Mayor Muhammad al-Nabari grew up in the predominantly Bedouin town of Hura, but in his teens came to the conclusion that there was no future for him in the Negev.
He moved north to attend high school, and then — to his family’s immense pride — went on to attend Hebrew University and later Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where he earned a PhD in organic chemistry.
After graduation, he took a job at a prominent pharmaceutical company. But, he says, “I never cut myself off from my identity as a Bedouin.”
Al-Nabari was living near Hura, and running an advocacy group for higher education among the Bedouins. In 2005 he ran for mayor of Hura but didn’t take the idea seriously; in fact, he didn’t even bother leaving his job when he began his campaign. “I never believed I would get elected!” he admits.
He was wrong.
After more than a decade under al-Nabari’s leadership, Hura — though still one of Israel’s poorest communities — has become a model of how local government can be run.
With financial assistance from sources including the Jewish National Fund and other Jewish organizations in the United States and United Kingdom, Hura now boasts a community center, a public library, and the highly successful Ahad High School for Science, which accepts gifted Bedouin students from all over the Negev.
Education is central to progress and hope for Hura — as for the entire nation — as al-Nabari well knows. “I have told my principals to be responsible for students even after they graduate,” he says. “We check to see how many go on to college and careers.”
Hura has a way to go: There is still poverty and much unemployment to contend with here, and the Bedouins’ relations with the Israeli government are uneasy at best. But al-Nabari believes that it is a waste of time and energy to dwell on who’s to blame or what is not working.
“If you focus on the discourse [of] ‘They screwed me over; they discriminated against me’ — then you’ll stay with the problems and have no solutions… It’s very easy to put the blame on others, but if we do our jobs and then fight for what we need from the government, gradually the situation will improve.”
Lin Arison & Diana C. Stoll are the creators of The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel, a treasure box that highlights Israel’s creative achievement and innovation.