Rosette Hakim, Mother, Jerusalem

Famed Israeli broadcast journalist ROSETTE HAKIM and her daughter SHIR live and breathe Jewish-Arab coexistence — at home, school and work.

Mother-Daughter Duo for Peace.

Rosette Hakim has worked for more than 20 years for the Arabic section of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority (IBA). She is very popular, not only among the Arab population of Israel, but also among the Palestinians on the other side of the Green Line and throughout the Arab world.

Following the uprising in the territories, the security services offered Rosette a program on Israeli radio. The program was to serve as a liaison between distressed Palestinians in need of help and the Israeli civil and military bureaucracy. It broadcast various appeals for help, such as aid for a sick child, permission for a family visit, or complaints about an unjustly confiscated driver’s license.

Rosette sorted through these messages – sometimes as many as 500 appeals in a week – and broadcast the most urgent. She was thus instrumental in solving some of the problems. The program made Rosette's name a household word in almost every town and village in the West Bank and Gaza.

Few of her listeners, however, know anything about her personal life.

Rosette  was born in Damascus in 1956 to a large and wealthy Syrian Jewish family. Her father was a businessman who opened a large Islamic art store in the 1940s, establishing a successful business network throughout the Arab world.

“My father was literate only in Arabic,” remembers Rosette. “However, owing to the fact that he had business dealings with people from all over the world, he spoke seven languages fluently, including Italian, Russian, French and Hebrew.”

Rosette is the ninth child of 10, none of whom remain in Syria. She came to Israel in 1972. While seeking a new 2nd-grade school for her daughter, Shir, a colleague told her about Hand in Hand. She paid a visit to the school and was favorably impressed. 

“In actual fact I have never really cut myself off from Arab culture," Rosette says. "As a baby, Shir used to fall asleep to the music of Oum Kulthoum.” Rosette and Shir regularly watch both the Arabic and Hebrew channels.

Shir’s years at Hand in Hand have turned her and her mother into fervent supporters of the school and its basic principles. Rosette is impressed by the standard of teaching and the way problems are solved. Shir says that she “enjoys going to school” and explains that “it is real fun to meet children who are different, from a different culture and who celebrate different festivals.”

She is frequently required to come to the defense of her school when some of the children and even adults of her neighborhood make disparaging remarks. “The children in the neighborhood always ask me how I can stand learning with Arab children who are our enemies and want to kill us," Shir says. "I tell them that I really enjoy visiting my friends in Beit Safafa and Beiti Hanina or in the Armenian Quarter. I also tell them what fun it is to sleep in my friend’s house in the Old City and wake up to the sounds of church bells. I know that it is difficult to convince them, but I enjoy the discussion because it makes me feel special.”

Shir’s uncles, who immigrated to America, are very supportive of her attendance at the bilingual school. They do not speak Hebrew, and only now that Shir knows Arabic are they able to communicate with their Israeli niece. “The problem,” says Shir laughingly, “is that I speak Palestinian Arabic and they speak Syrian Arabic. They correct my Arabic all the time, and I correct theirs.”

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