Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Choosing the North means limiting your possibilities

I was privileged to meet several inspiring young leaders of the Regional Youth Parliament in Nahariya the other week. 
What I learned from them was astonishing. 
Most of all, I walked away from the meeting feeling that I was looking at the future of the State of Israel, and that future was extremely impressive and remarkably talented.

Sigal, JDC’s coordinator for Social Intervention and Centers for Young Adults, had convened a small group to discuss the issues that young people face in the North.

When you have a situation, for example, in which there's no one in the Knesset representing the Upper Galilee, you see the immediate effects.
You get bad policy and you get government neglect.
Including Haifa and the Galilee there are only 5 (out of 120) Members of the Knesset – and only one Government minister lives north of the Sharon (central area)! What happens, for example, when a badly-needed government grant for first-time home buyers in the North gets cancelled? “It’s a tree that falls in the forest and no one hears it,” they said.

The Youth Parliament is an attempt to make things heard, to help develop young leadership – not so much through demonstrations and noise, but rather through cooperation and advocacy. 
Volunteers like Simone and Einat are part of a round-table of opinions and talent that come together to discuss the four key issues that young people are facing: employment, housing, transportation and (maybe most importantly) “the system” – how to work together, cooperate, share information. And hopefully, down the road, to figure out ways of taking action for the benefit of the region and all its inhabitants.

There’s a huge learning process at work here, which is why the process itself is perhaps even more important than whatever the end-result(s) will be. The North has traditionally been seen as somewhat more apathetic. You trade off some rights for the famous quality of air and quality of living … but more on that in a moment.

The apathy comes together with a high level of cynicism about politics and politicians. 
But all the time people are leaving and there’s a spiral of despair and lack of motivation. You get low wages, there isn’t enough housing, there aren’t enough people pushing for change … so more houses won't get built, there won't be good wages, so people won't come North, and so on.

Netali, an impressive and articulate journalist who’s also working in the program, put it best: “choosing the North, as a young person, means limiting your possibilities. You have to limit to what there is, not what you want.”

Laila, the JDC Social Intervention Coordinator for Peki’in and the Druze sector, pointed out that the North is very passive, and has been so for a long time now. Even though there’s been some change in the past few years, we need people to get up and speak. In the Druze sector this is even more of a challenge - the gaps are widening there, there’s significant alienation and disconnect from the rest of society. Employers won't hire you, even Druze men who served in the army find it difficult to get good jobs. Laila is at the forefront of ways we think about how to meet this challenge.

Why is the North so weak, asked Sigal? Because, as one Knesset Member told us, we don’t speak with one voice. We don’t even know how to articulate the voice. That’s why we need the Youth Parliament here. And – even worse – there's no pressure on the media to cover the North when something does get articulated. What does the national media think about, when it covers the North? Netali was pretty clear: security incidents, major crimes, and the bizarre ‘and-finally’ stories of the guy who grew the biggest pumpkin and the girl who rescued a dog from danger.

It’s the voice that’s needed. And these amazing women are incredible talented voices for the North. They’re needed because without them, and the Youth Parliament, we won't succeed in creating a better Israel.

They're needed because they have a compelling and critical vision.

And they’re needed because … notwithstanding the myth of the quality of living in the North, as Netali told me, life expectancy in the North is actually much shorter
When you don’t advocate, and lobby, and organize, you get less social and medical services. 
And when you don’t have those, you die earlier.

This isn’t just a social issue. It’s a national security issue. But most of all, it’s a moral issue.

1 comment:

  1. This article brought a serious situation in Israel that I was totally unaware of. And I'm sure that I'm only one among many and that's a terrible shame. Thank you for writing it; I'll try to spread it around.