This article was originally published on the 12th April 2013.
Against the background of the various conflict and tensions in the middle east there exists a movement that, in contrast, symbolises co-operation, understanding and learning. At the core of what is, within its context, a unique approach is the The Hand-in-Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education. This was initially established after the goodwill but ultimate failure 1997 Oslo peace accords signed in the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Afarat. Yet while this did not have a lasting and positive effect on the peace process within the political realm there is continued possibility of further openings of similar mixed and bilingual schools through the Jewish-Arab project in Israel.
At the Max Rayne school, situated between the Jewish neighbourhood of Pat and Arab neighbourhood of Beit Safafa in Jerusalem, 410 pupils consisting of Christian, Jewish and Arab backgrounds mix together in classrooms every day. The school and its pupils observe the holidays of each religion and is run by two co-principles, one Arab and one Jewish. Though this approach emphasises co-existence confronting the issues of conflict and the region’s history is also critical. One aspect of its teaching is the key regional conflict in 1948, seen as a war of independence by Israel but described by Palestinians as al-naqba (‘the catastrophe’). Collectively these efforts recognise that to achieve a successful co-existence the issues which are at the heart of division and which cause the most hurt must be confronted, in a constructive sense, to be finally resolved.
Recently other divisions that exist on the political world stage have yet again been starkly highlighted recently due to re-emerging tensions between North and South Korea over its nucleus capability and alarming rhetoric. Essentially a key reason why North Korea is able to maintain its Stalinist communist system for so many years after the cold war has ended is its strict control over information that its population receives and severe measures for dissent. Here propaganda replaces education.
In contrast as we ourselves inevitably form relationships, either work related or socially during our own life after leaving the final stages of our own further education our own experiences in this area have the potential to serve as a symbol or a positive base for understanding between individuals and groups. It is a potential tool to overcome barriers of intolerance we ourselves may encounter in the future and that are the very product of a lack of education and understanding. While it is possible to argue that the very age of the pupils within these Jewish-Arab schools represents a naïve outlook it is surely more beneficial to attempt to bridge gaps in this way rather than exchange violent blows on opposing sides of a divided battlefield. From this hatred can only grow rather than a collective and individual understanding. Living in Northern Ireland for 10 years before coming to university enlightened me to a significant amount about both the devastating effect of a similar division within society.
Ultimately ass the current global context indicates such a use of education is perhaps one of its most positive and effective uses.