The Galilee Society (GS), based in Shfr’am, northern Israel,, describes itself as "a Palestinian Arab non-partisan, community-wide, non-governmental organization (NGO) located in Israel." Established in 1981 by four health care professionals, it is now the largest Arab NGO operating in Israel.

Its mission statement declares,

"The GS is committed to the achievement of equitable health, environmental, and socio-economic conditions and development opportunities for Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel…the GS fosters and maintains alliances with local, regional, and international bodies from citizens’ groups, municipal and local councils, professional associations, and the National Committee of Arab Mayors to the World Health Organization and UNESCO. To date, the GS has distinguished itself as a major catalyst for local community health, environmental, and development projects; as the standard bearer in health and environmental advocacy on behalf of Arab citizens and their elected representatives nationally; and as an active participant in the struggle for equity in health and development for national ethnic minorities in industrialized countries internationally."

Source: GS

NGO Monitor is featuring this organization as an example of an NGO working in the field of civil and human rights in the Middle East that has not allowed an ideological bias to undermine its purposes. Over the past twenty years, its contributions have helped its constituency, the Arab population of Israel, come nearer to its stated goals.

The GS was originally founded as a development organization, specializing in health issues and the environment. In more recent years it has moved into advocacy and lobbying due to what its director Basil Ghattas perceived as a serious leadership crisis and a lack of professionalism in the Arab community. It has also ‘incubated’ other Palestinian NGOs inside Israel (more information under the title "Achievements").

The Society is critical of the Israeli government, but keeps within the remits of its mission statement by refraining from the unashamedly overt politicization of NGOs such as Miftah, PCHR (under the auspices of the International Commission of Jurists) and Grassroots International, (click here for analyses of these organizations). In sharp contrast to the above organizations, who conceal an ideological agenda clothed in "universal human rights values," GS’s reports illustrate how it is possible for an Arab organization to campaign for social and human rights issues while maintaining balance and context beyond simplistic point-scoring in the Israeli-Arab conflict.



The GS has an impressive range of achievements. These range from providing sewage plans for the local village authorities in the Arab sector, to the installation of a pollution prevention and monitoring devices in the Tzippori Industrial Zone, Galilee. Other achievements include a campaign to secure drinking water connections for Arab unrecognized villages in Israel. What’s more, the GS is most famous for its well-respected Regional Research & Development Center. This research center is the first research center to be established in an Arab community in Israel and is formally affiliated with Haifa University. It also receives financial support from the Ministry of Science in Israel and has major national and international collaborative projects.

The GS sees its successes in advocacy as identifying the need for new organizational infrastructure for the Arab community of Israel and implementing changes. This was the rationale behind the founding of the organizations Adalah ( and Ittijah ( – controversial for its high level of politicization).


Examples of The Galilee Society reporting and Sub-groups

A typical example of GS reporting is found on its website, under the heading "Educational Services, Background Information on the Health of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel."

"Under the National Health Insurance Law (NHIL) (1995), every Israeli citizen is guaranteed basic primary medical care. However, the implementation of this law reflects inequalities that exist in society at large. Inequalities faced by Palestinian Arab citizens are evident in the poor quality of sick fund facilities and medical equipment in their localities, the lack of emergency care access, the low doctor-patient ratio, and the lack of appropriate frameworks for children with special needs."

Source: GS

What is praiseworthy is the way the GS campaigns against what it describes as inequalities making full use of the democratic framework of the State of Israel. This way it has managed to have a positive impact on its community.

A second example, sharply critical of successive Israeli governments, talks about the environment in Arab localities in Israel:

"Environmental conditions in Palestinian Arab localities in Israel are sub-standard and pose a serious health risk to residents. For the past fifty years, governmental neglect of Arab towns and villages and a lack of organized community efforts to prevent environmental deterioration have resulted in a hazardous environmental health situation."

Source: GS

This quote can be found at under the links "departments," "environment." Impressively, the Organization sets out clear goals how to rectify what it views as this problem:

"To protect the environmental rights of the Arab minority through litigation, lobbying, national campaigns, and the publication of research studies and surveys;

To raise awareness within the Arab community regarding the importance of preserving environmental quality and promote "green practices"

To empower citizens’ groups, through professional consultation and training, to take effective action against polluters;

To foster professional dialogue with local, regional, and international organizations on environmental issues ofconcern to the Arab community in Israel."

Source: GS

To realize these goals, the Organization founded the The Center for Environmental Protection – "The Galilee Consortium", which works in partnership with five Arab and Jewish Israeli NGOs. Although the organization does not engage in co-existence or dialogue work, it posted on its website a picture of Jewish and Arab environmentalists working together. The Consortium is responsible for regulating the activities of the Maaleh Hagalil Aluminum Factory and the Sasa Chemia Factory.


Criticism of the GS

The GS has come under attack from a number of quarters inside the Arab community of Israel. Other NGO leaders in private conversations have indicated that the GS is "staid and boring." This is presumerably because of its concentration on community, health, educational and scientific issues. Other NGOs favor sensational press releases and extensive report writing.

Some inside Israel look askance at the Galilee Society for its role in the founding of the organzations Ittijah and Adalah. Ittijah was intended to be an umbrella society for Arab NGOs operating in Israel. It has come under fire from both within Arab and Israeli society for pursuing political goals, as witnessed at the Durban anti-racism conference, beyond the remit of its mission statement. Another organization is Adalah, which is also controversial. Both these organizations will be analyzed in subsequent issues of NGO Monitor.

For this reason, some have posed the question whether the GS deliberately helped found these organizations to present a more politicized front.



Funding comes from all over the world including the Israeli ministries of Health, Science and Energy. Other sources of Israeli funding include the Israel Cooperative Program (based in the USA), the Israeli Center for Third Sector, Shefa-Amr Municipality and Tel Aviv University. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Dutch, Norweigan and church groups have also contributed to the societies activities.



The GS is providing a valuable service to the Arab community in Israel. This community has suffered from lack of an organizational structure to forward its needs and goals. This has meant that Arab society in Israel has not been able to make the most of the democratic prodecures of the State of Israel. These procedures include government funding for minority groups and lobbying to improve inequalities in society.

Most of the organizations serving this community operate through exclusively highly politicized agendas. NGOs can rectify what they see as the wrongs of their society through operating honestly and openly in democratic channels, working along the lines of their mission statement. This can only boost the overall quality of life of their constituents and strengthen the democracy of society at large.