Dalia Peretz, Former Principal, Jerusalem

By DALIA PERETZ, principal at the Jerusalem school from 2001 to 2010.

The Devastating Fear of 'The Other.'

 

In 2001, I was offered the position of principal at Hand in Hand’s Jerusalem School. At first glance, it was different from all my previous work in education. As a teacher and director of educational programs, and through my studies at the Mandel School for Educational Leadership, I had never dealt directly with the Jewish-Arab question. But I knew that Hand in Hand’s basic concept of coexistence and equality fit well with my outlook on the world — so I took the job.

As a principal, I was inspired to forge an alternative to the separateness of the Jewish and Arab populations in Israel, and to directly combat the devastating fear of “the other."
 
My family came to Israel from Morocco in 1956. I was born in S'derot, an impoverished Jewish town in the western Negev near the Gaza Strip. My upbringing, including a childhood of poverty and experience of deep social injustice, combined with my parents’ deep human and Jewish values, provided inspiration for my career. Fortunately, educational resources enabled me and my brother Amir, who serves in the Knesset and is the former Israeli Minister of Defense, to advance academically and professionally.

Brought up in a home influenced by Jewish and Arab culture and music, where Moroccan-Arabic was spoken, my home was like others in the village, where Arab culture was familiar. But it was unlike homes in so many other parts of the country, where Jewish and Arabic cultures do not overlap or interact.
 
At Hand in Hand, I was positioned at one of the most important places in 21st-century Israel. In our divided society, relationships between Jewish and Arab children can succeed only if parties meet as equals, without any feelings of alienation. We created a school where all children feel their languages and cultures have a legitimate place, a school where intercultural exchange can take place despite the unequal balance of power in our society.

I am delighted that my daughters Noa and Michal attend the school. They will develop a broader, more tolerant and sophisticated world view. I have no doubt that all the students in the school, including my daughters, will grow up to be better human beings and citizens because of this education.
 
While violence in the Middle East is primarily between Israel and Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it profoundly affects the relations between Israel’s Jewish majority and Arab minority (which is 20 percent of the population). For the most part, Jews and Arabs live in separate communities, study in separate schools, and have minimal contact and interaction with one another.

In this immensely complex and difficult situation, if there is ever to be hope for the future, we need to begin with the children. Hand in Hand schools make room for great differences and diversities, and each group expresses itself in its own unique way. Nonetheless, we also share common values and beliefs — the most important being that Jews and Arabs, if they so wish, are able to live side by side in peace.  
 

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