In the News

JUF News
Jan. 19, 2012
Living Peace by Learning "Hand in Hand"

Haneen Kinani and Yael Keinan look like typical teenagers. With their blue jeans and t-shirts, the two girls easily blend in walking down a street in Chicago. Their interests, which include music and shopping, also don’t differentiate them much from girls their age.

But in Israel, where they are both from, the girls lead lives that are different from those of most teenagers. Kinani, 17, is a Muslim, while Keinan, 16, is a Jew. Not only are they close friends, but both attend the same high school in Jerusalem.

While the idea of attending school with someone of another faith is typical in the United States, it is quite the opposite in Israel. Jews and Arabs tend to live in separate neighborhoods and attend their own schools. There are few opportunities for Jews and Arabs to get to know each other.

But at the Hand in Hand school attended by the girls, the opposite is true. Originally founded by Lee Gordon and Amin Khalaf in 1997, the Hand in Hand system operates on the idea that peaceful co-existence stems from students getting to know and respect each other’s cultures, faiths and differences. Classes are taught in both Hebrew and Arabic, by both Jewish and Muslim teachers. The girls’ school is the only high school out of the four Hand in Hand schools in Israel, and they have been classmates since elementary school.

Neither of them sees themselves as activists or people trying to change the world. “We’re not trying to learn how to solve conflict,” said Keinan. “We’re just trying to live something that is different from our surroundings.” But they agree that children who interact and learn together from a young age are more likely to grow up into more open-minded, tolerant adults. “If a little Jewish kid talks to his Arab friend and they go to each other’s houses and socialize after school, that’s where the peace happens,” she said. “That’s where the change is happening.”

That kind of change is not necessarily easy for some people in both communities to understand and accept. On one occasion, a man protested outside the school, screaming that he prayed for the school to be burned down. But situations never get violent, insist the girls, and their real challenge is dealing with people who are opposed to the Hand in Hand system. "Sometimes people come with an attacking position,” said Keinan. “Sometimes they won’t listen, won’t respect anything or accept anything that is different than their own opinion.” 

But Kinani says it’s unlikely for her to have a friend who does not understand why she goes to a Hand in Hand school. “If they can’t accept the idea of us going to this kind of school, they’re probably not our friend,” she said. “It’s part of us and who we are.” As for other people who may judge them, Keinan suggests that perhaps they just don’t know how to react to seeing such close bonds developing between Jews and Arabs. “It’s not like playing in the same sandbox. These are real friendships,” she said. “For people this is new. I think for people it’s hard to listen and to accept it… so I hope that change is coming, even for people to realize we go to school and sit in same class.”

It’s hard to predict whether or not the students who graduate from Hand in Hand’s school system will become politically active. The class of 2011 was the high school’s first graduating class, and co-founder Lee Gordon is optimistic about the future of Hand in Hand graduates. ‘I would think that they are much more aware and interested in issues and conflict,” he said. “I would like and expect that they’re going to be more engaged as adult citizens. Hopefully they will be motivated to be problem solvers and peace makers in society.”

Lee, along with Kinani and Keinan, has been traveling around the United States, giving speeches in Los Angeles, Austin, San Antonio, Chicago, and New York. In November, they visited Saint Patrick and Mother McAuley high schools in Chicago, sponsored by JUF's Israel Education Center, in partnership with the Archdiocese of Chicago.

To learn more about Hand in Hand, visit






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