A school in Jerusalem brings Arab and Jewish kids together to boost understanding

by ELEANOR BEARDSLEY

The Hand in Hand Jerusalem school principal Efrat Meyer, who is Jewish, and vice principal Engie Wattad, who is Arab Muslim, are longtime colleagues and friends. The school is mixed and bilingual. IMAGE/Ayman Oghanna for NPR

When the bell rings at Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand school, you hear something that’s not common in Israel: the sound of young people’s voices rising together in laughter and conversation in both Hebrew and Arabic.

Israeli society is largely segregated. There is no law officially mandating segregation, but the separation of Jews and Arabs — who make up 20% of Israel’s population — usually begins at a young age, with separate school systems.

The separation begins at kindergarten, when Jewish and Arab children are sent to different schools and experience completely separate education “tracks” or systems.

“Arabs go to Arab schools in their neighborhoods and Jews go to Jewish schools in the areas where they live,” says Nour Younis, events manager for Hand in Hand.

Younis, who is Palestinian, says Arabic language and Arab culture are also mostly absent from the public sphere in Israel, so Arabs tend to stay in their own circles.

There are shared spaces like hospitals and banks, but Younis says it doesn’t mean people have real connections. She made her first Jewish acquaintance at age 19, in college.

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