By Sascha Zastiral
A school project in Jerusalem aims to quietly revolutionize the country. Jewish and Arab children sit in the same classrooms and are taught by teachers from both communities. The most important lesson they learn is empathy for one another.
Every morning parents bring their children to school through a guarded gate at the Yad BeYad ("Hand-in-Hand") School in Jerusalem. A dozen children, including two girls, play football on the playground. A boy with a brown ponytail calls out in Hebrew: "Here, kick it to me!" He gets the ball, dribbles it past a boy from the other team, shoots a goal and yells in Arabic: "Goal!"
A few children are already sitting at hexagonal tables in a classroom in the school's basement. A woman wearing a turquoise headscarf waves goodbye to her son. The class clowns sit in the back.
The school in Jerusalem's Katamon neighborhood is a highly unusual place. That's because it serves both Arab and Jewish students, and lessons are conducted in Hebrew and Arabic. Anywhere else in the world, such a project wouldn't warrant much more than a passing mention. But in a region marred by hatred, war and violence, it borders on the revolutionary.
The 375 pupils come from East and West Jerusalem, and some are even from the West Bank. The youngest attend the attached kindergarten and the eldest are in the eighth grade. The first grade's lesson plan includes reading, writing and the holy days of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But the underlying, spiritual lesson plan at the "Hand-in-Hand" school focuses on one subject, and that is for its students to learn how to empathize with one another.Hand-in-Hand School principals Dalia Perez and Alla Chatib. Chatib believes the bilingual school can teach Jewish and Arab children to better understand each other."There is more than one truth," he says.
First-grade teacher Jaffa Shira Grossberg, 37, greets her pupils in Hebrew. Balsan Asallah, 22, an Arab from northern Israel, is the second teacher in the class. She translates everything Grossberg says. As soon as the children acquire a reasonable understanding of both languages, the two teachers will take turns teaching the class. Asallah, a young Palestinian, seems nervous. This is her first teaching job and her first class.
The telephone is ringing off the hook in Ala Chatib's small office. He and Dalia Perez, who sits next to him, are the school's co-principals.
"Yes, my brother is the defense minister, Amir Perez," she says. The room is silent for a moment. She heads a Jewish-Arab school and her brother was in charge of the military campaign against the Hezbollah. How do these two sets of circumstances fit together?
"The situation with Lebanon was something the government had to do at the time," she says. "But I don't think it's the right way to bring peace to the region." Her brother, she says, also happens to be a major supporter of the school, and he too believes in dialogue.
"The children at this school have a different way of thinking about the conflict," says Chatib. "There is more than only one truth. That's what they learn here, with each other and from each other." Each class is taught by two teachers, one Jewish and one Arab. "If two teachers from different cultures can get along," Perez says, "they can serve as role models for the children."
The school day is already underway. The first grade's first lesson is over. Jaffa Shira Grossberg and her co-teacher Balsan Asallah are sorting through colorful drawings covered with Hebrew and Arab letters. Grossberg is pleased with the day so far. The small revolution continues.For further reading click at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,448510,00.html