The formula for a healthy and strong Israeli society, which includes a contributing and prosperous Arab society, includes three main components: civic equality; mutual respect; a balance between Israeli citizenship – including recognition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state – and Arab identity. Three years ago, Jews and Arabs who believed in it founded the Atidna Association (the equivalent of the Hebrew "Atidenu" – meaning "our future"). The goal of Atidna is to strive to strike this balance. We operate out of a deep belief that the great and silent Arab majority shares this goal.
As educators we are aware of the crucial role of youth in public life, and its irreplaceable power to bring about change. That is why we founded the Atidna youth movement, with the aim of enlisting the innocence of youth, the enthusiasm and idealism that are strongly ingrained in the youth's consciousness for the task of integrating the Arab population into Israeli society.
In fact, our youth movement divides the role of Arab youth into two: impetus and direction. They can act as a catalyst, which is reserved for situations in which the public has difficulty continuing to move forward and needs a push, axles in a mmechanism whose function is to propel it forward when its progress has stalled.
Direction is reserved for times of crisis, but is constant. It is the function that discerns, with sensitivity and precision, the Northern Star guiding our way. And our northern star is integration into society and the state, while remaining loyal to its Jewish-democratic character, and while striving for equal rights and treatments.
During the events of May 2021 in the mixed Arab-Jewish cities, the Arab youth emerged as the ones leading the destruction of the towns and the undermining of the delicate fabric of Jewish-Arab relations living together as neighbors. On the face of it this seems like destruction, but our point of view, as educators, is different. Where everyone saw panic, disappointment and regression, we saw opportunity. The events of May held up a mirror to the dismal state of Arab youth, a considerable percentage of whom are purposeless and idle. We believe that the events "caused the penny to drop" and underscored the need for structured, ideological and value-based work, with the aim of integrating young Arabs into the life of the country. One way to do this is to narrow the gaps between them and their Jewish peers.
This is the goal of the Atidna youth movement; Despite the many obstacles, we are constantly striving towards it.
Today, the movement is spread out over 15 communities, reaching more than 2,500 members. Extremist elements, including heads of local authorities in Arab society, who fear that the participants will become Zionists and even enlist in the army, oppose the movement. However, the positive activities within the movement – such as community leadership programs, training courses, fieldtrips and summer camps – cause many families not to worry, to permit their children to join, thus enabling the movement to grow, expand and thrive. Atidna conducts joint activities with Mechinat Hannaton. These activities strengthen us and provide an opportunity for learning and mutual development for both young Arabs and Jews alike, and thus the proximity between Hannaton and Bir al-Maksur becomes more significant. The meetings between Hannaton's trainees and the trainees and instructors from the Atidna branch in Bir al-Maksur shatter prejudices and builds a society founded upon understanding and mutual respect, in accordance with Atidna's vision. This partnership model will be extended to several other communities where Atidna branches are located.
Besides running the youth movement, Atidna Association also works to encourage studies in Israeli universities, especially among the young leaders growing up in the youth movement. The association also provides assistance scholarships in order to raise bagrut (external national exams) and psychometric scores. The aim of these actions is to create an academic community that will ultimately play a leading and meaningful role in social action.
A third arena of activity that we run is a dedicated program that prepares Arab young people with a bachelor's degree in technology for successful integration into the high-tech industry, with an emphasis on strengthening their soft and personal skills. We see a great blessing in our labor: the first four cycles of the program have already been completed, with a high percentage of job placement in high-tech companies. Furthermore, 40% of the graduates of these cycles are young Arab women, which is a revolution in itself.
The youth movement of Atidna, as well as the association, are generating a leadership that strives to bring about change in two areas of consciousness: in the consciousness of Arab society – that will recognize the right direction for its place and future in the country; and in the consciousness of Jewish society – that will recognize that a strong, educated, and integrated Arab society will add resilience to the entirety of Israeli society.