. “I get many requests for connections, I consult to a lot to organizations, there are many Shatil projects in the North that require attention. There are always requests from Shatil staff – ‘do you know an Arabic-speaker who works on women, on racism, on the environment?’
“I like the questions from outside best,” Fida says. “As someone once said to me, ‘Shatil is the nerve center of civil society in Israel.’ The air is electric with exchanges of information and resources.”
What does Fida’s typical day look like?
“Today started with a conversation with someone from the Geneva Initiative who was looking for lecturers,” Fida says. “Then a regular Shatil management meeting. Then a meeting of the Coalition of Women against Weapons, which I established. Then team meetings, followed by a meeting about a new leadership course we’re developing. After this, I’m going to meet an Arab man who wants my advice about donating to Arab society. And then I’m going to a celebration of 40 years of an NGO in Haifa.
“I connect people. A woman who wants to do something about the occupation spoke to me, as did a man with the same desire. Tomorrow, I’m bringing them together with the two founders of Breaking the Silence so we can think together about what kind of Palestinian organization we can establish to fight the occupation.
“Training and sharing knowledge are important parts of our work. Friday, I was in a leadership training and next week, we’re starting a training for new Palestinian-Israeli NGO directors.”
Shatil North, which Fida runs, works with 70 NGOs a year and this year, 115 people participated in its trainings and more than 300 people took part in seminars on Haifa as a shared city, civil society’s role in the socio-political crisis in Arab society, working with the government on policy change, and more.
What does the change she is working on look like?
“The Shatil North staff and I are working towards justice and equality between men and women, Arabs and Jews, periphery and center,” Fida says. “We are working towards a society that has equal opportunity for all, that struggles against all types of racism and discrimination, and is rich with cross-sector collaborations and cooperation. One in which we support each other’s struggles and work together toward our goals. For this we need a strong civil society with powerful abilities and connections. That’s what will bring the change and strengthen our democracy.”
Who are her allies and adversaries?
NIFC readers will be happy to hear that Fida says she feels a lot more support than opposition. “When I write about something I’m doing at Shatil, I get a lot of support, encouragement and appreciation from people in my sector: ‘Continue,’ ‘this is important,’ ‘how can I be a part of it?’ Of course, the extreme right-wing opposes what I and we do, but I don’t face them alone.”
Fida says one of the things of which she is most proud is her ability to help people develop, grow, and express their potential. “My ability to see potential and abilities and to open doors for the people with whom I work is important to me and is the way I do social change. I’m also proud of my ability to make people around me work from the heart – to believe in what we’re doing and not to do it just because it’s our job. That’s how I see social change. It’s not a job, it’s a mission.”
She is also proud of bringing many partners together to build power in order to change reality – like the coalition against weapons; networks of young women and men leaders; and the NIFC-supported Shared Society Forum that, since the troubles in May 2021, has been working more closely together.
Fida is proud of two big leadership trainings Shatil organized for Palestinian-Israeli social change leaders who decided to form a more permanent network for growth and collaborations. “There are all kinds of leadership programs in Jewish society but none in Arab society – we’re the first,” she says. “These are the people who in five to 10 years will be the leaders of Palestinian civil society here.”
Fida is full of ideas and plans, which, if she had more resources, she and her “amazing” staff in the Shatil North branch, could bring to fruition. This coming year, she wants to organize a round table in the Triangle (a concentration of Arab towns and villages near the Green Line), where there is a dearth of civil society, about how to develop it there. She wants to train social change leaders about how to appear in the media, how best to describe their work to the public. She wants to take young leaders abroad to learn from models of minority leadership and activism in other countries. The Shared Society Forum she runs has done a lot, she says, but hasn’t yet written its strategy. “I want to take these good, smart people to the Kinneret for three days, to disconnect them from the world and develop and write our vision – what do we want to change in the next 10 years?”
“Just as NIFC’s support serves Shatil, Shatil’s work serves progressives abroad who care about Israel. NIFC and all our friends and supporters need to understand that they need Shatil and our northern branch to build a strong civil society,” she says. “A strong civil society is one that can respond quickly to things that happen like the violence in the mixed cities last May. We were in the media immediately. Just like Shatil is the nerve center of civil society, civil society is the nerve center of Israeli society.”
Written and reported by Ruth Mason.
Photo by Gil Shalem.
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