Is the Tide Turning for the Middle East? Interview with Ariel Dloomy
'Very few organizations in Israel define themselves as working in development. Most civil society organizations work in the fields of social justice and human rights or alternatively, provide services that the government no longer provides due to its retreat from the welfare state model'.
Dramatic changes are taking place in the Middle East. Governments that were stable for decades are being challenged by civil society groups bringing a new spirit to the region. Ariel Dloomy, leader of SID Israel Chapter, explains the numerous challenges that the region is facing and the role and contribution that organizations like SID can play. This period, he points out, may offers unique opportunities to bring about processes of development and sustainable human development in particular, thatmayultimately aid the entire region.
Interview with Ariel Dloomy, Coordinator, SID Israel Chapter
Q: What role do you see for organizations like SID, today, in Israel and in the broader Mediterranean and Arab region?
A: For the past 60 years Israel has been a central player in the area of international development. It is considered a source of professional knowledge in various fields of development. During recent years, we are witnessing lowered interest in the field whereby currently there are very few academic programs for the study of development and the professional discourse is limited. Furthermore, most do not view the subject of development in an integrative and holistic fashion but rather focus on separate topics ñ economic development, agriculture, education, etc. We believe that an organization such as SID can contribute significantly to the development of a framework for brainstorming, discussion and activity in this field while adopting innovative, state-of-the-art approaches. We are currently witnessing dramatic changes in the Middle East. Governments that were stable for decades are being challenged by civil society groups bringing a new spirit to the region. I believe that this period offers unique opportunities to bring about processes of development and sustainable human development in particular, that may ultimately aid the entire region.
Q: You are working to establish a local chapter in Israel. As main facilitator and leader of the chapter, which are your priorities/objectives and which interlocutors would you like to engage with?
A: The Israeli chapter is actually not new. It has been active until few years ago, however for the past several years it has not been operating. We view the Israeli chapter as a non-government organization (NGO) that will work in cooperation with governmental frameworks. The chapter will serve as an umbrella organization for groups and individuals in Israel related to the field of development including academia, NGOs, government bodies, the commercial sector and development systems. Among the branch's goals are:
1. A framework for cooperation, thought and the study of international development in a consistent manner 2. The raising of awareness about international development among the general Israeli population 3. The promotion of the study of development in Israeli schools and institutes of higher education 4. Lobby work with the Israeli parliament and various governmental agencies 5. Collaboration with the international development agencies and organizations
Q: Which are the major opportunities and constraints for civil society organizations concerned to development in Israel today?
A: Very few organizations in Israel define themselves as working in development. Most civil society organizations work in the fields of social justice and human rights or alternatively, provide services that the government no longer provides due to its retreat from the welfare state model. This tremendous opportunity derives from the fact that the civil society organizations in Israel possess freedom of activity and this sector is experiencing substantial growth. Many organizations are demonstrating interest in international activity and there is an opportunity to share their experience and knowledge with developing regions.
Q: In your view, what are the major challenges for the entire region today and which role/contribution organizations such as the SID chapter can make?
A: The Middle East currently faces a number of challenges. The first relates to the future of the revolutions currently taking place in many countries and the transition to democracy. Each nation is experiencing a different process, yet it is possible to state that after many years of living under centralized, non-democratic regimes there is tremendous demand on the part of the people to change the regime and to bring about a more democratic future. This is a difficult process which is expected to bring about great difficulties at its commencement, yet in the distant future, it will pay off for all the region's residents. The process is particularly difficult in places where there are large socio-economic gaps that will be complemented by decreased foreign investment and tourism due to the lack of stability. In other countries, in which there exist strong economic or military elites, it will be difficult to bring about change that will divorce the elites from the power sources. In countries with complex tribal webs, such as Yemen and Libya, the challenges will be the greatest because of the intricate political divides.
It is no secret that the Middle East is laden with numerous geo-political tensions of which the most intense is between Israel and the other countries of the region. However, development and peace are two aspects that can be complementary - a strong peace has to be based on proper development on both sides and development can be more successful if shared by neighbours. I hope that the present period in the Middle East will open opportunities for conflict resolution and development processes. A change in the relationship between Israel and her neighbours in the Middle East may provide answers to further challenges such as the problems of water or energy throughout the region. This is not an easy process but in the long-term, it is possible.
I believe that an organization such as SID may provide a platform for meeting, exchanging knowledge and cooperation in the Middle East, especially in times of such meaningful transition.
Ariel Dloomy, SID Israel Chapter coordinator, works as Director of Programs in the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (NISPED). He is an expert in the fields of community development and conflict resolution and has many years of experience working with the Arab-Bedouin community in Israel. Ariel holds a MSC in Middle East Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London