The Hand in Hand Galilee School attracts Jewish and Arab students.Two elementary schools in Israel are taking a long-term approach to altering the pattern of escalating violence in the Middle East by educating Jewish and Arab children side-by-side and teaching them each other’s language, culture and history.
The two schools, one in Jerusalem and the other in the Galilee in Israel’s northern region, have a total of about 200 students. They have roughly equal numbers of Arab and Jewish students and each class is taught by one Arab and one Jewish teacher.
The schools, both of which are called Hand in Hand, were created in part to overcome the separation in schools for Israeli Jews and Arabs that sponsors think is in part responsible for the continuing Middle East conflict.
The vision is to bring Arab and Jewish students together to become friends and communicate in order to build a foundation for bitter and longstanding conflicts to be resolved in the future. The first goal is “educational excellence” for both Arabs and Jews as a first step towards “true peace and reconciliation,” according to school sponsors.
The mission of the schools is to create a network of similar schools around the country, “providing Jewish and Arab parents the option to send their children to schools where they can learn and interact with their neighbors.” Although the schools now encompass only kindergarten through the third grade, the aim is to expand through the 12th grade.
“(Jewish and Arab) children, parents and teachers never meet so they never have the chance to change the stereotypes, prejudices, fears and misunderstandings that each side has about the other,” said Amin Khalaf, the Arab co-director of the Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, the nonprofit organization that pays for about three-quarters of the schools’ funding. The Israeli Ministry of Education picks up the rest of the cost.
Bilingualism is the central tenet of Hand in Hand. The Jewish children learn Arabic to help them talk with their neighbors as adults in the context of the changing Middle East, while for the Arab children, Hebrew is mandatory in the Israeli job market and in higher education. The schools also want to partner with Israeli teachers colleges to train a force of bilingual Arab-Hebrew teachers.
As a pioneering project in Israel, teachers and parents at the schools are dealing with challenges to their structure and are of necessity revising their curriculum as they go along as teachers attempt to reconcile differing views of history between Arabs and Jews, said Paul Leventhal of the Center for Jewish-Arab Education.
“How do we teach history?” Leventhal asked. “What is right and what is wrong? How can it be that both the Jewish and Arab historical narratives are correct? We deal with things here in this school that no one else deals with.”
Tensions over the conflict, especially during the past year, and the observance of Arab and Israeli holidays have been the biggest tests to the schools’ mission so far, sponsors say.