Dr. Inas Deeb's Matanel Prize Acceptance Speech

Good evening, everyone.

I am delighted to stand here in this special ceremony and be one of the grantees of this prestigious award. On behalf of my two fellow grantees, Ms. Ella Britchanski and Ms. Wobet Worku Mengistu, and myself, we are honored to be given this special award, the Matanel Prize in Education.

Every state, every society, struggles with its diversity. The three of us represent a minority group within Israeli society. Each of us here is being recognized for our theoretical and professional contributions to providing our youth with the tools and opportunities to manage—and grow from—this diversity. 

I am sure the prize will serve as an inspiration for other educators who successfully and creatively integrate theory and practice to leverage a daring humanistic message that is transmitted to the world toward a better future. 

In the short time I am given, I wish to give a brief overview of my work at the bilingual Jewish-Arab schools, and to share some of the significant findings from my research and its applicability to other groups, as well. 

I have been involved with the bilingual Jewish-Arab schools of Hand in Hand for the last 12 years, first and still as a parent of two children who will be graduating from this school next year, then for four years as a researcher, and for the last three years as the education director.

Today, there are three bilingual schools with more than 850 Jewish and Arab students, and we are opening two new pre-ks in Haifa and Jaffa in September, which we envision will expand annually to become full-fledged schools. Each school is surrounded by a supportive community with a range of adult-oriented activities. 

Over the next 10 years, Hand in Hand aims to create a network of 10 to 15 integrated bilingual schools, supported and enhanced by organized community activities, altogether involving more than 20,000 Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens. 

Hand in Hand believes that the day-to-day living experience of its students, teachers, parents and all those who participate in its schools and community activities can inspire broad support for social inclusion and civic equality in Israel.

  • In these schools, Arab and Jewish children learn together in both Arabic and Hebrew. 
  • They learn to speak in both languages, because language is part of their identity and opens their eyes to know more about themselves and about the other.
  • They learn to respect and celebrate both their own and each other’s culture, religion and holidays.
  • As important, they also learn about and create common ground in order to create a positive common future. 
  • They learn to see the world from different perspectives, and understand that bridges cannot be built and controversies cannot be resolved if each group keeps ignoring the other. 
  • On the contrary, the daily contact gives them an opportunity to build trust and mutual interests, and hopefully creates equal and respectful relations with others living in this country, regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds.

One of the most powerful things about the Hand in Hand model is the intersection between theory and practice, between ideology and its implementation. In putting the ideal of equality and coexistence into practice, we must constantly find methods to resolve the challenges that arise along the way. 
I am sure that some of you might be wondering how this whole educational enterprise is worth all these huge efforts. Or how this daily contact affects children’s views and perspectives of their own ethnicity and of the other?  
Well, my research came to examine these exact questions. Research has shown that Israeli children have an essentialist belief toward ethnic backgrounds. They understand implicitly that people belong to distinct homogenous social groups, and perceive their inner group as essentially different from other groups and that these differences are based on inherited, immutable characteristics. The question is: Are bilingual multicultural frameworks like those that Hand in Hand operates able to effectively shift children from a strict essential state of mind to a more inclusive belief that we are, in fact, essentially similar as human beings?
In this research, I included more than 500 kindergarteners, 2nd and 6th graders from three groups: secular Jews and Muslim Arabs who each attend homogenous schools, and Jews and Arabs jointly attending integrated, bilingual schools. It was a quantitative empiric study that gathered data using various implicit tasks. Some tasks assessed the effect of such education on the level of awareness to ethnicity among children, meaning how much and when children become aware of their own ethnicity and the ethnicity of others. Other tasks addressed whether contact affected children's essentialist beliefs towards ethnic categories.

The findings show that:

  • Jewish and Arab children at the integrated schools become more aware of ethnic categories, their own and the others, from an early age, and earlier than children of the other two groups, the homogenous Jewish and Arab children.  
  • The inter-ethnic daily contact that takes place at the integrated schools alleviates essentialist beliefs; it decreases stereotypical thinking and tames racist attitudes.
  • This strengthens the belief that, along with our different histories and different perspectives, we can still perceive each other as essentially equal human beings. 

What are the implications of these findings? How are we supposed to teach our  children? Do we teach them that Arabs, Jews, Ethiopians, Russians and so forth are all different? Or do we only talk about how we are all the same? The answer is: We educate them about difference, and only through doing so, can we teach them about how we are all fundamentally the same as human beings. 

Making children aware of, rather than blind to, ethnic diversity, can be good. The fact that these results were obtained in the particular political context surrounding these children is even more encouraging.     

Yet what transforms this challenging goal into reality is the real and tough work that school principals and each dedicated teacher assume every day and every single moment. Bringing Jewish and Arab children together is not by itself what makes the difference. Rather, the commitment of the entire educational platform to this challenging goal is crucially important, and must be constantly sustained and developed.

For this deeply important cause, I am very happy to dedicate the Matanel prize to my own organization, to foster more and more educational projects at our schools.

Thanks to everyone who made a special effort to be here with us at this special event. Thanks to my colleagues and friends at Hand in Hand for their continuous support, and special thanks to Shuli Dichter, Hand in Hand executive director, for his confident faith in my work and for nominating me to receive this special award.

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