In the aftermath of the horrific events in Gaza, with the high civilian death toll and the rise of discrimination and hatred among the two communities, Sadaka Reut, together with the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism, the Follow-up Committee on Arab Education and the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, called for a convention to be held in order to evaluate the role of the education system in Israel in the context of the conflict.
Sadaka Reut understands that education is crucial in shaping youth’s perceptions, beliefs and identities. Education can be the catalyst for dealing with these harsh realities, or it can be the cause of perpetual distrust and hatred between the segregated communities. The structure of the education system is in most cases segregated and unequal; it does not do its part to democratically involve youth in discussion about ongoing events, and would rather teach a skewed narrative or ignore the conflict all together. Thus, examining the education system in Israel and how it perpetuates this cycle of hate and distrust is essential in understanding the roles played by the different actors in the conflict, especially when working with youth in the context of the conflict.
For those who attended; educators, organizers, principals, parents, students and more, the convention was a space to grapple with questions such as:
– Does the education system play a constructive role or does it help to reproduce reality?
– How can the system educate against racism in a reality of violent conflict?
– How can the system encourage partnership and what role can educators play?
Also, the convention set out to analyze methods for teaching a bi-national educational approach within both the formal and informal education systems.
Some of the keynote speakers at the convention were: Prof. Nehemia Friedland, vice-chairman of academic affairs, Tel Aviv-Jaffa Academic College; Rabbi Meir Azari, The Center for Progressive Judaism, Dr. Hala Espanioli, executive director, The Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education, and Fadi Shbieta, director of Sadaka Reut. In the panels, Adi Maoz, project director for Sadaka, and Sami Buchari, teacher and facilitator for Sadaka, discussed such topics as: does education recruit or empower youth, and what are common visions for education in the future?
An important highlight of the convention was that every speaker was encouraged to speak their native tongue. Palestinian participants thus spoke Arabic, and there was translation provided in Hebrew for all who needed it.
Panelist Naomi Chazan (previous MK with Meretz) explained how youth, Arab and Jewish, are exposed only to the Jewish narrative, while Arab youth are barely exposed to their own, if at all. Former Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni reminded all present that Israel’s declaration of independence demanded equality between citizens of all religion, race, nationality or sex. She elaborated by stating that for the last 60 years, the state of Israel failed to uphold this declaration in general, and in the education system in particular.
Prof. Zeev Degani, principal of Gymnasia Herzeliya high school in Tel Aviv, exposed the serious issue of the double/unclear messages sent by the Ministry of Education; he explained that during the last elections the Ministry of Education had promoted initiation of democratic debates in schools – when he held such an activity in his school, he received a reprimand letter from the Ministry for holding discussions that involved different political streams, marking it as subversive.
Some schools that are making an effort to deconstruct this flawed education system to create a more realistic and tolerable educational approach. For example, Meri Copti from the ‘Yaffa’ Arab Democratic School established a group with students in a school in Holon, where they discussed the narrative of the ‘other,’ learning how to deal with confrontations more constructively, while finding a common educational vision among Arab and Jewish participants. Similarly, Nabia Abu Saleh from the Hand in Hand schools, talked about the ‘Galil’ school established 12 years ago as the first joint Jewish-Palestinian school and the challenges it faced; for example, raising the Israeli flag for Independence Day and then taking it down on Nakba Day. Despite these obstacles, the ‘Galil’ school is raising these issues and reconstructing education to be more equal and accountable.
It was good to hear from an array of speakers on a range of topics. Participants and audience alike came away with a better understanding of the educational system’s faults and approaches to changing them. Exposing contradictions in the education system and discussing alternatives through informal education proved to be productive and insightful, helping us move towards creating a generation of youth that is better informed and more tolerable.