Amal Elsana Alh'jooj, co-executive director of NISPED and founding director of AJEEC, was born in 1972, the fifth of thirteen children. Like many Bedouin children, Amal from age five herded sheep before trekking more than three kilometers to and from school – a run-down shack without electricity, running water or books.
As an adolescent, Amal was already inspired to change the objectionable equilibrium in which she found herself, her family, her tribe, the Bedouin Arabs of the Negev and the Arab minority in Israel. She began her career as a community organizer at 14, and at 17, established the first Arab Bedouin women's organization to improve the situation of Bedouin women in a patriarchal society resisting the changes effected by rapid transition to modernity.
Upon completing high school, she earned her BA in social work in Israel and her MA in community development at McGill University in Canada. At Ben-Gurion University she was one of two Bedouin women students and her creativity, strength and call to action were reflected in her activities. She chaired the Arab Students' Union and initiated a project to improve conditions in 22 Bedouin villages.
Upon her return from Canada, Amal worked to implement innovative methods of changing the stable but inherently unjust equilibrium characterizing the Palestinian national minority in Israel and the Bedouin of the Negev in particular. In 2000, her path joined with NISPED whose organizational vision and approach to sustainable human development presented Amal with the opportunity to develop a new model to meet pressing challenges. This approach, focused on the human aspects of development and applied to the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel dramatically diverged from existing models. Amal understood that models limited to the development of physical infrastructure are inadequate. A comprehensive transformative process and an emancipatory approach focused on the rebuilding of community confidence are necessary prerequisites for sustainable development.
Today, Amal is one of the key shapers of public opinion regarding the status of the Arab minority and the status of women in Israel. She is a member of the Prime Minister’s Commission for Economic Development of the Arab Sector; a member of the Steering Committee of Shutafut-Sharaka; a member of the professional committee of the Employment Creation Division of the JDC.
Amal is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. To list a few: in 2010, she was chosen by The Marker as 1 of 101 most influential people in Israel; in 2008, she was a keynote speaker at the Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Institute; that same year, November 7 was proclaimed Amal Elsana Alh'jooj Day in Hartford Connecticut. In 2005 she was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize within the framework of the "One Thousand Women" submission; in 2003 she won the Lady Globes “Career Women of the Year” award.