A New Jewish Arab Bilingual School is Under Construction in Jerusalem

Lee Gordon, co-founder of Hand in Hand, reports that the much-awaited groundbreaking ceremony for the new Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem was held on November 7th, as part of an approximately $10 million capital project under the auspices of the Jerusalem Foundation. The  Swiss government and private Swiss donors have joined together to raise $2.5 million to build 16 classrooms for this new Hand in Hand school; other major donors to this capital project include the Rayne Foundation and the German government.  The new facility will replace the existing inadequate building and allow the current student population to roughly double to about 500 students in Jerusalem alone.  Today, Hand in Hand’s three schools in Israel educate 676 children in total. 

The former Mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Ulmert, donated the land to Hand in Hand. It is especially important that the site connects the Jewish neighborhood of Patt with the Arab village of Beit Tzafafa. Although the school is being built for Hand in Hand, it will always remain the property of the City. The school should be ready for occupation by September 2007. The school will have 16 classes, two classes in each grade. In addition, there are three kindergartens on the campus. The architecture of the school is very special, and is designed in a style to accommodate and enhance the ideology of Hand in Hand. The environment will be Mediterranean. The classes will be built around courtyards with Olive trees, and each class will have its own outdoor learning area.

Below I have reprinted an article describing the ceremony:

A ceremony attended by officials from the Jerusalem municipality, the Jerusalem Foundation, the Hand in Hand organization, the Swiss government and private donors, and the principals and pupils of the Jerusalem school, was held on November 7th to mark the official launching of construction for the new building.

Former Israeli MK and Government Minister Dan Meridor who now serves as the International Chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation opened the program by declaring that the Hand in Hand school was “an oasis in the desert.  The atmosphere that we live in today is one filled with hatred and strife.  To build together a school that is based on peaceful co-existence and mutual understanding is very heartwarming.  I have visited the school on numerous occasions and have witnessed for myself the teachers and pupils talking and listening to each other in both the Arab and Hebrew languages.  Hopefully, when they become older, they will continue to listen to each other and we will be able to build and strengthen our society from what they have learned together in this school.”

The new building was designed by architect Ze’ev Druckerman.  He noted that “this is a very special school for Israel, the main characteristic being that it should not be a closed off building but one open to the surroundings, to the gardens, and to the nearby neighborhoods – one being that of the Arab village of Beit Tzafafa and one being that of the Jewish neighborhood of Patt”.  He described the openness which he incorporated into the design of the complex: the 16 classroom building, the gardens, the courtyards, the lounges for social and informal educational activities, the early childhood center, the sports hall, library, and administration rooms.  Another unique feature for Israel is that both the building and its furnishings were designed together under a unifying vision.

Dr. Haim Rubinstein, the assistant director of the Jerusalem Education Authority, compared the school to a family.  “You can judge the nature of the relationship of a family by the way in which the members speak to each other or don’t speak to each other.  The Hand in Hand school’s message is dialogue.  Where you speak to each other, even when you disagree, you can make progress in solving problems.  In this school, you have at least the possibility of hope which our society needs so much.  This school is that hope and we are proud to help them.”

Ala Khatib and Dalia Peretz (yes, she is the sister of Amir Peretz, the newly elected head of Israel’s Labor Party) , the co-principals of the Jerusalem school, remarked how the school was founded in 1997 by Amin Khalaf and Lee Gordon with one class and how the school had grown to 12 classrooms from preschool to the 7th grade.  The physical condition of the present location was very difficult with a complete lack of facilities – library, proper playground, computer room, sports facility, etc.  The planned building was going to be like a dream come true and thanks went to the Swiss government and private donors, the Jerusalem Foundation, and the parents and pupils of the school. 

The audience was addressed by Ms. Vreni Muller-Hemmi, one of four members of the Swiss Parliament along with the Swiss Ambassador to Israel, attending the ceremony.  She shared four observations concerning the importance of the Hand in Hand educational approach.  As a former teacher, she knows from experience that children are inquisitive and open and require that kind of atmosphere which Hand in Hand provides. As a resident of German speaking Switzerland, she realizes how important it is to teach minority languages and give everyone the ability to communicate with each other on an equal basis.  As a Member of Parliament, she is very aware of how important dialogue, understanding, and acceptance is in promoting co-existence and she is a constant proponent of that approach in her work in Parliament .  As the chair of the Swiss-Israel Friendship League, she has become even more appreciative of the youth exchanges that the League helps organize every year between a class in Switzerland and one in Israel.

One cannot underestimate the importance of real human contact between each other in order to build relationships and understanding. There were several musical and poetic interludes in both Arabic and Hebrew performed by children of  the school.  The festive program ended with the official signing of the cornerstone scroll which will be embedded in the foundation of the new building. For Hatem Matar, the chairperson of the Parent’s Committee, the ceremony symbolized the permanence of the school.  “We now know that we will have a home that belongs to our children and we will not be dependent on the good will of one bureaucrat or another.  We are definitely on the map.”

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Model of the new school


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