In the News

Jewish Chronicle
April 6, 2006
School Bridges Jerusalem's Big Divide
By ERIC SILVER 

Half the seven-year-olds in the bright, modern Jerusalem classroom were
learning about Id el-Fisech. The other half were learning about Pesach.

Id el-Fisech is Arabic for the Feast of Passover. A Muslim boy said he'd
read about the Prophet Mussa (Moses) in the Koran. One of his Jewish
classmates volunteered that the festival was so called because the Lord
passed over the homes of the Israelites in Egypt.

The two young women teachers in jeans and sweaters switched back and forth
from Arabic to Hebrew. The boys and girls, eager to show how much they knew,
answered in their respective languages.  

A couple of weeks earlier they had worked on a joint project for Land Day,
when Israeli Arabs commemorate the death of six of their community 30 years
ago during protests against land confiscations in the north.

The children were among the 317 pupils who study together in 12 classes at
the bilingual Max Rayne School, founded in 1998 by the Hand in Hand charity,
between the Jewish suburb of Patt and the Arab suburb of Beit Safafa.

Lady Rayne, widow of the London property magnate and patron of the arts who
died in 2003, laid the foundation stone this week for an expanded 5,300
square metre campus, due to open in 2008. Through the Jerusalem Foundation,
her family trust has donated £2 million for it.

"This is exactly what Max would have wanted," she told the JC. "It's so
important what they're doing here. We always look for projects that foster
co-existence."

Most Israeli children learn in separate schools, Jews with Jews, Arabs with
Arabs, each in their own language. The Rayne School, one of three in the
Hand in Hand network, has two heads, one Jewish, one Arab, and two teachers
for each class - one paid by the Education Ministry, which supports the
school, the other from private donations.

Its hard-headed idealists teach the state secular curriculum. There are no
prayers, but pupils learn about Jewish, Muslim and Christian holidays. By
their second year, they are expected to be bilingual. By the fourth, they
learn in both languages.

The Arabs, two-thirds Muslim, one-third Christian, are all Israeli citizens.
Most of them have a head start because their families already speak Hebrew.
Some of the Jewish teachers study Arabic. So do about 80 Jewish parents.

Jamie Einstein, a 12-year-old in his sixth year at the school, enthused: "It's fun to have Arab friends and learn to speak Arabic. My two best
friends are Arabs, one Christian, one Muslim. Every year, on our birthdays,
we sleep over in each others' houses." One of the friends, Majd

Saada,
chipped in: "I feel as if I'm at home there." His middle-class parents
wanted him to get to know Jews.

The school's aim is mutual understanding and respect, rather than to create
a melting pot. It does not paper over the conflicting narratives, the bitter
memories of both sides.

Ala Khatib, the Arab headmaster, admitted it had not been easy. Land Day is
the first national day every year. Some of the children's parents were
soldiers; some had relatives among the fallen.

"We've invested a lot of time in creating a tradition of how to present the
story," he explained. "In first grade, we teach about my house, my
neighbour, my rights. By fifth and sixth grade, we talk about democracy,
about the right to protest and its limits."

They teach the historical facts. For Independence Day, the school flies the
Magen David like every state school. But the Jewish teachers talk about the
War of Independence; the Arab teachers calls it al-Naqba (Catastrophe) Day. "You can hear two sides," Mr Khatib said. "We discuss it. Our teaching is
about respectful dialogue, listening to the other side. We don't have to
agree."

When Yasir Arafat died, some Jewish children rejoiced, calling him a
terrorist. Some Arabs mourned a hero, the creator of the Palestinians'
national identity. "Ignoring it was not a solution," said Mr Khatib. "We
talked and we listened. We dedicated a corner of a wall to Arafat, a person
who at one time also wanted to make peace."

In June 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 19 passengers on a bus at
the Patt Junction barely 200 metres from the school. The children, who were
playing in the yard, heard the explosion.  "All the kids were sad, all of them 
were frightened," recalled Dalia Peretz, the Jewish head, a younger sister of 
Labour leader Amir Peretz. "It could have happened to them."



"Some people thought it would weaken the school but in fact it strengthened
us. You won't find a single child here who is happy if a Jew dies or an Arab
dies. We're not playing a game. I see in front of my eyes that things can be
otherwise."
 

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