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Formation years of the Educational System

Wednesday 31 December 2003, by Ety Edlund

The following is taken from "The Binational, Bilingual Primary School at Neve Shalom Wahat al Salam: The First Twenty Years" (an unpublished translation from Hebrew). The translation is by Deb Reich. The text below covers the establishment of a nursery, the establishment of the primary school in 1984, and up to the end of the 1990s.

Stages in the development of our educational system

The story of our educational system is, first of all, the story of hundreds of children who have spent a good part of their lives with us. It is the story of their school days and their ongoing encounter with one another, year after year. It is also the story of our teaching staff and principals, who have borne the burden of establishing and running this special system. In this story, our unusual community plays an important part. The school was founded because of the village, and thanks to the village — and thanks also to the parents from elsewhere in the area who have chosen to send their youngsters to us. It is also the story of the Israeli educational establishment: the regional council in our area and the Ministry of Education in Jerusalem, who have not always made things easier for us and sometimes have made things very hard indeed. And meanwhile it is also the story of many people around the world who believe in us and who have given us their dedicated support over many years and are still doing so today.

The way it all began is amazingly simple:

At the end of 1980, there were five babies in the village. Their parents didn’t want to separate them and send them to different schools “on the outside.” They wanted them to be educated in the spirit of the place.

We renovated a small building that had been used to house guests sometimes, and otherwise was used for storage. That took only a few days. The parents brought mattresses, towels and toys for the children. Friends and relatives rounded up furniture, swings, and a little merry-go-round. Aishe Najjar and Rachel Peleg took on the job of preschool teachers, although they had almost no prior experience at it. Thus began the first egalitarian Jewish-Arab kindergarten in the country, with a feeling of joy and pride.

Aishe persevered in that job for twenty-five years, working with a number of different co-teachers over the years. In 1990, the kindergarten began accepting children from neighboring communities and the class size began increasing. In 1991, the state granted the kindergarten official status via the Ministry of Education. Later on, we opened a preschool group for babies up to age two and another for toddlers aged two to four. Sometimes the number of Jewish and Arab children was about equal; in other years, there were more Arab children, and this trend has become more pronounced lately. One reason is that the Jewish children, unlike the Arab children, have reasonable alternatives in their home communities.

In the summer of 1984, when there were 11 children between the ages of four and eight in the village, we decided to establish a Jewish-Arab elementary school in the spirit of Neve Shalom Wahat al Salam. Created by Ety Edlund and Abdessalam Najjar, this was the first school of its kind in Israel. We were not fazed by experts who voiced reservations about the whole idea, nor were we cowed by representatives of the Israeli educational establishment who were also opposed. We persevered, and in high spirits we set up our new school, with a naïve faith that our initiative would mark the start of major change for the entire region. Looking back now on that period, some of us remember it as the loveliest time in the life of the village.

An open, multi-age learning environment, the fledgling institution operated on a long school day. Tremendous curiosity and joie de vivre were the watchwords as we strove for ways to teach in both Hebrew and Arabic. We bravely confronted dilemmas involving national flags, national symbols and days of national significance for our respective peoples. We applied ourselves creatively to questions of how to mark holidays and other cultural events from the different cultures.

Anwar Daoud, who was a teacher at the school, joined the administration beginning in the fall of 1992 as Ety’s co-principal. During that period, the principals succeeded in persuading the Ministry of Education to grant the school the official status of a “recognized, unofficial” school so that we could begin to receive state funding accordingly.

Two years later, the school moved to a new building, built with the support of donors and friends of Neve Shalom Wahat al Salam in various countries.

In the fall of 1996, Boaz replaced Ety as principal and served as the educational director alongside co-principal Anwar, who was general manager of the education system as a whole. During the 1996-97 academic year, a decision was made to enlarge the student body significantly over the next five years – from eight or nine children per grade to 44 or 45 children per grade, divided into two classes in each grade. The main purpose was to enable the establishment of the first Jewish-Arab junior high school.

A year later, the school was admitted to a select group of official “experimental schools” by the Ministry of Education.

In the fall of 1999, Dyana Shaloufe Rizek joined the school administration, following Anwar’s resignation. Dyana served as educational director and co-principal alongside Boaz, who had been chosen as general manager of the education system and co-principal.

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