Muataz Arshid, Hand in Hand Graduate, speaks to hundreds in Haifa

"Tonight I am starting to internalize that I am not alone in this fight for a better life..." 

Moataz Arshid, and Hand in Hand Jerusalem graduate spoke to rally of hundreds of Jews and Arabs in Haifa on November 1st, 2015. 

Here is what he said: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My name is Moataz Arshid. I’m 21 years old, a student in Haifa University Law School in, and a graduate of the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem.

I want to open with a quote that I think is important and relevant to this event:

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education”

Martin Luther King Jr. said this. When he said this, he refused to accept the reality where two populations live in total inequality. My story begins with this sentence.

I was born in 1994 in Jerusalem to a wonderful father who was an aspiring lawyer, and an amazing mother, who is a nurse.  There is a reason that I am showering my parents with compliments – I know that without them, I wouldn’t be anything today.

Beyond the problems that all young parents have, my parents were forced to face an unbearable dilemma: which school system should they put me in? On the one hand, the option to send me to a school in the Arab system would allow me to hold on to my identity as an Arab-Palestinian. On the other hand, the level of education was very poor in that system. The option to send me to an Israeli-Jewish school would be better academically. But my parents knew that even if I got lucky and was able to escape the teasing and bullying, I would need to give up on my identity, and to turn into a person who I wasn’t. Into an imposter. And it was through this unanswerable dilemma, my parents somehow found a small refuge, whose chances of succeeding were very small, but worth working for.

This refuge was then called “The idea of a Bilingual School.” Like every idea, the idea of the bilingual school went through a long and difficult process. We went through so much, with  many potholes and obstacles. We moved from one building to another, we learned in classrooms with rickety chairs and broken tables, and we would even get taunted and bullied by extreme right-wing activists at recess and on our way home from school… The challenges that came with being a student in the bilingual school brought some of us to a breaking point, there were some parents that just gave up on our vision. There were people that didn’t internalize that if they join us, they are going to go through a journey for co-existence. A journey with sweat, tears, and frustration.

But even with this, we stayed. We fought, and we turned the bilingual school into what it is today. Around 15 years ago, we sat in one neglected classroom in one city, and now we are spreading our way of life in Jerusalem, Wadi Ara, the Galilee, Jaffa, and right here in Haifa!

After 12 years of bilingual education, I went through many experiences that only proved to me how hard it is to be Arab in the State of Israel. It starts from the small nuances like a girl who isn’t interested in me after she hears my name, all the way to being threatened by people on the street for being Arab. I’ve been looking, to no avail for that “safe place” that I got used to at school. A place where I am not labelled as an “Arab”, but rather as a person of worthy of equality and respect, like everybody else. After two years in Haifa, I can finally say, tonight, that I am home. I look at you before me, and I am moved. At a time when the rest of the country waves the flag of inhumanity, Haifa waves the flag of peace, solidarity, and coexistence, with pride. Haifa understands that either we will learn to live on the same land, together, or we will be buried under this land, together. Today, at the height of this difficult period we are experiencing, everybody should already know. Everybody should already know that we can’t close our eyes and depend on what already exists. We should know that if we don’t know who the other is, we won’t know who we are. Today, everybody should know that hatred and violence are side-effects of many, many years of fear and oppression.

We all want change. We all want a just solution for both nations. In my opinion, the integral part of this solution is education. In a country where one side of the tracks enjoys good education, and on the other side, it is missing, it is hard to find any common ground to bridge the two populations. In a just and equal education system, there is no child who is oppressed, no child who is violent. I am one of the Arabs who was lucky enough to have a proper education. The rest of my community suffers from very poor education – and this is not a coincidence. There is no reason that we can’t bridge the ideological gaps between these two populations, and create a pluralistic, harmonious society.

In conclusion, I want to use this stage in order to confess something. Throughout my 21 years of life I have fought to make a change towards coexistence by getting to know Jewish people every day. But despite all that I’ve learned and experienced in my life through integration in Jewish society, I also have moments where I crack. I also have nights where I fantasize about a normal life, where my personality comes before my name and my ethnicity. I also have moments when I kick myself for not going to study abroad. I also have moments, moments of honest sadness, despairing and painful. But tonight, I see hope. Tonight I am starting to internalize that I am not alone in this fight for a better life. 

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