Areen Nashef, Student, Jerusalem

Interview with 8th-grader AREEN NASHEF, by Yale University intern ZOE LIBERMAN. 

It Is an Experiment, But It is Working.

At the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem, Arab and Jewish students are taught together and learn about one another’s language, culture and traditions. The students understand how important it is for places like their school, which allow the two communities to interact and build relationships, to exist.

One Arab student, 8th-grader Areen Nashef, articulates her experience and how it has affected her particularly clearly. "In my school I get to see both sides,” she says. “I feel that we (Arabs and Jews) are equal and on the same level. While in school we feel equal, we cannot feel real justice outside of the school — there we are not equal."

She explains that in Jerusalem, women who mark themselves publicly as Muslim by wearing head scarves are made to wait at certain gates and places, while Jewish women can just walk through.

"People see us as Arabs and not as individuals,” she says. “I hope eventually that people can learn to get past that."

Areen has seen discrimination all her life; attending a Hand in Hand school gives her a sense of control. "I decided to go to this school because I want to be equal,” she says. “I need to believe that we are equal, that they (Jews) are not better. It is easier to do that in this school than in other places in Israel. Being in this school has taught me that I can be whoever I want to be and not be judged. Not all Jews are bad, just as not all Arabs are bad."

As a result of her integrated education, she says, she understand things that many people her age do not.

"My friends are not just Arab,” she says. “Some are Jewish, too. I am sure that many Arab girls have a lot in common with Jewish girls, but they do not know it because they will not take the time to find out."

She particularly notices the barriers that exist between Jews and Arabs when she sees her friends from the north of Israel. "They think I am doing something wrong by going to this school,” she says. “They do not see what I see. They believe that all Jews want to kill them. But here in school we see everything differently."

While her school is still an exception to what happens in most of Israel, Areen says she is optimistic. "The school is like a bubble, putting us away from reality and showing people on the outside that we can live together,” she says. “It is an experiment, but it is working.”

“However, the school in some ways is not a bubble,” she adds. “We see what happens daily and are affected by it. We talk in school about everything that happens, such as the war in Gaza. Talking about these things in groups with people from both cultures allows us to see each side and handle it better than other people."

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