A MultiCultural School Thrives in a Muslim Arab Village in Northern Israel– Believe it or Not




Date of Event– January 11, 2005

Noha Khatib grew up as one of only a handful of Arab families in the town of Nahariya in far northern Israel. She started working with Hand in Hand seven years ago as the first teacher in the first Hand in Hand bilingual school in the Galilee. She grew up in a Muslim household but was exposed to Jewish families and culture through her own life experience. Yochanon Eshchar, a Jew, used to be a public school principal in Jerusalem. Today, they are the co-principals of the Kfar Kara school.

106 children attend the kindergarten through third grade classes in this Arab village. Even though no Jews live in this village and the region is predominantly Arab, there are actually two more Jewish children currently enrolled at the school than Arab children. The school has only been open for four months, and it is operating at full capacity. Ironically, the school had difficulty obtaining its license from the Ministry of Education, and it was not clear it would open until two weeks before school actually started.

According to Noha, who commutes every day over one hour each way from Galilee to get to work, the school already expects to double in size next year based on demand. When asked why the school has become an instant success, Noha explains that “the parents tell us their children are happy every day that they come to our school.” In Kfar Kara, all of the Arabs are Muslim and everyone is noticing the impact of Hand in Hand. Most interesting, the Hand in Hand school is physically located about thirty yards away from the Arab high school.

In the courtyard of the school, I see three men moving stones with a tractor—two Arabs and one Jew. I ask Noha if they are workers—“No, these are parents volunteering to build the school’s amphitheatre.” I spent a few minutes talking to the Jewish man while they took a break for lunch—he spoke English—and I asked him what impact this school has had on his family. He said that his son really liked going to school and that his family viewed education differently now. I asked him if his friends were aware of where his son went to school. The man, who described his profession to me as a gardener, said, “yes”, but that he was not comfortable talking about the positive nature of the experience too much as it is considered controversial among other Jewish families to have Jews and Arabs going to school together.

The fact that Jews and Arabs are highly segregated in Israel didn’t register with me before I actually visited the country. Any cab driver can tell you exactly where Jews live and where Arabs live and how they generally avoid having any unnecessary contact. The school principal explained to me that the entire kindergarten class had recently been invited to an Arab home to visit the grandmother of one of their classmates. Even though the Jewish children and the grandmother couldn’t understand each other’s languages (yet), the children embraced her and she them as any grandmother would. It is this type of interaction that will melt the glacier separating Jews and Arabs in this troubled land.

The Wadi Ara school looks and feels like a small private school in the United States.  I walked into each classroom and took pictures that are posted here that reminded my of my children’s pre-school at Temple Emanu-el in San Francisco. The big difference was the Hebrew alphabet and the Arabic alphabet side by side, being taught in unison by two teachers, one an Arab, one a Jew.

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Children at play

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A typical classroom

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An art projectPicture_015

Familiar but different…..

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