The presenter talked about the importance and success of his Hand and Hand schools he started up in Israel to promote peaceful relations. In Israel, roughly 22% of the population is Palestinian-Arab, the rest being constituted mainly by Jews. There has been a history of strife between the groups that continues to this day and there is virtually complete separation between the Arabs and the Jews. Throughout Israel there are by De Facto Arab-only schools and Jewish-only schools, each only speaking Arab or Hebrew respectively. Lee Gordon is the co-founder of Hand in Hand, a network of integrated bilingual schools where Jews and Arabs are educated together. It is a model for peace education and a shared society that was implemented in a time where there is a complete lack of peace process. He began the schools by recruiting 35 kindergarteners but now there are over 1000 kids in 6 of the Hand in Hand schools. The schools are bilingual, emphasizing Arabic and Hebrew equally. The schools have become increasingly recognized for their academic superiority; the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem is the best junior high and high school in the city with a heavy advancement in the sciences. One of the biggest challenges in recruiting students for the schools was that people were often cynical, rather than racist. They didn’t think that Jewish and Arab students could co-exist well. The schools have also been faced with acts of violence. It has been vandalized several times, with hostile phrases like “death to the Arabs” spray-painted on it and has even been set on fire. Despite these bumps, it is evident by the soaring success of the schools that Gordons vision of seeing Jews and Arabs share a common society is becoming increasingly achievable.
I found it very intelligent and strategic of Lee Gordon to target the racial tensions using the education system. If kids grow up understanding that, despite differences between Arabs and Jews, they are both human and can coexist, then it will shape their mindset to be more tolerable of others. Adults are often firm in their beliefs and stubborn, while children can be more easily swayed by various influences. By erasing prejudice early on by educating the kids in the same setting and giving equal value to both groups, the kids will have a greater chance and desire to live at peace with each other.
One impactful moment from the Lunch and Learn was that a girl from Gaza expressed her utmost gratitude to Lee Gordon for building the schools. She relayed how all she remembered from Israel was tragedy and never expected to live to see the change from war but was extremely happy about the effort towards peace he had ventured for and the success of it. Her emotional commentary even brought a few tears to some of the audience. This reaction shows just how important efforts are to appease tensions between the religious groups, in this case by starting up schools that cater to both groups. Before the presentation I was completely oblivious to the scale of tensions between the Palestinian Arabs and Jews in Israel but am now aware of the need to take small steps with huge impact to achieve peace for the country. I find what Lee Gordon is doing to promote peaceful relations by educating the Arabs and Jews together a fantastic approach and very noble.