After Gaza war, a harder coexistence for Jews and Arabs
Israeli groups that focus on Jewish and Arab coexistence are just beginning to wrestle with the fallout from the Gaza war.
The Hagar bilingual kindergarten was founded as a rare cocoon from ethnic alienation for children and parents in Israel. But even this place of innocence and coexistence isn't immune to the deeper divisions between Jews and Arabs here that has followed the Gaza war.Skip to next paragraph
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"When Assin came back from her first day [after the war] she said, 'Mommy, today we played war between Israel and Gaza,' " says Suha Farhat, about her 5-year-old daughter.
The school intended to meet Tuesday, in part to address students' and parents' feelings following the battle between Israel and Hamas, but discussing it may have proved too painful. Few parents came.
Groups that focus on Jewish and Arab coexistence are just beginning to wrestle with the fallout from the war but despite an ideological commitment to living together in peace, the search for political common ground has been largely seen as too controversial.
"I wasn't against the war. I think that we have a right to defend ourselves, but that isn't something I bring up," says Debra Mathias, whose has sent two children to the kindergarten. "I don't expect [the school] will change the world, but I at least hope for my children to be open minded, and to really understand the complexity of living here."
Amid Israel's mostly segregated education system, the kindergarten is part of a network of four schools sponsored by the bilingual educational nonprofit Hand in Hand. At the kindergarten, walls are filled with a rainbow of pictures with captions in Hebrew and Arabic. Since the war, an alarm has been added in case of an unexpected missile strike.
Schools in Beersheva were ordered shut for the duration of the 22-day war, and most families fled the war zone to stay with relatives. Returning after a month-long break, the children suddenly separated according to nationality at recess.
But rather than undoing the fabric of cooperation, Jewish and Arab parents say the war reinforced their sense of purpose.
"The connection has been revived. The Jewish parents have started inviting [over] the Arab parents and the Arab parents started inviting the Jews," Ms. Farhat continued. "In the kindergarten, everything is rosy and beautiful. What is difficult is in the street."
But like Hagar, other exercises in coexistence have proven resilient. A group of Arab and Jewish teenagers from Jaffa and Tel Aviv who have worked together for three years on a joint magazine through the group Windows for Peace convened to discuss the charged issue of war crimes and the Gaza war.
Hanna Wietzman, a project coordinator for Windows, says that one Jewish participant had been offered money from a family member not to come.