BMW Group Awards 2005 1st Prize for Practice in Intercultural Learning to Hand in Hand

I am very pleased to be able to report another major international achievement for the Hand in Hand team, as they were awarded the first prize for Practice in Intercultural Learning from the BMW Group in Germany for the sucess of Hand in Hand’s integrated Jewish-Arab learning program in Israel.

BMW’s LIFE award social program celebrates its 10th year, and Amin Khalaf, co-founder of Hand in Hand, accepted the 5,000 Euro prize in Germany on behalf of Hand in Hand on March 29th.

The philosophy behind BMW’s social program is not only well conceived, it recognizes the demographic realities of globalization:

Racism and violence are problems which endanger social peace in almost all societies. As a company with significant international presence, the BMW Group regards itself as a global citizen whose task is countering this threat through concrete programmes. Preventive work with children and youth, focusing especially on aspects of intercultural learning, plays the most important role in these programmes. …

The starting point and firm basis of the Award’s task definition and of the comprehensive LIFE concept is the challenge of treating foreign people and cultures as normal everyday phenomena in our modern society. What we consider to be unfamiliar must no longer depend on our intellectual capacities, nor be comprehended from our own perspective or judged on our own terms. The dialogue between cultures that will accord the right to self-expression to those whom we perceive to be different has to be intensified. In this context, intercultural learning teaches us to treat apparent strangers as equal members of our society – a process that doesn’t attempt to iron out our differences but rather respects such differences as a source of enrichment.

In explaining the reasons for Hand in Hand’s first prize award, the grant committee summarizes Hand in Hand’s core mission well:

By awarding the first prize to the project “Learning Together, Living together: A Pioneer Model for integrated Arab-Jewish schools in Israel”, the international jury wished to express its admiration of the fact that the participating schools in Jerusalem, Galilee and Wadi Ara are pursuing an unusual approach in their initiatives, combining pragmatism, professional competence and active peacemaking, in a particularly difficult social context where language is not the only impediment to mutual understanding. The vision of a concept for junior and nursery schools that is being implemented daily in the “Hand in Hand” classrooms since 1997 shows that, by learning together and getting to know one another, Jewish and Palestinian children can help their families and the rest of the community to change their attitudes, break down prejudices and live together in peace. By providing a framework for bilingual, multicultural education, “Hand in Hand” hopes to raise a new generation in which Jews and Arabs treat each other respectfully as partners. Rather than trying to level out different customs, religious beliefs and traditional languages, these very differences are discussed at length in classes held half in Hebrew and half in Arabic, at present attended by over 670 schoolchildren.

Hand in Hand continues to make progress every year, enrolling more and more students– but we need to have thousands of Hand in Hand students in Israel, not hundreds.  Just as the success of Hand in Hand continues to deliver great education to children and debunks long-held prejudices that lead to separation and inequality in Israel, we need many more prizes such as BMW’s in support of this important and historic educational effort.

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