A northern Israeli municipality cancelled a meeting between high school students and an Israeli-Palestinian NGO after parents and right-wing politicians complained that they did not want the children exposed to "terrorists."
The school's student council blasted the move, calling it a "cowardly, unfortunate and irresponsible move, which violates basic democratic values and the high school's educational values."
The non-compulsory meeting in the town of Nesher between high school students and The Parents Circle Families Forum, a grassroots organization of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost immediate family members in the conflict, was slated for Thursday. The student council expressed its full support for the educational staff that planned the meeting.
The Nesher municipality said: “Following a request from the school’s central parents committee, the meeting planned for today was called off.”
Shlomi Zino, a city council member for the Likud, told Haaretz that a number of students had asked him to act to cancel the meeting with the NGO at the school. “I briefed the chairman of the parents committee and the mayor, who were not aware of the meeting, and the education minister and a few Knesset members.”
"A meeting in which Palestinian parents and the school management preach sympathy for the enemy's casualties and murderous terrorists erodes our sense of righteousness in our cause," he said.
The NGO’s Palestinian CEO Bassam Aaramin said “cancelling the meeting is extremely alarming. Terrorists don’t come to speak at schools, you see. We talk about the tragedies that have befallen us and we say that all this land isn’t worth a single drop of our children’s blood. After meetings like these, students start to think that dialogue is possible.”
Forum member Aharon Barnea, who was on his way to the meeting Thursday, said, “Some parents are afraid of the influence we might have on the youth. It’s simply appalling. We visit other schools, and one of the first questions we ask is whether the teens have ever met a Palestinian. Everywhere we go, the answer is no, and then they realize that the person in front of them is a human being. Apparently that scares the government."
Forum spokeswoman Robi Damelin said “we’d like to meet the parents who opposed the meeting at Nesher and the students who perhaps feel threatened and say something simple: Our stories are just like theirs. My pain is no different from a Palestinian mother’s pain.”
According to the Education Ministry's website on extra-curricular programs, the meeting is intended for students in grades 10-12 and "enables them to meet the Palestinian 'other' in a direct and humane way and to hold a dialogue as a form of reconciliation between the nations. Forum members who lost those most dear to them are, in their shared stand, living proof that it is possible to overcome the anger and revenge and act together to achieve rapprochement and hope."
“I understand they were going to bring them parents of terrorists today. How is that at all reasonable?” a parent wrote in the parents committee's Whatsapp group on Thursday morning. "Don't agree to it. [The parents from] our side – no problem. Their side can go speak at their schools and in Gaza."
“Guys, calm down,” wrote another parent. “It’s a program that exposes the children to both sides. The idea is to show the kids that grief over a dead child isn’t a matter of nationality. These are not terrorists. Enough with the hate. The people who are coming to the school have been vetted.”
“It’s insane, borderline of sick. They're parents of terrorists,” wrote one of the mothers. “May they burn,” wrote another.
A meeting with Parents Circle Families Forum at the same school was cancelled about two years ago after right-wing officials intervened. Among them was Zino, who was running for mayor at the time. Until that point, forum members had been visiting the high school for many years.
"The management organized the meetings in a very hush-hush way and only told the students about it on Wednesday evening," Zino said. "They didn't announce the cancellation until the early morning hours, except for a statement by the school's management that 'the Family Circle Forum's activity was approved by the Education Ministry.'"
Contrary to Zino’s statement, Haaretz learned that over the past two weeks the school held talks with the teachers and students to prepare for the meeting. Teachers were briefed by forum members and discussed a pamphlet written by the forum on "ways to conduct constructive conversation on controversial issues."
The students’ council wrote in a letter to the Nesher municipality that “over the past week all the students have been prepared for the meeting” and that a large majority of the 12th grade students chose to participate. The council said that after one student asked a municipal official to prevent the meeting “there was commotion on social media and within the school and the decision was passed to the parents committee,” which decided to cancel the event.
“We were educated to be tolerant and accept the other, and the decision to cancel the meeting goes against those values,” the students wrote. “It saddens us that because of some noise and fuss they denied the entire 12th grade class the chance to be exposed to complex opinions and discourse, without any consideration for their desires."
The Education Ministry and parents committee chairman Shuli Keren declined to comment.
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