While school segregation may be a thing of the past in the United States, students in other countries are still subject to educational systems based on separation of ethnicity.
There is no legal segregation in the education system in Israel, there are separate school systems for Jewish and Arab children, said Lee Gordon, co-founder of Hand in Hand, a nonprofit organization created in 1997 to create schools which house both Jewish and Arab students. Two of these high school students shared Wednesday night their experience of attending a mixed school in Israel at a lecture hosted by Texans for Israel, a student organization created to exchange ideas about the Middle East. Lee Gordon and members Hand in Hand stopped in at the University while on a U.S. tour to raise awareness about the organization.
“We are open to a variety of opinions and we wanted to show a broader message of peace with this event,” said government senior Zachary Garber.
About 20 percent of Israelis are Arab, according to the Hand in Hand website. Gordon said he recognized the effects of this gap while living in Israel, and partnered with his friend Amin Khalaf to create schools which would be open to both Jewish Israelites and Arab Israelites.
“If you go to Israel, you realize that the young Jewish Israelis barely know any Arabs, and if they do, it’s very superficially,” Gordon said.
The tour focused on two girls, Haneen Kinani, a Muslim student and Yael Keinan, a Jewish student, who attend one of the Hand in Hand high schools in Israel and what they have learned from their experience. Both girls have been attending the school since first grade.
“I was able to read and write in Hebrew by kindergarten and [the Hand in Hand school] was the only opportunity to meet other people and learn about other cultures,” Keinan said.
Both girls expressed the fact that they want their experience at the school to carry into other parts of their lives.
“[Going to this school] has affected our parents and family,” Keinan said. “It makes them go to Arab villages and to meet Jewish people.”
However, the transition has not been entirely easy, Keinan and Kinani said. Keinan said several of her friends who do not go to the school have criticized her for attending and for being close to her Arab friends. Kinani told the audience about how her grandfather disapproved of her parents’ decision to send her and her siblings to the school and for her mother to work as a teacher there.
They also told the story of an orthodox rabbi who came into their school one day and said he would pray for it to burn down.
“We don’t want school to stay in just the 12 years,” Keinan said. “We want to take it to other parts of life.”
The girls talked about how they had one hour of class time each day to discuss the current political and social events in Israel and how those events impacted them. Kinani said the disagreements that occurred were not always between Jews and Arabs.
“As we got older, we got more aware of the situation, but we’re all friends so it doesn’t matter,” Kinani said.
As a Jewish Israeli, Keinan said she will have to serve in the army for at least a year after high school. She plans to use her experience at the Hand in Hand school to work in education for the army or another related sector, she said. Kinani said she is planning to go to college.
“In Israel, Jews are with Jews and Arabs are with Arabs,” Kinani said. “We feel special for having this opportunity to mix, but it shouldn’t have to be special.”