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BGU Helps to Create Opportunities For Disadvantaged Israelis

BGU Helps to Create Opportunities For Disadvantaged Israelis

April 26, 2023

Negev Development & Community Programs, Robotics & High-Tech

Through a group called Siraj, Bedouin Israelis participate in a hack-a-thon and skills building program in southern Israel. (Courtesy of UJA-Federation)

Jewish Telegraphic Agency — When it comes to integrating Israel’s minorities into the high-tech sector, Arab Israelis — who comprise 21% of Israel’s population but only 1.8% of its high-tech employees — are cause for more optimism. For many years, Arabs were very wary of high-tech because it was related to defense, and in many cases Arabs couldn’t get into that, so they studied other fields like law and medicine.

Fahima Atawna is the executive director of Siraj, a nonprofit based in Beer-Sheva that aims to get more Bedouin youth into technology, starting in middle and high school. The organization, whose name means “source of light” in Arabic, was established six years ago. It has partnered with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and, more recently, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose students teach local Bedouins how to write code as well as soft skills like working in teams.

“When I started, there were zero Bedouin high-tech graduates at Ben-Gurion University. Now, 21 Bedouins study computer science and software engineering there,” Atawna said. “My community understands that you can do this work from home. You don’t have to travel to Tel Aviv. And Beersheba has good companies like Microsoft and Intel, and it’s very close to our villages.”

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