TALI Co-Existence Program Defies Today’s Headlines of Violence and Religious Extremism
TALI’s Dialogue and Identity program kicked off this year’s meetings between TALI students and Arab students under the heavy pall of the recent war in Gaza and the escalating tensions centered on theTemple Mount controversy and multiple recent terrorist attacks. No wonder there was more than a little trepidation amongst both the Jewish and Arab teams of educators as they planned for last week’s opening encounters. Would there be a willingness on both sides to continue the program? And if so, in what kind of atmosphere would the “co-existence” meetings take place?
There are no opportunities for average Jewish and Palestinian children growing up inIsraelto ever have any contact with each other in a positive educational atmosphere. A project called “Dialogue and Identity” brings children from theTALI School Network of 94 Jewish secular public schools together with children from the network of 44 Catholic-Arab schools in Israel. The goal of the program is to teach Jewish, Muslim and Christian children important basic lessons in tolerance, respect and the appreciation of other traditions. The program is highlighted by a series of 4 days during the school year in which classes from the Jewish and Arab school networks host each other at their schools and engage in educational and social activities together, facilitated by their teachers. The secret to the success of “Dialogue and Identity” lies in the huge amount of time and thought put into the preparation of these encounters by teacher-teams from both sectors working jointly on the content.
Since its launch in 2006, about 3,000 children and 100 educators have participated in this unforgettable educational experience sponsored jointly by the TALI Education Fund and JCJCR (Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations).
98% of Jewish and Palestinian Israeli children grow up without ever meeting each other. This combined with the ongoing conflict have, sadly, produced results that should alarm anyone concerned for the future of Israeli democracy.
In 2012 abroad survey (Yediot Ahronot) of Israeli youth showed that 37% of Jewish youth (14-18) either hate or fear all Arabs, and that 46% favor revoking the political rights of Israeli Arab citizens. This summer’s conflict betweenIsraeland Hamas brought out the ugly underside of Israeli society: hatred of the other. A shocking wave of intolerance, violence and revenge has swept over much of the Jewish and Arab populations, and is particularly felt among young people.
Dialogue and Identity 2014-15—Still Possible?
Well, the good news is that everybody involved in Dialogue and Identity very much wanted the project to continue in their schools. NOBODY wanted to cut off dialogue.
The first meeting took place the week of November 10. Around 30 5th and 6th graders of the TALI Oranim School in Yokneam hosted 30 of their counterparts from the Latin Patriarchate School of Yefiyah. (Jaffa of Nazareth). The results were gratifying. Through the end of the month, 7 more encounters will take place with schools from the north, Hod hasharon, Ramle and Jaffa. Altogether, 9 TALI schools and 9 schools from the Catholic Network will meet this month, and in four additional meetings through the spring.
Eva Halahmi, TALI Director of the program: “It is not just our teachers and students who support the program. The parents on both sides are the silent, yet crucial hidden force behind these encounters. They want their children to be exposed and make ties to the “other” in our society.”
Eva Halahmi: “We do not promise peace, but a first positive experience that breaks down stereotypes and the barriers of fear. Each child is allowed to experience the complex identity of the ‘other’, but only in tandem with learning about their own culture and religion.”
Arab children Speak about the Encounter
Muslim and Catholic children from theYefiyah Latin Patriarchate School, shared some of their feelings from the first meeting last week with TALI students from Yokneam:
-“I already miss my new-found friends from Oranim. When will we meet again?”
-“I was really frightened at the beginning of the day that I would not be able to speak with them [the TALI children]… and if they would become my friends…but after only a few activities, I felt more comfortable and I made a number of friends!!”
-“ I was really happy at the meeting. I met new friends and they showed us their school and it was really fun to play together in the playground.”
--“Everybody wanted to talk to me. I helped the kids at the beginning of the lesson to write their names in Arabic and that’s why everybody liked me and wanted to play with me! Then I helped my friends from my school to get to know my new friends from TALI Oranim.”
--“Now I have new friends…and I learned some new words in Hebrew that I did not know before.”
TALI Teachers and Students Share their Thoughts
Reactions from a second “Dialogue and Identity” encounter last week betweenTALI Alona School, Moshav Amikam and Latin Patriarchate School, Assafiya.
-“The meeting was excellent. We all felt really good, in spite of the tensions and difficulties that surround us these days. The [arab] teachers are really sweet…and serious. The children definitely bonded.
-"Most of the children felt that the meeting was too short. Wanted more time. Also wanted more 'informal' time during the break where the freedom and space they had helped them in connecting with their Arab guests."
-"Next time I'll try to speak more and then I'll have better luck at making connections."
-"I played basketball during recess. The teams were mixed with Arab and Jewish players. There was one Arab captain and one Jewish captain."
-" I really connected in the petting zoo when we petted the animals together."
In summary--Dialogue and Identity is flourishing. All scheduled meetings will take place this month and hopefully throughout the entire school year. It is an island of 18 schools, but when we started 8 years ago, there were only 8 schools! It is a model that could be adopted for the entire country. It is working.
To support this essential project, contact Eitan Cooper, Vice President for Development, email@example.com.
Read more about the story in The Jerusalem Post blog by Gil Troy.