In the News

San Antonio Express-News
October 27, 2011
Jewish, Arab Students in Israel Learn Hand-in-Hand

Two Israeli teen girls — one Jewish and one Arab — stood side by side in front of local audiences Thursday to speak proudly of the high school in Jerusalem they both attend.

There, they learned to speak each other's language fluently. They learned details of Judaism and Islam. They've done homework and studied for tests together. And they've socialized outside the classroom like kids who grow up together do.

They're students of Hand in Hand schools, a unique school system in Israel that integrates Jews and Arabs and is aiming to ease the contentious Middle East conflict.

“It's a lot more than just a school,” said the Jewish teen, Yael Keinan, 16. “I don't just go to school and go home. This school gives me values and makes me the person I am.”

Keinan and her Muslim Arab colleague, Haneen Kinani, 17, are on a U.S. tour of five cities where they've touted the Hand in Hand school approach before interfaith gatherings, Jewish and Christian congregations, high schools and living rooms.

Hand in Hand was co-founded by Lee Gordon in 1997 and provides integrated, bilingual schools for Arab and Jewish students. It began with 50 students and now has more than 1,000 at four schools. Another two are in development.

Each class has a mix of Arab and Jewish students. Teachers and principals are split equally between the two groups.

The Israeli education department accredited the schools and provides partial funding, with the rest coming from tuition and donations.

Central to the concept is hope that it will breed goodwill in younger generations who as adults continue to be friends able to overcome the disputes about religion, land and politics, Gordon said.

“When people are separated, they don't know each other and can continue to have stereotypes about each other,” Gordon said. “They don't know of their needs and aspirations, and by bringing them together, it's an important step in overcoming this historic conflict.”

The two girls visited Los Angeles last week, and they will continue from here to Austin, Chicago and New York.

They chose not to go to conventional public schools in Israel, they said, which are segregated between Arabs and Jews by tradition and history — particularly after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Both had grandparents who objected to this setup, questioning the good in an integrated education. The students said it is a challenge but provides a way to broaden their minds.

Students engage often in lively debate — sometimes shouting, they said. Yet most of the time, it's civil and they all staunchly defend a school where dialogue and understanding are championed.

Questions about how they pull this off emerged Thursday at presentations before gatherings of Jews and about 75 students their age at the International School of the Americas.

There were light moments about their shared love of shopping malls, restaurants and movies — and how they often spend the night with friends who are both Arab and Jewish.

“It's not like we're naïve, and say we're going to change the world, 'cause we're not,” Keinan said as her Arab friend nodded in agreement. “But maybe if there would be more schools like ours and people knew about our school, it can change something.”


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