Monday, October 22, 2007

Peace Studies - How a Jerusalem school embraces three religions

Principals should have principles.
If Israel's striking teachers want a lesson in reconciliation, all they need do is look at Jerusalem's private bilingual Max Rayne Hand in Hand school. While elsewhere in the country, some 120,000 university students and 600,000 high-school students are locked out of classes because agreements on a proper teacher's wage have floundered, this learning institute for 410 younger children offers an unusual example of getting along.
Hand in Hand is no longer on a hand to mouth existence, given a big new grant from the Lord Rayne foundation and a shiny new $11m building. Jews, Christians and Muslims-- pupils and teachers alike-- are accepted here on equal terms. This is highly unusual. Israeli schools are almost always separated along linguistic lines and Arab neighbourhood schoolrooms tend to be sub-standard.

It is hard to overestimate the importance, pioneering rather than merely symbolic, of the Hand in Hand school in a city whose religious and ethnic divisions are at the absolute heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The multicultural school,funded by a combination of government money, fees and donations, is the only one of Israel's four bilingual schools in Jerusalem. It straddles the Jewish neighbourhood of Pat and the Arab neighbourhood of Beit Safaf. The three other bilingual schools - in Beersheva, Galilee and Wadi Ara - all part of the same organisation, Hand in Hand, which began ten years ago when Oslo peace accords inspired optimism. Jamie Einstein Bregman has been attending for a decade, and is fluent in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. He invited a woman priest, a rabbi and an imam to preside over his bar mitzvah earlier this year, and as his Arab friends tossed sweets inside the synagogue, no one was agog.

First graders play bilingual tag, with Jewish and Arab teachers cheering on the children by shouting Yalla yalla!, slang for "go, go" used by both Arabic and Hebrew speakers. One of the Muslim instructors recently started wearing a full veil; in this school where Orthodox Jewish clothing restrictions are accepted, this decision did not faze the children.

History lessons about the war of 1948, which Israelis describe as the war of independence and Palestinians refer to as al-naqba, the catastrophe, are tricky.

"We teach everything and we discuss the issues and we accept it is possible not to agree with each other," said Amin Khalaf, a co-founder of the Hand in Hand mixed education project. "But we have to know both sides."


Despite suspicion and resentment by some outsiders, the school has a growing waiting list and is a beacon of hope for Israel's future.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

History lessons about the war of 1948, which Israelis describe as the war of independence and Palestinians refer to as al-naqba, the catastrophe, are tricky.

"We teach everything and we discuss the issues and we accept it is possible not to agree with each other," said Amin Khalaf, a co-founder of the Hand in Hand mixed education project. "But we have to know both sides."


Showing "Both Sides" just adds fuel to the fire. There is really no middle ground on something like this. And you can't really "simply disagree" on this as such a disagreement demands a response.

There are some things in life that are beyond dialog.

Anonymous said...

Actually the problem is this is one of those things where both sides are right. It is all a matter of perspective. It is a matter of who you are. Where you sit is where you stand.

For the Israelis 1948 was indeed a War of Independence, but for the Palestinians it was a catastrophe where they lost their land.

But that said, I support Israel due to the fact that it has a better society. I don't need to be reminded who celebrated on 911 and who morned with us.

That said, 1948 should be taught in the schools as a War of Independence. Bringing up the whole catastrophe perspective just breeds hatred for Israel. And Palestinians don't need the Israelis to teach them to hate the Jews. Hating Jews is one thing perhaps the only thing Palestinians are good at doing all on their own. They don't need your help in that.

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