Following the suspected arson attack on Jerusalem's Jewish-Arab school, President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday invited first-graders from the school and their teachers to visit the President's Residence.
The president and his wife, Nechama, welcomed the students and teachers from the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School, the country's largest Jewish-Arab institution. It has been co-run by Jewish and Arab principals since its founding in 1998 by the Hand in Hand non-governmental organization.
“I am excited to welcome you to the President’s Residence," Rivlin told them. "You are proof that we can live side by side in peace, and we must not let difficult experiences - such as the one you have been through - harm our belief in our ability to coexist.”
The children described their reactions to the suspected arson attack on their classroom early Sunday, and told him how upset they were over losing personal items that were destroyed.
One of the school's classrooms was set ablaze during the attack, books were burned and graffiti reading "Death to Arabs," “There is no coexistence with cancer” and “Kahane was right” –referring to referring to Meir Kahane, who advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel – were scrawled on the walls.
At the President's Residence, the children ate morning snacks, and made a banner reading “Hand in Hand, we will continue together in love and peace,” in both Hebrew and Arabic.
Hundreds of Jerusalem school students on Thursday held a solidarity march to show support for their peers at Hand in Hand. Organizers said some 800 students from various schools and youth movements took part in the march under the banner "Yes to respect and tolerance, no to hatred and violence."
Since taking office this summer, Rivlin has worked to promote coexistence in Israel.
Just last week, he canceled a performance by an Israeli singer who sparked outrage after publishing an anti-Arab song describing a fictional Arab student as "ungrateful scum."
The song "Ahmed loves Israel," sung from the viewpoint of the fictional Arab, continues with him saying that “one day, it’s true, you’ll turn your back to me and I’ll strike you with my well-honed ax." The song was posted on Facebook.
In October, Rivlin visited the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Qasem to attend the memorial ceremony for the 1956 massacre that left 47 dead.
Israel must "look straight at what happened in the Kafr Qasem massacre and teach all future generations about it," Rivlin said at the ceremony, while calling on the Arab public to acknowledge the fact that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people.
"A serious crime was committed here and needs to be repaired," Rivlin said, adding that the Arab population "will always be part of the flesh and blood of the State of Israel."
Rivlin acknowledged that Israel "needs to be honest and admit that the Arab sector in Israel has suffered from years of discrimination" and that "many Arabs in Israel face racism from Jews."
Prior to that, Rivlin teamed up with an 11-year-old Arab child from Jaffa to make a video calling for intercommunal tolerance.
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