JERUSALEM – The city of Jerusalem is a powder keg waiting to explode. Stabbings, arrests, roadblocks, beatings and clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian youth are a daily occurrence.
But during this holiday season, there is one place in Jerusalem that is sending a message of peace and coexistence.
At the Hand in Hand bilingual school, “the message is that no matter the differences we can live together and we can respect each other and hear each other out,” says Emanuel Arbach, a 17-year-old Israeli student at the Jerusalem school.
That message is lived every day by about 600 families who have decided that the current reality of hatred and animosity between Arabs and Jews can be changed.
“Ignorance is one of the main deficiencies and the main reason that this conflict is continuing,” says Ahmad. “You should know the other side, you should know the history, the narrative of your rivals even if we are talking about enemies.”
His daughter, Natalie, started her schooling at the Beit Hanina municipality school but understood by fifth grade that she needed a different kind of education. “Our school teaches us the good side of living together, it doesn’t show the hate,” Natalie said. “It shows that yes, there is love here and that there could be peace”.
On Nov. 29, this island of coexistence was rocked by an extreme right-wing Jewish group whose members broke into a first grade class and set it on fire.
“I actually started crying,” said Natalie. “I called my dad telling him, how can someone burn a school, it’s not just any school, its burning a school that symbolizes peace and love.”
Natalie’s father was speaking that day at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
“This city is important historically, nationally,” Ahmad said. “It is the most sensitive place in the Middle East and there are some pyromaniacs whom are playing here in the city.”
Although shocked and disgusted by the arson attack, the students here seem more united and determined than ever to continue and study together.“For me I won’t let any hate comments or the fire to stop us from our message and what we believe in,” said Yasmin Khoury, a 16-year-old student at the Hand in Hand school.
During our stay at the school it really looked as though the kids are a living testimony to the idea that coexistence is an achievable goal. Each class has two teachers, one Israeli and one Arab. The two languages, Hebrew and Arabic, can be heard echoing from every class.
“The philosophy behind this school is for people to be together and to know each other just so there isn’t any of this fear which eventually leads to hatred,” said Lynn Goldberg, a teacher at the Hand in Hand school.
The first-graders were practicing singing Hannukah and Christmas songs as we entered. Except for bilingual education, the school also uses shared calendars as another important piece of its multicultural framework. Only time will tell if these kids will grow up and change the reality of hatred which continues to divide this country.