In an area full of religious and ethnic tensions, a non-profit organization established in 1997 by the name of Hand in Hand teaches Jewish and Arab students in Jerusalem.
According to the Hand in Hand website, part of their curriculum includes peace education, conflict resolution, and leadership development. The website also states that the ongoing conflicts in the area are discussed openly and integrated into lessons to help Arab and Jewish children communicate effectively and understand each other, even though they might disagree. All students are taught both Arabic and Hebrew.
“Fear and mistrust develops over years when people are separated,” Mohamad Marzouk, director of the community department Hand in Hand schools told the Toronto Star. “A kindergarten child goes to an Arabic or Hebrew school and never experiences the existence of children on the other side. This ignorance of the other creates mistrust and fear.”
By going to the same school, Arab and Jewish students at Hand in Hand learn about each others’ cultures, religions, foods, and history. This allows them to humanize the other, despite what might be said in the media and by terrorist organizations.
In 2014, the school in Jerusalem was firebombed by Jewish extremists, who also painted the message “There’s no coexisting with cancer” on the walls.
However, this didn’t stop the school from continuing with its lessons and U.S. News reports that 98% of students showed up to class the next day. In fact, the attack brought about a lot of media attention, which then sparked an interest in Jewish and Arab families who wanted to send their kids to this alternative school system.
Hand in Hand is not the first and only organization that aims to teach coexistence to children through living example.
Open House in Ramle is a school in Ramle, Israel with similar goals to Hand in Hand and they opened their doors in 1991. According to the Open House website, their goals are to give educational and social opportunities to Arab families and their children through their Center for the Development of the Arab Child, while their Center for Jewish-Arab Coexistence focuses on being “a place of encounter and cooperation between Jews and Arabs.”
Open House is a converted home of an Arab family who were forced out in the late 1940s. The house was then occupied by the Eshkenazi family, a Jewish family from Bulgaria. Dalia Eshkenazi later converted the house into an educational center in honor of her decades long friendship with one of the old occupants of the house, Bashir Al Khayri.