As of today, civil society activities in the Arab community are mainly focused on specific geographical areas and suffer from fragmentation, lack of capacities in advocacy and flaws in internal management. A vibrant and active civil society can play a significant role in policy dialogue and monitoring state authorities on the local, regional and national level. However, civil society organisations in the Arab community in Israel constitute only 5% of the civil society organisations in the country, despite the population being 20% of all citizens. There are grassroots and community based organizations, but they lack both the administrative abilities and advocacy skills to actively participate in policy dialogue. Namely, socially marginalised groups such as the youth and women do not play an active role in these activities and and do not engage in policy dialogue and decision making processes. Thanks to the years of experience that The Arab Centre for Alternative Planning has in working with the Arab community on planning rights and following repeated requests from grassroots organisations, ACAP in partnership with The Mossawa Centre identify an urgent need for developing the skills of local community based associations to enable them to participate in the planning policy dialogue and decision making processes on the local, regional and national level.
ACAP wants to empower Arab community based organisations to achieve this, with a particular attention to urban planning policies in Israel. The issue of urban planning - from the immediate housing crisis faced by the Arab community, through unrecognized villages, house demolitions and land confiscations as well as land and property rights of IDPs - concerns every member of the community. It is one of the most discussed topics in the Arab community, but the discussion is mainly kept between local authorities, professional and public planners and state authorities, while the voice of community members - especially that of women and youth - is mainly absent. Given that the government under Netanyahu decided on a 15 billion development project for the Arab community, with a large part of it for infrastructure and urban development, citizens from the Arab community must participate in the policy dialogue on the implementation of this plan, making sure it actually meets the needs of the community, it is adjusted to the cultural and social sensitivities on the ground, and provides a sustainable solution. However, the grassroots organizations lack an understanding of how planning policies are made and how planning authorities are structured. They face severe challenges in internal governance which is often personalized, lacks in operational performance which keeps them from realizing their full potential and often lack transparency. Also, the grassroots organizations have only very basic tools in advocacy or in how to engage in policy dialogue, which causes them to be either entirely absent from the scene, or not to be taken seriously. In the project implemented by ACAP, together with Mossawa, planning and housing rights are at the core of the trainings and become the tool by which community based organizations and public committees can exercise their advocacy skills and start entering policy dialogue on different levels. In other words, through this project community based organisations boost their independence, internal governance and operational performance, actually gain practical experience deepening their understanding of planning policies, processes and structures, and develop advocacy skills for engaging in policy dialogue and policy making processes with regards to urban planning.
ACAP and Mossawa work with about 20 public committees and community based organisation in seven geographic and social periphery of the Arab community in Israel from the Northern Galilee to the Negev in the South, including the Druze public committees and with a particular attention to women and youth organisations, providing them with activities such as trainings and workshops, alongside field visits and actual advocacy work based on the needs of each community in the project. Each of the seven localities faces different challenges related to housing and planning. In each of them, community based organizations and grassroots activism can and must play a significant role in the process of planning policy dialogue and decision making, in monitoring the implementation of planning the decisions and processes, and in advocating for change and put pressure on responsible authorities. Through the project implemented by ACAP and Mossawa, these community based and grassroots organizations can significantly improve both their internal management and operational performance, and such make their work more efficient. Also, the voices of the community, specifically currently marginalized groups within the Arab community such as women and youth, will be present and integrated into policy making. This will significantly enrich the civil society sphere in the Arab community, making it more diverse and balancing out current disparities between geographic and social peripheries in the community.