The Things We Can Do


Kher standing

Friend & Founder

The first person Kher Albaz thought of on the morning of October 7 was his longtime friend Vivian Silver from Kibbutz Be’eri on the border with Gaza. Vivian, a beloved veteran peace activist who two decades earlier had helped found and direct an Arab-Jewish organization that works for equality and social change in the Negev Desert, was now in terrible danger.

 “How are you doing?” he texted her on WhatsApp. At this point he did not know if the news of the Hamas infiltration and attack was even accurate. “Is it real?” he wondered to himself. Her response confirmed it was all too real. She was in her so-called “safe room”, and reported back that she was hearing the sounds of shooting and “chaos” outside her home.  He texted her back to stay safe inside the shelter. 

“She did not read that message,” says Kher. In the first two weeks of the war she was assumed to be among those kidnapped, but then came word: she had been among the people from her kibbutz murdered.

What Can We Do?

While Kher was still waiting to hear back from Vivian on the morning of October 7, Hamas rockets had started hitting Bedouin towns and villages as well. Kher himself is Bedouin and Chairman of the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation – Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development, AJEEC-NISPED, a nationwide organization that he once co-led with Vivian. 

Its mission and Kher’s life’s work has been about helping forge an Israeli society where everyone is fully accepted and can live with dignity. The Bedouin communities in Israel are among the most impoverished in the country. 

Kher, who specializes in cross-cultural mediation began his career as a social worker, understood now that he and the organization had to be on war-footing. 

“I personally started thinking, what can we do as an organization and what can we do to also protect our families” who are exposed to the rockets, but who unlike most Jewish Israelis don’t have the protection of reinforced concrete shelters in their homes or nearby. “We got organized almost immediately, in the first few hours of the war, we started thinking of our next steps.” 

Although they are not normally an emergency-response organization, they tapped experience gained during the Covid pandemic when they had joined forces with other nonprofits and local municipalities to help those in need. 

Mobilizing the Community

Right away a coordination center was set up, called a “war room” in Israel, to organize and coordinate action and a volunteer base of hundreds of people was activated to help the Bedouin community for a wide-ranging set of needs. It became apparent quickly that many lost their jobs, including at kibbutzim and local factories and businesses that had shut down. There was also no school for the children. Food boxes were distributed which then had to be transported by volunteers to often far flung locations, scattered across the Negev. 

AJEEC, which during normal times does informal education with some 9,000 children, now quickly moved to set up recreational activities for them. 

Later, when school returned, a catering service was set up to provide hot meals to schools, serving as many 40,000 meals a day.

The homes of many Bedouin families were hit directly by rockets, some were killed, others injured. There were also Bedouin workers on the kibbutzim who were killed or injured and there were some, who upon hearing the news on October 7, drove towards the border in order to help, in some cases shot dead by Hamas terrorists when they intervened trying to protect Jewish Israelis who had attended the Nova dance party. 

“One of the major aspects we started providing as well was emotional and psychological support, people were in panic. Because nobody knew at the first few days what’s going on, nobody knew what to expect,” says Kher, drawing on his time as a social worker. 

Part of that panic and fear was fed by a surge of fake news. His staff, together with volunteers, began making their own videos to help explain, especially to young people, how to identify fake news. The videos, shared on social media, also provided information on how to protect oneself from rockets and other helpful information to keep people informed. 

A Glimmer of Solidarity

AJEEC-NISPED, together with other partner NGOS, began raising money to build shelters to help give protection to some 11,000 homes that had none. And they did just that – both raised the needed money and were able to bring shelters to those areas. 

“The only positive thing that came out of that bloody war is that everybody was affected by the war in different ways and people started feeling some sort of solidarity. And people started working together, to help to assist each other (amid) something very big and scary and overwhelming.” First it was local municipalities and civil society organizations working together, bolstered by volunteers, and later on, Kher says, “some government officials started to help us in providing for the needs.”

Kher, as a leader of a Shared Society organization, sees what was done in the early weeks of the war as a model of what can be achieved in its aftermath. The way Jewish Bedouin and Arab citizens came together in crisis is a reminder that not just donations but government resources have to be invested in Shared Society. That, Shared Society, as he says is not just the model, but also the only option.

“It’s not just important for one particular group, but it’s important for everybody. I’m not a politician, and I’m not dealing with politics. But I think we also need to convince the politicians that this has nothing to do with (the) Left or (the) Right. It has to do with making sure that we are ready (for the next crisis and in general), because we’re all in this together.”

Dina Kraft

Writer and Journalist

Dina Kraft is a writer and journalist based in Tel Aviv.  She is the Opinion Editor for Haaretz English and co-author of My Friend Anne Frank. She has written from the region for over two decades for The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and The Los Angeles Times, reporting on Israeli and Palestinian politics, culture and society.

Dina is drawn to stories featuring unlikely connections, dual narratives and the impact of conflict and crisis on ordinary lives. She hosts the podcast “Groundwork” and previously “The Branch”, which tell the stories of relationships between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

Dina is a long-time foreign correspondent who began her overseas career in the Jerusalem bureau of The Associated Press. She was later posted to AP’s Johannesburg bureau where she covered southern Africa. She’s also reported from Senegal, Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Russia, and Ukraine