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Samah Salaime Ighbariyeh

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Samah was born in 1975 in the northern village of Turan, where she also attended school. She is married to Umar Ighbariyeh and the couple have three boys: Warad (18), Muhammad (14) and Adam (7). In September 2000, just before the birth of Muhammad, the couple came to live in Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom. Their decision to move to the village came as a result of a process that had begun years previously. Umar had been working as a facilitator and project manager at the School for Peace and, as a result, they already had several friends here. Muhammad had been attending kindergarten in the village, and since he was now of school age, Samah and Umar wanted him to attend the WAS-NS school. They were able to move in when a house became suddenly free, and decided to do so although they had already only recently signed a year’s rental lease on an apartment in Jerusalem.

Today, Samah manages the “Women in the Center” association in Lod. The association’s name is a play on words, since its focus is on Arab women in the Ramle/Lydda area, i.e. the center of the country. The project advances the status of women in these and other “mixed” (Jewish - Arab) cities. She has been awarded prizes for her work at the center, and has written many articles that have appeared in the main stream Hebrew and Arabic press. She only writes, she says, “when there’s something burning inside me,” but it always gets published, she says.

Samah is trained as a social worker and holds a master’s degree in the field. She is also about to complete an educational leadership program at the prestigious Mandel Institute. The program, as she says, is intended to allow participants to take a fully supported two year break from their careers to “do what they love”, though she still remained busy with her projects during that time. Her focus in the program is on gender issues in Israel’s education system. “I wanted to learn about education in a deep way. I wanted to speak with the leaders and confront them with the issues that I found. I found that many aspects of the school system tend to reinforce traditional gender stereotypes. This starts from a very young age. It has been shown that nursery school teachers (usually female in Israel) devote more attention to boys. From very early on we begin to choose roles and traits for children. We decide that certain games, toys and colors are suited more to boys, and others to girls. The boys learn to be more assertive. Later, one can see that they are the masters of the playground. Textbooks given to the children in school reinforce these stereotypes. Classrooms and halls tend to bear more images of males. More authority is given to male staff in schools, which are more often than not managed by men. These gender disparities cut across both Jewish and Arab societies. In fact, in Arab society the situation is in some ways better: there, girls tend to have higher grades in mathematics and science, because they see education as being the only way that they can escape the household.

Unfortunately, teacher training colleges do not provide teachers with tools to combat gender disparities in the school system, and the issue is seldom raised. The result is that Israel lags behind the world in these matters and that women remain oppressed. There is no chance that the situation will change if it is not addressed in the school system.

Besides managing “Women in the Center” and her interest in educational reform, Samah is leading another project called “Threads of Change”, which encourages West Bank women to create textile products such as clothes, bags and accessories using traditional Palestinian materials, and embroidery, though sometimes in new ways. Their products are sold in fair trade outlets throughout the world. The program brings in extra income for Palestinian homes. Samah herself designs some of these products as a side interest.

Thoughts about WAS-NS

Samah says she is not as happy with the village educational system, with its many ups and downs, as she had expected. “It has so much unrealized potential.” But she still thinks that the school is the most reasonable choice for her children and admits that many of the school’s graduates later excel in their careers, or become change makers. “A lot depends on the support they receive from home,” she says.

She would like to see more voluntary action in the village, and recalls a few examples that she was a part of. “It isn’t enough just to live here,” she says. But often it is hard to get things done. “Sometimes it’s easier to start a project in Ramle than here. We have a phenomenon that everybody wants to be a leader. Still, we have good people. Everybody means well, and nobody is a racist. I feel equal here. There is tolerance of differences. The question of differing identities is not a question.

“People arrive in a place like WAS-NS out of a mixture of naivety and optimism. If you don’t believe in change and have a vision of something different, there’s no purpose in coming here. I too am an optimist by nature. Without optimism we would be swallowed by negativity. There have been times when we have raised our hands, and we don’t do enough serious discussion on matters that are not easy to discuss.”

“Living in WAS-NS cannot repair the evils that have occured. We can only try to fix the future. WAS-NS has a chance to make a difference, though it is very small and rather elitist. Still, I hope that something new and different will arise from here.” She mentions the youth center, and the projects in which young people in the village have been engaged. “The young people are the future,” she concludes.

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