Arab Parents Speak


“I want my children to know the Palestinian story and the Israeli story.
I want them to know the truth.” 
FAISAL HAIKAL, father, Kfar Kara.

When Amina was born, I started worrying about where she would study. I started looking for a good school. I was very concerned because I didn’t like the educational level in our village. One day I was working with a Jewish friend of mine. He said, "What do you think about starting an Arab-Jewish school?" I said, "I'd be the first to support it." One day he invited me to a meeting to start a democratic school. Later we thought of establishing a bilingual school. We worked very hard on the idea, and there was a lot of discussion between the Arabs and the Jews. But we didn’t give up, and started the school.

I had fears about my daughter going to an Arab-Jewish school. I was afraid that she would stop following our practices and customs. At the school, the opposite happened. I started emphasising teaching her Arabic. And my own ideas about Jews changed. I started making Jewish friends. My daughter started visiting her Jewish classmates, and they visited us. And we didn't find this unusual. It became normal. The school enriched Amina's sense of national belonging. She learns about the Nakba, the Kfar Kara massacre and Land Day at school. When I was in school, they taught me only about the Jewish people and not my own history. They taught me the Torah and the poetry of Ibn Gabirol and Tchernichowsky. My daughter learns about her culture and her history.

I speak with Amina only in Arabic. I went to an Arabic school but I didn't learn my people's history. This hedged us in. Today my daughter knows about the Nakba and talks about it freely and fearlessly. The encounter at school dissipates fear. When you talk about something you take the fear out of it. I talk about my struggles, and this is legitimate. The Jewish person cannot ignore this suffering. He or she must know my history to know me, my reality, my heritage and my civilisation. They must look at me as an equal and not from above. If all the state leaders had graduated from schools like this, we'd all be in a better situation. I want my children to know the Palestinian story and the Israeli story. I want them to know the truth.

“I am for Arab-Jewish harmony. I also want my daughters to demand their rights and hold their heads high.” HATEM MATER, father, Jerusalem

Like other Arabs who were born after Israel’s establishment, Hatem – born in 1964 – attended Israeli schools and studied Israeli curricula. The aim of these curricula, established by the ministry of the interior, was to construct a generation of Israeli Arabs severed from their past and dazzled by the new Israeli culture and politics. Yet many who were born after Israel's establishment are more attached to their Arab past than they are to their Israeli present. Hatem tries, like others, to find a balance that will allow him to survive and negotiate between two contradictory, and sometimes conflicting, worlds.

"In my history classes in primary and secondary school," he said, "we studied only until Ottoman rule, then we studied Jewish history in World War II and the establishment of Israel. Palestine's history was a missing link in our history lessons. Every year we celebrated Israel's Independence Day, by order of the school's administration. It was a big school project. The playground and classes were decorated, the flags of the state and of different army units were flown, pictures of political and military figures were hung. We performed plays and sang songs. We sang: 'On the day of my country's independence, the birds sing and the joy spreads over the country, from the river to the valley.' I learned the truth not in school but outside of it. The truth was in my mother's and father's stories. My mother was born in one destroyed village and my father in another."

Hatem talks about continuing discrimination. "I started working as a hotel manager. On the first day, a Jewish employee said to me, "You can't be my superior. What, don't we have enough Jewish managers?" These events that anger you also inspire you to look for ways to fight racism and to find frameworks for coexistence. Ignorance and a patronising attitude lead to unnecessary conflict.

"I carry this difficult history. But there is another people here that we must co-exist with. On the one hand, it is important to me that my daughters know their true history. We visit our destroyed villages. We hold on to the house keys that their grandfather has kept for over 60 years. On the other hand, we look for ways to live alongside Jews respectfully and equally. I chose a bilingual school because I am for Arab-Jewish harmony, and for changing racist positions among Jews who do not know Arabs. I also want my daughters to demand their rights and hold their heads high."

“My son is at the school, and God willing, the rest of my children
will go there also.” 
IBRAHIM SALMAN, father, Jerusalem

Ibrahim radiates calmness. Is this the disposition that an Arab taxi driver in Israel must adopt in a country of checkpoints? Is he forced to be calm? Sometimes Ibrahim tells a story that provides insights into the wider conflict. The worst thing for Ibrahim as a taxi driver is when a customer asks him "Are you an Arab or a Jew?" and gets out when he learns that Ibrahim is an Arab. Or taking a customer to the airport: "An American woman – a tourist – got in my taxi once. I took her to the airport. At the gate, they told me to stop at the side. I stopped. They took everything out of the car and told me to open the suitcases. I refused. I said they weren’t mine. They should ask her to open them. She started screaming. I told them to put everything back in the car. They stopped us for two hours for nothing.

"I can't put the radio on. Once I had Oum Kulthoum on, and a woman told me to turn it off. If I turn on a Hebrew station, the Arabs don't like it, and if I turn on an Arabic station, the Jews don't like it, and it leads to a war over music. It's easier just not to turn it on."

The war over music made Ibrahim silence the car speakers. But the war over life and culture made him send his son Amir to a Jewish-Arab school that solved the problem of music, culture and a shared life, by giving legitimacy to his language, culture and life. That is what his son feels, as he talks about the school with ease and candour. "Yes, my son is at the school," Ibrahim said, "and God willing, the rest of my children will go there also."

“No one knows how the students will do in higher education after school, especially after they collide with the reality of power and discrimination.” IBRAHIM MATAR, father, Sakhnin

On Land Day I was 9 years old: I was with those children who threw stones in protest at land being confiscated. After 10th grade, I moved to a vocational school and worked with my father as an ironsmith. When I received the vocational degree, I went to work in an industrial complex.

I had a Jewish friend who decided to start a high-tech electronics company. He offered me work and partnership in the company. Today we have 50 workers, on over 2,000 metres of land. We work for big companies, high-tech institutions and heavy industries.

I am a member of the Trustees Committee at the Jewish-Arab school. There are ten of us, five Arabs and five Jews. When we meet, we discuss everything to do with the school and its development. What we are busy with is moving the school. We have finished building the school and are still arguing about the road to it. We have to solve this issue before the coming school year. There is a short road that passes through an Arab area and a long road that passes through Jewish settlements. Some Jewish parents are afraid of the bus passing through an Arab area. It didn't occur to us that the students could travel separately, the Arab students via the Arab area and the Jewish students via the settlements.

No one knows how the students will do in higher education after school, especially after they collide with the reality of power and discrimination. My wife wonders, "Why should I put my daughter in an experiment?" But when she compares what is offered there with the other schools in Sakhnin, she is content to have her daughter study at the Hand in Hand school. 

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