Peacebuilding “Hand In Hand” in Israel/Palestine
The Hand in Hand school works to build bridges between Arab and Jewish children in Israel/Palestine
Abraham Lincoln once said “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” When we get to know someone as a fellow human being, it’s much harder to hate them. But the reverse is true as well: those who we don’t know are much easier to hate. Nowhere is this more evident than in Israel/Palestine, where 90% of the Arabs and Jews in Israel live completely separated from the other. There are many people on both sides who work to keep the status quo of separation, thinking it is better for their “side.” But there are those working to break down those barriers, like the Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel which offers integrated classes for Arab and Jewish students on the Israeli side of the Green Line.
CNN covers Hand in Hand’s Jerusalem school:
Rebecca Bardach, who works at Hand in Hand, and whose three children attend the school, says “A lot of people are giving up. They say both sides are too entrenched to ever live together. They are resigned to an endless conflict. But people involved in Hand in Hand are not ready to be condemned to an endless conflict. Their aspiration is for something else.”
The idea resonates with many in Israel on both sides. The school started in Jerusalem in 1998 with only 50 students, and now has about 1,320 with hundreds of families still on the waiting list, and has expanded to locations in the Galilee, Wadi Ara, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa, and Tira-Kfar Saba.
Hand in Hand recognizes the humanity in everyone. They offer bilingual education in Arabic and Hebrew for all their students, and celebrate Christian, Jewish, and Islamic holidays.
Already, Hand In Hand graduates are applying what they learned into their lives after school. Take Mahmood Abu Saleh for instance, who now attends Be’er Sheva University, and created a series of programs to bring Jewish and Arab students together there as well. Or Adan Kinani, who after seeing the media coverage of the Gaza war, decided to study at Hebrew University to become a journalist and bring the “Hand in Hand spirit of seeing many sides” into her work and life. She also co-created Humans of Hand in Hand which profiles students, teachers, and parents from the school.
But teaching coexistence has not been without its troubles. In late 2014, one of the schools made headlines when it was attacked by arsonists and spray painted with graffiti such as “Death to Arabs” and “Kahane was right” (Meir Kahane was a rabbi and far-right member of the Israeli Knesset who encouraged violence against Arabs). However, it only served to draw international attention and support to the school, including from President Obama, who invited students from Hand in Hand to the White House’s annual Hanukkah celebration. The students also made a handmade wooden menorah for the event.
Despite opposition, demand for the school continues to grow from parents on both sides, and they plan to expand to a network of 10-15 schools over the next decade.