Rawnak Natour, Co-Executive Director of Sikkuy, received the “Sami Michael” award for her work for Equal Opportunities and Narrowing Social Gaps, together with two other social activists – Shula Mula and Yoav Laloum.
Following is the full speech Rawnak gave at the award ceremony in Haifa:
My name is Rawnak Natour. I’m an Arab woman, a Palestinian, a member of indigenous minority and a citizen of the State of Israel.
Sami Michael once wrote that “The most tangible and adored homeland is the woman you love.” And I can’t help but thinking that being a woman is the single aspect of my identity not under attack in the current reality in Israel.
My mother tongue, Arabic, is conceived in Israel as the language of the enemy. As a Palestinian, my Palestinian identity is derived primarily from being a part of the Palestinian people who have lived here, in historic Palestine, long before the foundation of the State of Israel. And for that I am also under attack – for “Identifying with the enemy.”
Being a member of an indigenous minority, representing 20% of citizens in Israel, my right for equality is constantly under attack as well. I grew up in Qalansuwa, a village located 16km from Netanya. I remember as a little girl noticing the striking social gaps: the dirty streets of my home village, the lack of infrastructure and basic social services, especially in comparison to Netanya which I visited every 2-3 months, mainly for doctor’s appointments. Netanya was a clean and modern city, where residents had all the necessary services and infrastructure. The little girl I was back then could not understand the reason for these gaps, and was furious, but most of my anger was directed at my family and hometown, where I couldn’t find even one bus line to take me to the doctor in Netanya, and instead had to spend hours waiting for shared taxi to be full enough to depart.
At a certain point I realized that we, the citizens, are not the ones to blame for the discrimination against us and for the wide social gaps. Unlike many young Arabs who grow up feeling strong resentment and alienation from their own society, I was fortunate enough to understand this reality fairly early. Today I can appreciate just how much these memories have shaped my life and my professional path working for social change and reducing the gaps between Arabs and Jews.
My journey to advance equality and fight against discrimination started 20 years ago, and it is still only the beginning. There were many stages to my journey. Today I’m co-directing Sikkuy together with my colleague Ron Gerlitz – a remarkably insightful professional and a true optimist. Our partnership is based on mutual respect and a strong belief in our ability to make a change.
Sikkuy is a shared organization of Jewish and Palestinian citizens in Israel who work together as equals on all levels. Together with our superb team, Ron and I work towards changing the reality in Israel. This reality is a heavy burden on me personally as well as on Palestinians as a minority and a people. This reality continuously impedes our efforts to create an equal, shared and healthy society for Arabs and Jews alike.
Despite the many difficulties, my colleagues in Sikkuy and I strongly believe change is possible. My daily experiences have taught me that real and significant changes do occur. Always fostered by very brave people, these changes help us advance a shared and equal society.
In an article published in “Yedioth Ahronoth”, Sami Michael wrote recently that “Only a truly audacious person can stand up and shout the cry of his trampled homeland.”
Mr. Sami Michael, once again you have proved yourself to be the sheer embodiment of this audacious individual, more than all of us. Especially nowadays, when so many human rights and activists for equality feel persecuted and are being labeled “traitors”, you choose to stand behind us and present an award to individuals who struggle to create equal opportunities and bridge social gaps.
Thank you for this award and for your life’s work: Your writing and achievements show us the way and inspire us to dream, create and work for a better society in Israel for both Jews and Arabs!
On a personal note, I would like to thank my wonderful family, my partner Kim and my three children: Adam, Malik and Noah. Thank you for your support, your cooperation and for having the courage to pay the price for being part of this arduous struggle.