This research examined the experiences and challenges faced by women Palestinian community social workers, citizens of Israel who are engaged in community social work, and presents it in their personal, social and political context.
In order to collect the information, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted for fifteen female Palestinian Arab community social workers. Questions posed for the interviewees produced a great deal of information about their perceptions, experiences and coping strategies within the field of community social work.
Analysis of the findings reveals that the challenges faced by these women focus on three areas: professional, political and gender challenges. The professional challenges include the Arab community’s lack of knowledge about the community social work profession and the lack of community workers in Palestinian-Arab society. In addition, The curriculum of training programs for community social does not consider the political and economic status of Arab-Palestinians in Israel. The political challenges relate to the impact of the security–political situation on the Palestinian community social workers and the built-in budgeting discrimination in resource allocation to the Arab-Palestinian society in Israel, This inequality in allocation of funding and resources impedes the functioning of social service departments in Arab communities, and results in the provision of inferior social services and programs. The gender challenges cover the full spectrum from exclusion to repression. The findings indicate that Palestinian community social workers can be seen as both strong and repressed: On the one hand, they offer support to socially excluded people and strive to effect a change in their lives. On the other hand, they still have to adhere to the voices of the state and the government authorities that tell them to revert back to their private sphere, as well as to the voices of the patriarchal and traditional society in which they live.
These findings reflect the unique characteristics of the interrelations between members of Arab society and welfare agencies in Israel, exposing the complexity of the political situation of the Palestinians in Israel and the consequences of this complexity for co-operation with general state agencies. In addition, this study contributes to professional practice by providing new insights and knowledge about community work with the Arab Palestinian community in Israel. Raising awareness of the challenges that these community social workers face in the field will help prevent burnout and enrich programs aimed at providing training and support for Palestinian social workers. The present study also adds relevant theoretical and updated knowledge, which relates to the field of community work in conflict zones and Arab women who work in this field from a critical feminist perspective. With regard to policy, the research highlights the need to invest in community work that is compatible with and sensitive to the needs of Arab-Palestinian society, such as courses in community work with minorities for undergraduate students and training of Arab social workers employed in the community-work departments.