Open Your Eyes

Even coming from the West Bank settlement of Ofra, the students of Tel Aviv's Ironi Aleph High School of the Arts in Tel Aviv with their bright eyes and the way they sat there attentively were like a special gift for me.

The invitation to meet 12th-graders at the Ironi Aleph High School of the Arts in Tel Aviv and take part in a discussion there made me curious and apprehensive. I was to share the podium with Gideon Levy, a sharp, experienced journalist, with a clear agenda.

School principal Ram Cohen warned there would be a leftist environment at the school and that the students live in a reality entirely different from that in which I live.

But I'm not one of those people who shut myself off. Ram's wide opening of the gates to me and the possibility of discourse with the youngsters was enchanting and I agreed to take part. The students with their bright eyes and the way they sat there attentively were like a special gift for me. The discussion was to the point, lively and not evasive.

I opened with a story that for me is a metaphor and a symbol, which took place at the end of the 1990s. The Palestinian Authority wanted to build a quarry, which aroused opposition in Ofra and nearby Arab villages.

Cooperation between the mukhtars (headmen) of the villages and the secretary of Ofra, with publication of the objections in the Palestinian press, led to the stopping of the plan. Harm to the quality of life of the inhabitants of the area was prevented, as was the damage to nature.

This is my vision.

Normal life of two different populations on the basis of civil cooperation and autonomy for the Arabs of Judea and Samaria, with a connection to Jordan. Yes, I do have a vision different from the prevailing mantras in the Israeli discourse.

There is no room, in my opinion, for two states between the Jordan river and the sea. This would be an irresponsible and incorrect move for the entire region.

So what if Levy thought this was a position from 40 years ago? Is it irrelevant?

I said that we are prisoners of a terminology that isn't examining itself in light of reality and no, we will not fall into Levy's abysses of despair. The most fascinating part of the event was the students' questions.

Questions about autonomy and about the political-social rift that is splitting the nation.

There was an amazing confrontation between Levy and Gaia, a student with strong opinions on the question of what is tearing the nation apart.

He made it clear to me how unaware he is of the discourse of hatred he is creating in his writings and the sounds of scorn coming from his throat.

On the trip home from Tel Aviv to Ariel and from Ariel to Ofra, I pondered what had been said and what had not been said.

I thought about the unequivocal statements of principal Cohen, against the damned and corrupting occupation and about the students among whom there are those who think differently. How can educators who have an opinion educate toward openness and freedom of thought?

I spoke about this space in the conversation, the space the teacher gives to students to ask, to think, to clarify. I found that space at Ironi Aleph. An opinionated discourse by students, attentive listening, respect for the different opinion.

On the radio they were already talking about the principal of the Herzliya Gymnasium who isn't allowing his students to fly the national flag at the school.

"Is it possible to be a proud Israeli if you aren't religious or a settler," a student named Maya had asked and I thought to myself, the answer was so close, she just had to open her eyes.

The author is a former educator and community coordinator in the settlement of Ofra