When the siren sounded in the elementary school courtyard last week, Tamar and Lin, both nine years old, were holding hands. The pupils, all wearing white shirts, stood silently. Their teachers shed tears. The teacher, Sabrine, conducted the ceremony with great emotion. At one point, they sang "Tears of Angels," and released kites. The principal quoted Mahatma Gandhi, who said that wherever people follow the principle of an eye for an eye, everyone is blind - and then added "we've decided not to be blind."
Tamar is my oldest granddaughter; Lin is an Arab girl. The two of them study at the bilingual school, Bridge Over the Wadi, in Kafr Kara, in the Wadi Ara area. Sabrine is a Palestinian-Israeli. The school's principal, Dr. Hasan Agbaria is an educator whose personality is a combination of serene cordiality, intellectual integrity and courage. This is his first year at Bridge Over the Wadi - and the first year that the school, located in the heart of an Arab village, conducted a memorial ceremony for those who fell in Israel's war with the Arabs. Agbaria has dared to do what Jewish principals before him at the school did not do before. In the past, the pupils were sent home before the siren sounded. But together with his colleagues on the staff, and in consultation with parents, he came up with a detailed plan of activities for the national holidays of the two peoples.
In a letter sent to parents, the school's administration wrote: "Last week we devoted time to exposing pupils to, and studying, the events that occurred in 1948. The pupils studied the two narratives, the Palestinian and the Israeli, while displaying respect for the other and listening even at moments of disagreement, and contradiction [between the narratives]. The learning was based on our belief in the importance of knowing the past, and becoming acquainted with the other side, so that we can live together in the present, and guarantee a better future."
Yesterday, when media outlets incessantly reported about the security forces' preparations for "disturbances" on Nakba Day, Jewish and Arab pupils at Bridge Over the Wadi united to honor Palestinian memories. Less than a week after they stood together to honor the fallen in Israel's wars, Jewish and Arab teachers alike asked that everyone become acquainted with the people and places on the other side of the conflict, which has yet to end.
The activities were conducted under the shadow of the new legislation that threatens to cut government allocations to any institution that dares to refer to Israel's Independence Day as a day of mourning. But Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz will not find even a trace of offense in this activity; it is utterly devoid of malice and lacks any reference, heaven forbid, to a day of mourning.
The pupils were exposed yesterday to the stories of villages that were abandoned in Wadi Ara. The information was conveyed via biographies of persons who lived in the region, and by memorializing their names both verbally and in drawings. The youngsters learned to express their feelings, criticism and longings also, in part, by reading poems by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. They studied works rendered by Palestinian caricaturist Naji al-Ali that have become iconic images in his people's struggle for independence. They children also were asked to come up with their own protest, on any subject that came to mind, and to present it in songs and cartoons. They concluded the activities by stressing the longing for a better future, one of peace and truth.
Agbaria did not conceal his pride. "There is nothing more moving, during the current period, than seeing our children at Bridge Over the Wadi severing themselves from national and language-related differences, and connecting with a shared sense of humanity and with the ostensibly simple concepts of fraternity and solidarity."
At this oasis of sanity at Kafr Kara, parents, teachers and pupils proved that our own narrative can be honored, without invalidating the other narrative. They taught and learned that the Palestinian memory can be cultivated, without repressing our own memory.
How sad it is to watch irresponsible adults, Jews and Arabs, developing expertise in the building of walls of alienation, fear and prejudice. In contrast, how inspiring it was to see Tamar and Lin, two girls who with their own small hands held the keys to equality, reconciliation and hope
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