Hand in Hand peacebuilding

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.

What Do You Think?

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  • diane witters says:

    I so appreciate hearing stories of hope such as this one, where a sizable creative investment is made in the youth and families who live right within troubled territory. What stood out to me as I watched the CNN story on this (above) is that the teachers & admin at Hand in Hand accept the fact that they aren’t going to agree on many issues. And that’s ok. But to be in community together, sharing space and stories, this is the beginning of respect and coexistence. In my eyes, this school is reinventing the positive power of story-telling. In the Middle East, it seems to me that for too long both “sides” have fallen into the trap of using historical stories of conflict and persecution as an excuse for hate, suspicision, and revenge. Hand in Hand appears to be using story-telling as a pathway to empathy and deep listening. As we listen to another’s story and perspective with respect — and then ask honest questions about a creative future — maybe we enable her/him to break out of the chains of history and begin to open up thought to new possibilities.

  • Cherie Gans says:

    A great step toward dissolving fear of the other. So heartening!

  • Phyllis Ulrich says:

    Wonderful to hear of such interest in these schools. After all, hath not one God created us?

  • Shawna says:

    Inspiring and overwhelming . All I can do is cry and that is good cry for what you are doing. How can I help?

  • Phyllis Ulrich says:

    This is another very good example of learning coexistence and loving your neighbor on getting to know him or her. Have we not all one Father, hath not one God created us? Of course!

  • Bobby says:

    It’s sad seeing Israel become a far right government, with a far right community it has managed to become. I’m hopeful that with new leadership soo, Israel can go back being admired again.

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