Today I had the opportunity to visit a bilingual school in Jaffa, in Southern Tel Aviv. I’m not sure if you can ever put together a comprehensive slate of steps to establishing a definite peace between Israel and Palestine, a good beginning has begun in Jaffa. Recently i had the opportunity to visit one of the kindergarten classes of this bilingual school, one of several that have sprouted up throughout Israel in the last 20 years, and was delighted to find that the children were entirely ignorant of the last 80 years of bloodshed, violence, and feuding between Arabs and Jews in Israel.
After watching the children interact, it was clear that, just like any class of young children, they were just playing, enjoying each other, and learning. Two boys hugging and laughing as they played. The reverse of everything that you might imagine could be if you only hear from hawkish politicians.
These kids that I saw today are the best way to solve a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives, destroyed countless homes, and stalled larger cooperation in the Middle East. There they were playing, learning, and growing side by side, with no worries about the differences between them. Now as I said this school was bilingual and a mixture of arab and jewish students. This makes the school unique in that most of the schools in Israel are segregated. And of the schools that are mixed, most are set up in a manner that teaches Hebrew as a primary with Arabic as a secondary language.
One of the best parts of my visit was when we saw a board that contained letters made out of dried beans, glued to the board. But in both Arabic and Hebrew. It was so cute seeing dried beans and glue stuck in the messy clumps that small kids create, but also being able to see the larger purpose behind the activity, and know that something so small is part of an attempt to change a society.
The thing that makes the school unique, as well as the reason why they’ve received so much pushback from some in their community, is that they have an explicit focus on raising their children in a bilingual learning environment. This manifests in the presence of two teachers in every classroom. One Arab and One Jewish which allows for better education, more attention to students, and the presence of an authority figure that all of the children can relate to, while also being exposed to both groups. This also comes out in terms of how children are taught Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holidays to let them understand not just the language, but the culture of their compatriots.
I also got to speak to two parents of children attending classes there. It was inspiring to hear them talk about how they had rallied so long at the municipality to get the necessary permission for the school, the fight every year to allow the system to move up a grade with the children, and for even just facilities to house these schools. What was most exciting however was when these parents told us that many of the parents who had originally been opposed to this manner of bilingual education in their most recent expansion to a new school, now actually support the school and want to send their kids there.
These parents not only want their children to have the best learning environment possible, but are also the vanguard for the resolution of the Palestinian Israeli conflict and the unification of Arab and Jewish interests within Israel.
When you get down to it, human beings all want the same thing. We want to be able to earn a living, take care of our loved ones, and experience some degree of safety and security in our lives. We want to be able to work a job, give the best possible opportunities to our children, and live peacefully beside one another. Both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict want the same things: clean, potable water, both sides want security from harm and the ability to earn a living, both sides want an excellent education for their children in a safe environment. The things that are universally desired are peace and all that it provides, Construction rather than destruction, and cooperation rather than competition.
When we talk about borders, compromises, and negotiations, we’re negotiating a temporary solution for a long term solution. The real change and the enduring peace will be made by fundamental changes to the way that Israelis and Palestinians see each other. The way that this happens is slow, and it’s painful, but it’s beginning by starting at the seeds of the future, and growing a new generation that will allow peace to blossom.