Ibrahim Nsasra is a Bedouin businessman from Lakiya in the Negev who has used the profits from his successful transportation business to join a growing number of Israeli Arab entrepreneurs involved in philanthropic initiatives. His business, Lahav Travel, is one of Israel’s leading companies providing tours and field trips for both students and youth groups. He is also founder and chairman of the Tamar Center in the Negev, which bridges the socioeconomic gaps between Bedouins and the rest of Israeli society through education. He was interviewed by email with the help of a translator.
What kind of barriers did you encounter as a child?
I grew up in a large family with 32 brothers and sisters and three mothers; my father practiced polygamy. There were not many transportation options growing up, and going to school required me to walk three or four kilometers each way. My strength and ability to succeed came from my own ambition and my desire to improve myself.
When did you begin thinking about philanthropy?
Not until 2015 did I really think of or understand the concept of philanthropy. I saw myself as a businessman. Even the money I gave to organizations to help people with disabilities or Bedouins in general I viewed as investments in the community and did not think of it in philanthropic terms. Even the Tamar Center I opened in 2015 I thought of as an investment.
What got you interested in helping fellow Bedouins?
In 2010, I was at a conference in Haifa dedicated to the advancement of the Arab community in Israel, and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu spoke of the fact that there was a national mission to integrate Arab women and charedi men into the Israeli workforce.
On the way back from the conference, I thought: What could I do to help Bedouin women obtain respectable and dignified employment as part of this national mission, recognizing that this was a window of opportunity to do something really good and effective. The next year I opened the first factory in Rahat, another Bedouin city in the Negev, designed to advance the local economy, provide jobs for Bedouin women near their homes and provide a culturally-appropriate workplace for women. The factory provided warm meals for Bedouin students in the public schools, which until then served only Ashkenazi food that they did not eat and was thrown away each day. … Through the work I have done I have seen how much potential there is in Bedouin society.
I understand you are now planning to expand the factory.
It will be completed in the first half of 2018 in the Idan HaNegev industrial park. It will include day care for all children — not only for my workers — and have the capacity to make 25,000 kosher meals a day so it can serve both Arab and Jewish schools. It will hire 120 women.
What are your other philanthropic goals?
To invest in other programs in the Tamar Center that the community needs — for example a gap year program, more field research on the Bedouin community and a network of our alumni who can learn from each other and work together. I want to open a scholarship fund with the government and develop a network of philanthropists in Arab society in Israel. I think we can work together and also learn from the Jewish Funders Network.
Would you consider running for the Knesset in the future?
I think from my position today as a social and economic entrepreneur I help my community more than if I were a member of Knesset in the opposition. I do not want to work in a ministry office today because I would not be able to influence the policy of other ministries. If I were to run for office, it would likely be on the municipal level. If I do, I will continue to invest in my community and the Tamar Center, while impacting change on a regional level.
Has your work inspired entrepreneurs and others to similarly help develop the Negev?
Many young Bedouin people who are thinking about starting a business come to me for advice. In the long term, I think this will influence them. I also think that by speaking to young Bedouin people in many forums — and by telling them where I came from and that I succeeded — they then believe they too can succeed.