NO. OF STUDENTS: 171
GRADES: first through ninth
LOCATION: Arab town of Sakhnin
New music program starts students off on the right note.
The Galilee School, one of Hand in Hand's two original campuses (along with the Jerusalem school), was founded in 1998. It was the first, in 2004, to launch a junior high program. Last year it celebrated the arrival of a music program.
The Galilee is a large, sparsely populated, mountainous region in northern Israel. Three Arab towns and numerous smaller Jewish communities feed the school, located next to the Arab town of Sakhnin on land owned by the Jewish kibbutz Eshbal. The area enjoys more of a tradition of Jewish coexistence than some of Israel's other regions; still, there are relatively few opportunities for Jewish and Arab citizens to meaningfully interact outside of their daily commutes. This was especially true for children, before the Hand in Hand campus opened.
The site was chosen when a critical mass of parents was courageous enough to pioneer the risky project. Eldad Garfunkel, whose son attended the original first-grade class, remembers late-night planning sessions in Sakhnin. "We held so many meetings and parent workshops that would prepare us for what might happen on the first day of school," Garfunkel recalls. "But the children blended so naturally that we realized we were the problem, not them."
The region is not without its political tensions. With its Arab majority, it's the target of government initiatives to increase Jewish settlement. Tensions flare each March around "Land Day," a commemoration of six Israeli Arabs killed in 1976 following protests against government land appropriation. Three of them were from Sakhnin.
The most recent violence occurred in October 2000, when 13 Israeli-Arab demonstrators were killed in a clash with police. Consultants were called in to help the Hand in Hand staff work through their raw feelings, questioning and sorrow. Parents transported their children to school through police barricades and despite the admonishments of their neighbors. No one knew if the school would continue. But it survived and thrived, playing a major role in bringing the Jews and Arabs of the region back together. The school has developed powerful name recognition and clout in the region as a peace-builder.