Monday, 23 April 2007

Peace begins at school and at home

Khaled Diab

After visiting the elders, we went to a nearby town to meet some of the area's youngest citizens. We visited a joint Jewish-Arab school which Tzachi and Anat were considering sending their children to. The school's head teachers, Yochanan Eschschar and Noha el-Khatieb, kindly gave us a tour of their experimental establishment.

The school is still a young one, with only 200 kindergarten and primary school pupils, half of whom are Jewish and the other half Arab. Each bilingual class has two teachers, one Jew and one Arab, and the lessons are conducted in both Arabic and Hebrew. It being Memorial Day, the children were encouraged to work on activities and project in which they learnt about each side's pain and suffering, particularly with Independence Day around the corner for Israel, which is regarded as the nakba (Catastrophe) by Palestinians.

"We handle this sensitive subject by accepting the idea that there are two narratives, both of which are valid to their people. And we encourage both sides to be aware of the other's pain," Noha explained. "We want to encourage these children to set off together into the future," Yochanan continued.

But with only a handful of cash-strapped schools like this across the country, the difficulty of attracting Jewish children (who have so many options and whose parents fear Palestinian-Israelis) to study with Arabs, enlightened education like this will have little impact, despite its potential. "It's a drop in the ocean," Amos kept repeating sadly.

Hopeful conversations
In the evening, Amos and Tzachi decided to launch an oil-fuelled kite which took off and travelled for kilometres, with father and son chasing after it like maniacs afraid it would land somewhere and start a fire. Luckily, it touched down somewhere safely.

During dinner, the air-raid siren which goes off to inform Israelis that Memorial Day has begun went off and everyone stood up to stand silently for two minutes in private contemplation. I used the moments to reflect on my unusual day and the fact that I was here in Israel during its most intensely emotional time.

Before, during and after dinner a diwan­-style or round table debate started up between me and several generations of Israelis – my hosts, Anat's father, a recent arrival from America, an immigrant from Colombia and a young Israeli couple at university. It was incredibly constructive, informative and entertaining for all involved and we all came away with the impression that if only the rest of the world could communicate like this.

©Khaled Diab. Text and images.


Anonymous said...

wonderful posts- keep them coming

Simon said...

Yes, an excellent blog Khalid, a truly gripping read, looking forward to the next ones!

Khaled Diab said...

Thanks, Simon.

Watch this space!