Thursday, 24 January 2008

Jerusalem: A Model for Integrated Education


There are two things that I did yesterday that have had a profound effect on my outlook on Jerusalem and on life! The organisers of the conference took us on an experience of two projects. The Jerusalem Foundation funds both of these. Firstly, we visited a unique bilingual school for Arab and Israeli kids. (http://www.jerusalemfoundation.org/english/article.php?id=61 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_in_Hand:_Center_for_Jewish_Arab_Education_in_Israel) The main aims of this school are based on the solid understanding that there has to be a solid partnership between Jews and Arabs. That there must be recognition that language is a central component and hence complete bilingualism is supported and nurtured. The class has two teachers, one speaking in Hebrew and the other in Arabic. I had the chance to see this in practice and it was such a beautiful sight to see primary level kids sitting together and going through the learning experience. We were told that conflicting histories and scriptures are not shunned from the classroom but are taught and faced head on. For example if Israel is celebrating Independence then the Arabs are raising awareness of the Naqba and the hardships they face. There is a mutual understanding of pain and this is something which brings the kids together to face the complicated realities. My views on integrated education are supported here in the very heart and soul of the monotheistic faiths. That Jerusalem is a model supporting an integrated education which will help both Arab and Israeli kids to understand their uniqueness which can only happen in an educational environment which is not isolationist. This is why I oppose the establishment of Muslim schools in Scotland because I feel that we, as Muslims, need to build bridges to diverse communities in order to break stereotypes and prejudices that we all have. ** The photo shows and Arab and Israeli teacher at the school and you can see Hebrew and Arabic writing on a teaching board at the back.

Secondly, we visited the Jerusalem Cinematheque (http://www.jer-cin.org.il/index.php?lang=ENG) Here we met a brave director who has held seminars for Israeli and Arab teenagers to get together and understand each other through the medium of Film. It was amazing to hear from these teenagers who had also directed and produced short movies about life in Israel. We watch three short movies which were themed on identity. The first one we watched was about a girl whose Father is an Arab and mother who is Jewish. It presented an insight into the way in which she has tried to make sense of who she is and how both her parents have shaped her outlook. The second was about a Palestinian Christian couple who have quintuplets and the difficulties that they encounter in raising this big family. The third was about a girl whose father had died in a suicide bomb and how she is coping with this loss. It showed her at a rehabilitation camp for kids who have lost relatives in bombings. It was very painful to see how she constantly remembers her father and at one point she says that her father was like the presence of wind, a sweet and heartbreaking way of expression. Is it possible for a heart to be numb when faced with suffering? Does Islam or any other faith support an awakening of the heart for some and not for others? I just wish that in some way we all try and understand the pain of the other and only then will we move beyond politics.

This will be my last piece on my visit here in Jerusalem. I have learnt much during this visit and I take back with me a wealth of understanding but more importantly confusion and questions, for it is only through the constant questioning that we will be able to strengthen our faith. With peace and blessings from the Holy Land. :-)

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