Meet Mouran and Inbar

 

On December 17th, 2014 Inbar Shaked Vardi and Mouran Ibrahim, two ninth grade students from Jerusalem, met President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House, and lit the Hannuka candles at the White House ceremony.           

Who are they and what do they have to say about Hand in Hand?

                                    

Tell us a little bit about yourselves:

Inbar: I’m 14 years old and a Jewish Israeli. My parents were born in Israel and my grandparents came to Israel from Eastern Europe before WWII. My father's father was in the Palmach, and helped build this country. My mother's father won the Israel Prize a few years ago. My family is academic – my father is a professor, and mother teaches academic writing. I’m a vegan, feminist, a supporter of the gay community and believe in the rights of all people and animals. I spend my free time ballet dancing, playing recorder in the school orchestra, reading, listening to music, and watching TV.

 

Mouran: I live in Jerusalem with my mother, sister and grandparents. I’m a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship from a Muslim family who has been living in Jerusalem for generations.  Those are all important parts of my identity.  My grandfather was a singer and had a band and he was very well known.  I’m 14 years old and have been in the Hand in Hand school since 3rd grade. I like watching movies, dancing, hip hop music, which I like to listen to with my mom. I like dogs, gymnastics and horse back riding.

Tell us about your school – what makes it special?  

Mouran & Inbar: We have a message to show the world - that Arabs can live together without violence and racism. Inside this school there really isn’t racism. In the summer camp this summer, even anti-Arab jokes were not tolerated.

Inbar: After 9th grade a lot of kids leave the school as they move on to high school. Mostly because they want a change or to go to a school with more options. I was thinking about going to an arts school to study dance, but after this summer I decided I wanted to stay. We need to fight for this school to keep going, and especially after the arson attack – we won’t be scared away. It’s important to stay here and be a part of building something here – a place without racism and hatred.

Mouran: I agree with Inbar. I also considered leaving Hand in Hand to go a school much closer to where I live (now I travel an hour and a half to get to school). But I also decided to stay because I believe in this school and what it stands for - that we really can live together. We are proof of that.

What is it like outside of school?

Mouran: Outside of school it is not the same. I try not to speak Arabic in public, even on the phone so that nobody will say anything bad to me. But there are good people and bad people. Once somebody came up to me when she saw my school t-shirt because she was so excited that I learned with Jewish kids together in school. But another time, somebody yelled at me just for having Arabic on my school t-shirt. The other people on the bus defended me. I still stopped wearing my school t-shirt in public. My family supports me in the school, but things got more tense this summer during the war in Gaza. People were scared to go outside, and they thought it was bad to go and meet with Jewish people. They don’t understand that they are my friends.

 

Inbar: Outside of the school it’s different. I have a lot of family and friends who totally support me, but especially after the war in Gaza this summer there are people who think it’s weird or crazy or that I’m learning and I’m friends with “my enemy”. I also know that my Arab friends have gotten attacked outside of the school just because they are Arab.  Even my Jewish friends have been attacked -- once a Jewish friend was waiting for the bus and she was wearing a shirt with Arabic letters on her shirt.  A man started yelling at her and said, "traitor", "go back to Gaza" and many things that are really not nice. Sometimes I don’t want to tell people I go to this school because they may react badly.

What was it like after the Fire? How did you feel? 

Inbar: When I first heard it, my heart dropped. It was a terrible feeling, the image of people burning first grade books. My father went there the night it happened, just to see what he could do. The people who did this are awful people.  They wanted to stop the effect that the school can have on society, but they did the opposite. So many schools came here to support us, and there was a lot of positive excitement about it – people started to know who we are and how important we are. There was one woman who just showed up at the school to show her support. She went into the office when I was there and she told the principal “I’m sorry for what happened to you.” Just like that. Strangers expressing their support. That was really moving for me. It is clear to me that we are strengthened now, and we will grow.

Mouran: The fire was so upsetting – what a stupid thing to do! People have graffitied things on our walls in the past, but it was worse that they actually came inside the school. I was scared after I heard and I didn’t want to come, but then my friends reminded me that that’s what those people wanted – to scare us. I came the first day, and every day after that. Now I do feel safe inside the school, and even stronger for it. It was amazing how many people came to support us. There was one girl from a Jewish school who came up to me and said in Arabic – “I hope that one day Arabs and Jews can live together.” I was surprised and speechless – and moved that she could say that to me in my language. It reminded me that there are a lot of good people who do support us and what we are doing. And that we have to fight to continue this school and what we stand for. 

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