The situation in the middle east may look like jews and arabs hate each other so much, that there isn’t any way of peaceful coexistence. Twenty percent of Israel’s population is arabic. Usually jews and arabs live their complete separated lives. They are neighbors but don’t know each other. Have their own communities and send their children to different schools. The variety of peace projects proofs that this is not how it has to be. Among these projects are a handful arab-jewish educational projects.
One of them is the Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand School. Educating 624 students from kindergarten up to high school classes, this school is the only integrative school in Jerusalem and the biggest of its kind in whole Israel. It was founded in 1998 when a group of engaged arab and jewish parents wanted to change something. Since then the school keeps growing constantly.
„The truth is, the whole thing started as a small dream, which by time became bigger and bigger – and true!“ says Nadia Kinani with a smile on her face in the new image film of the school. More than 10 years ago she started here as an arabic first grade teacher. Now she is the principal together with her jewish colleague Arik Saporta.
So whats so special about this school? Arabic and Jewish stand equally side by side. Proof is easily found in the bilingual classes: each lesson is taught simultaneously by a hebrew speaking and arabic speaking teacher. For example a topic is explained by the hebrew teacher in hebrew and the arabic speaking teacher adds his point in arabic. This way the language of each other is easily learned. Also the religious and national holidays are celebrated together.
Latest conflicts and crises are collectively discussed. The children learn to listen by heart and join an empathetic dialogue. Also the usually contradictionary history lessons are pictured in both perspectives.
Even the location of the school is symbolic. The old campus was going to burst due to the continuos growing of its student population. So a new building was opened in 2008. Now the school is located in the Katamonim neighborhood nearby the so called Green Line. This invisible border divides Jerusalem into east (for arabic people) and west (for jewish people).
The citizens of eastern Jerusalem have free access to all Jerusalem and the whole israeli country. Whereas people from the Westbank have to get permissions first. Also jewish people could not enter safely eastern Jerusalem. The school especially at this place serves as a bridge between the two poles. Around the daily school life there are social activities such as sports and games, parents groups and joined field trips. It’s like an island of peace and tolerance amongst an often violently and fearfully every day life.
Not everything is golden in paradise
But also the Hand-in-Hand school has to struggle with the challenges of the reality. In the higher classes you can find less and less jews, because their parents hope for a better specialized eduction at other schools.
Although the school is financed by the ministry of education and the city Jerusalem itself, it’s depending on donations to secure the high standards: the double teacher in every class is a luxury you couldn’t effort otherwise. Parents have to pay 1000 euros a year and even that you can apply for scholarship , the majority of the students belongs to upper class.
In the middle of Jerusalem’s culture clash and war of religions the Hand-in-Hand school finds itself also attacked from time to time. Muslim parents are confronted with the accusation their children would grow up into a jew, and jewish parents are asked how they could cooperate with terrorists.
Recently in November there had been even an arson attack. Three jewish extremists had been found responsible. They are 18 to 22 years old and members of the Lehava, an organization which goal is to prevent marriage between jewish and non-jewish couples. One primary school room was completely damaged afterwards.
CEO Shuli Dichter stated officially: „they may stain our walls, but they cannot destroy our work!“ Approximate 2000 people went for protest afterwards: „Stop the racism! Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!“ they stated and showed that those incidents let them stick even more together.
Parents come together!
One and a half billion children attend school in Israel, the number of pupils on alternative multicultural school is frightening low. Thats why these kind of projects are so important. Where tolerance and respect aren’t just words, but lived for real. After all there are 5 hand in hand schools in the whole country and 1100 children attending there every day. Luckily with every new student also the parents circle is growing. So is the influence of the school, which shows in such a colorful way that a different way of life is possible.