Ariel Dloomy is co-executive director of AJEEC-NISPED. He has extensive experience in the fields of community development and conflict resolution, and for more than a decade has worked with the Arab Bedouin community of the Negev. He has initiated, developed, and implemented large-scale social and economic development programming within the Bedouin community, as well as with cross-border programs in the Middle East and projects with developing countries.
How did you first become interested in community development?
Until several years ago, development studies really weren’t offered at Israeli universities; Israel’s big experience with international development in the 60s and 70s had sort of been forgotten. So I was not really aware of this issue. It somehow resonated for me because my father used to be an agriculture consultant. He would travel to developing countries on business and would come home and talk about the realities that [communities in those countries] faced. At the end of the day, my father’s experiences really had a big influence on me.
In late 2007, I heard a lecture given by the late Dr. Yehuda Paz, who founded my organization, AJEEC-NISPED. He was speaking to a group of people from East Africa; the talk was titled Introduction to International Development. I came out of his lecture a different person. It really opened my mind, and I realized that I had found what I really want to do.
What did Dr. Paz say that affected you?
I think that it was how he spoke about our responsibility [toward] other people. If we want to succeed as Israel, as the Western world, we also have to pay attention to what’s happening in the developing world. There is a Jewish concept that says that “the poor people of your city come first”, but we will never be able to be rich if our neighbors are poor.
Over the years, you have moved from working primarily with the Bedouin community in the Negev toward working with developing communities abroad as well. What prompted that shift?
I realized that there are so many similarities between the work that I do with the Bedouin population in the Negev and the work that needs to be done in developing countries. The experience that I’ve had in the Negev can also be useful elsewhere. When I went to South Africa, for example, and worked with communities and with the government and the Ministry of Agriculture over there, I realized that there are so many common challenges and so many things that we have learned here in the Negev that are also relevant to their realities and to overcoming their difficulties.
AJEEC-NISPED is engaged in a wide range of projects. What’s the common thread or theory behind the work you do, at home and abroad?
We believe there is a very strong connection between sustainable human development on the one hand and conflict resolution and peacebuilding on the other. When you lose the chance for peace then people also lose their chance for prosperity. And if people don’t live in prosperity, they will never have anything to lose, making it harder to make and sustain peace with their neighbors. So, these two values are inter-related: we work on health promotion, economic development, youth leadership, but also try to build partnerships, to build peaceful solutions in Israel, in the Middle East and also in developing countries.
What’s your advice for young Jews and Israelis looking to get involved in global service and development?
What happened to me in the beginning, and it happens also to other Israelis who are exposed to or are willing to be exposed to these realities, is that they feel very guilty. But guilt is not a work plan. Guilt only makes you freeze. And when you turn this guilt into responsibility, it is much easier to cope with the reality. When you are active, when you are trying to change the reality, even when you are facing very difficult realities every day, it becomes so much easier to go on and face these challenges.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I won’t lie to you. When you fail it can be very, very frustrating. But when you see after a long period that people have changed their mind, that people are becoming more positive towards their reality, it is a great satisfaction. And we are here not just to try to change the reality, but to try to change people’s attitudes towards the reality. We are not building new villages and roads and so on, we are only an NGO. We are here to work with people so that they can take responsibility for their future and for themselves. And when you see people making those changes, it is truly satisfying and inspiring.