How integrated schools are offering Israel an ‘Iron Dome against hatred’

An alternative positive example, albeit small-scale:

The news from Israel is often bad: attacks on Jews by young Palestinians and reprisals by Israeli forces. Expanding settlements in the West Bank. Escalating fear and hostility. Plummeting prospects for peace.

But a group of dedicated educators is working to bring the two sides together — not at the bargaining table, but in the school room.

“We’re giving hope where leaders have failed,” says Mohamad Marzouk, director of the community department for the bilingual and bicultural Hand in Hand schools.

“Fear and mistrust develops over years when people are separated,” he says. “A kindergarten child goes to an Arabic or Hebrew school and never experiences the existence of children on the other side. This ignorance of the other creates mistrust and fear.”

Marzouk and Rebecca Bardach, Hand in Hand’s director of resource development and strategy, are in Toronto on a speaking tour.

“Hand in Hand is my Iron Dome against hatred,” says Bardach, referring to Israel’s missile defence system. “I can’t change what is happening politically, or the minds of people who hate each other. But I believe we can overcome that sense of helplessness with understanding.”

Hand in Hand, boasting some 1,320 Jewish and Arab Israeli students, and a lengthy waiting list, was founded in 1998 with one school in Jerusalem. It has now expanded to six, from Jaffa to the Galilee. Arab Israelis make up 20 per cent of Israel’s 8.5 million population and many identify as Palestinian Israelis.

The security wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories — Israel’s “separation barrier” — is physically and psychologically divisive, says Bardach. But the two separate language streams of the Israeli school system are a “huge contributing factor” to mutual misunderstanding between Jews and Arab Israelis.

“Children aren’t growing up learning about differences, what we have in common and building common ground,” she says. Parents must make a choice that cuts their children off from one or the other group.

Not so in Hand in Hand schools, where children are taught by Hebrew and Arabic-speaking teachers.

They partner with children who speak the other language, and study together. They also learn the missing links in mainstream curriculums — the other’s religion, culture, food, daily life and history. Elements that allow them to see their counterparts as fellow humans rather than enemies.

Outside the classroom they play together at sports, picnic together and celebrate each other’s holidays.

They and their parents have weathered nearly two decades of anger, violence, war and political outbursts in the world around them, including a 2014 firebombing of the Jerusalem school by Jewish extremists.

That brought even more support for Hand in Hand, from the media, thousands of demonstrators, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

The traumatic event shook parents and children. But they were helped through it by the school’s tradition of unflinching dialogue on the events around them, however painful. It held true even in the past two years, when Jewish parents were afraid to drive on main roads for fear of being attacked, and Palestinian parents feared gangs of extremists who targeted Arabs for beatings.

The success of the Hand in Hand community has led to expansion, but on a shoestring. Its $9 million-a-year budget is financed by the Israeli government and private donations. Scholarships are available, but fees are $1,200 a year. “Not easy to afford” in Israel, Bardach admits.

Source: How integrated schools are offering Israel an ‘Iron Dome against hatred’ | Toronto Star

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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