Hand in Hand school, Emil Salman / Jini
Arab and Jewish students at the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem. Photo by Archive: Emil Salman / Jini
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The Max Rayne bilingual school in Jerusalem may not open its doors at the beginning of the school year due to a dispute over the school's joint Jewish-Arab management. The students' parents are threatening not to send their children to school after its two principals were recently replaced, accusing the municipality and Education Ministry of scheming to take control of the facility and change its character.

Some 530 students are enrolled in the school, the country's largest Jewish-Arab institution. It has been co-run by a Jewish and an Arab principal since its founding 11 years ago by the Hand in Hand non-governmental organization. Each class also had two homeroom teachers.

Over the summer, the school's Jewish principal Dalia Peretz (MK Amir Peretz's sister ), who was employed by the Education Ministry, announced her retirement. And Hand in Hand, which employed Arab principal Ala Khatib, fired him.

The authorities insisted that from now on the school will have only one principal, determined by the ministry and municipality, and appointed deputy principal Nadia Kanani as principal. A Jewish deputy principal has also been appointed.

The parents are now complaining that the ministry and municipality are seizing the opportunity to take over the school.

"We were ready to swallow this bitter pill on condition that Ala Khatib would act as an overseeing-principal during the next year to preserve the model we have built," said one of the parents, who did not want to be identified by name.

The parents negotiated with the authorities and eventually reached an agreement to keep Khatib on as overseeing principal, along with the new principal. But on Wednesday, shortly after Khatib arrived at his office in the school, an official from Jerusalem's Education Authority instructed to have him removed from the premises. Unless Khatib left, the official threatened that he would be sued for trespassing. And according to the parents, the teachers were ordered not to speak to Khatib.

"The Education Authority wants to turn the school into an ordinary Arab school. They have an ideological problem with it," one parent said.

"In three years it will be an Arab school," another parent said. "They'll destroy the bilingual model because it doesn't suit their agenda."

"The municipality and Education Ministry have disrupted the [Jewish-Arab] balance in the school and are brutally taking control and changing it," he added.

The parents fear the changes to the school's administration will drive the Jewish students away.

"I hope this conduct will not harm this school's basic values, which is why we send our children there," writer and journalist Sayed Kashua said yesterday. He is one of the signatories to the petition, which has been distributed by parents, to preserve the school's egalitarian Jewish-Arab management.

The Jerusalem municipality issued the following comment: "The bilingual school is an official school, run jointly by the Education Ministry and the municipality, which see its continued activity as very important. The school always had only one principal, who was appointed by the Education Ministry. Mr. Ala Khatib is an employee of Hand in Hand and ... after he was fired has no job or position in the school. The school's new principal and deputy principal serve as the school's joint Jewish-Arab management."