Bringing Hand in Hand Values to University Campuses
With our Hand in Hand University Student Community program, we build Jewish-Arab relations on campus using values that last a lifetime.
Hand in Hand students learn in a bilingual environment that champions equality and shared values. But we only reach a small percentage of the population – most of Israel’s Jewish and Arab population are educated separately, and many don’t get the opportunity to meet until they reach the college/university level. Hand in Hand’s work doesn’t end in the classroom, which is why we take every opportunity we can to share our values outside our schools and ensure as many people as possible have access to the tools they need to build an equal, shared society.
Since the majority of young Jewish and Arab adults only encounter each other for the first time at university, they tend to stay separate on campus, sticking to what and who they know and missing out on opportunities to overcome deep-rooted stereotypes and create meaningful relationships.
To counteract this, we established the Hand in Hand University Student Community program to bring Arab and Jewish communities together on campus. In 2021 we launched a 12-student pilot program in Jerusalem, which was such a success that we received over 140 applications for the 2022-23 program! And in fall 2022, we launched year-two of the program with 16 participants.
This second year of the program recently concluded, after 10 months of weekly shared learning and dialogue sessions, volunteering, trips, seminars, and campus events.
Meetings focused on individual and collective identity, with topics like language as an obstacle and a bridge, and the power of language in wider society. Participants discussed the objectivity and limitations of human rights discourse between the Middle East and the West inspired by the Qatar World Cup, and took part in festive shared holiday celebrations. The group went on tours in Jerusalem and Jaffa, and held discussion sessions with varied institutions and organizations across Jerusalem. In the second semester, the group created independent social action initiatives to introduce others to our mission.
In one poignant session, each student brought a family object and used it as a lens to share their family history. The experience provided meaningful insight into the richly diverse worlds that the participants come from, highlighting both the different nuances and also shared touchpoints too.
By the end of the program, participants had much greater knowledge about each other’s history, culture, and narratives; improved critical discourse and active listening skills; refined intergroup understanding, empathy, and trust; and reduced prejudice and stereotypes. Now the group has a deep sense of connection to one another, and the tools to collaborate together – tools they’ll have for a lifetime.
The past two years of the Hand in Hand University Student Community program have been a fantastic success, and we are now (July 2023) recruiting participants for next year’s cohort. In the coming years we plan to expand the program to other cities as well, with hopes to launch groups in Haifa and Tel Aviv-Jaffa as well.
A Palestinian student from the recent cohort said:
“I felt that we did something this year: there was equality between the languages, and an open discourse on political issues. These things are not taken for granted in a joint group and it meant a lot to me.”
Graduates of this program will have a special role to play in the future of this country, having the tools to build integrated communities, give respect even in disagreement, and think critically about the systems keeping our sectors segregated. With polarization and division on the rise, it’s crucial we take every opportunity we can to build relationships and a society based on shared values of equality. With our University Student Community program, Hand in Hand offers an alternative vision of Israel’s future through meaningful dialogue, genuine relationships and sustainable change, showing students that our differences do not need to divide us – in fact, they can make us much stronger.