Primary School Report
November 2000 - January 2001

 

 

The Holiday Season

This year it happened that three major Jewish, Christian and Moslem festivals came at almost the same time.  These were Chanukah, Id al Fitr and Christmas.  Usually close to these holidays, we conduct activities in the classroom and the school.  This year, seeing the coincidence of the holidays, we thought we would do activities that would allow parents to participate and learn about each other’s festivals too.  Staff and some of the parents began to prepare for these activities as the date grew nearer, and then Palestinians, both in the Palestinian Autonomy and in Israel, decided that due to the seriousness of the conflict, this was not a time for celebration.  Consequently, at the School, we decided that we would commemorate, rather than celebrate, the holidays.  The activity that had been planned for parents was therefore cancelled, and we confined ourselves to learning about the holidays in the classrooms. 

A part of all three holidays is the custom of gift giving.  Maisoon Karaman, a teacher, suggested that instead of exchanging gifts at the school, the children would contribute gifts to other children in need of support or love.  She had in mind also a place that would be suitable to accept the gifts: the Hospice of St. Vincent de Paul, a Christian children’s home in Jerusalem, which serves some 140 children who, for various reasons, are not able to live with their parents.  The School staff loved the idea, but decided to add to the campaign also a giving of gifts to the children's cancer ward of the Hadassah - Ein Kerem Hospital. 

In explaining the idea to the children, it was possible to recall the occasion of the giving of the “Love Bags” to our children several months ago.  A Japanese Buddhist organization, Rissho-Kosei-Kai had collected little bags of gifts from children and parents all over Japan, and sent these to children of the NSWAS school and children of a Palestinian school in the West Bank (NSWAS took charge of the procedure).  Maisoon explained to the children how the Japanese belonging to Rissho-Kosei-Kai go without food one day a week and contribute the money they save thereby to charity.  In wrapping the presents for the children of the two institutions, many of the children used the bags that they had received from Japan.

At a ceremony at the school, the parcels were passed from child to child in a long line, and then taken by members of the student council, parents and teachers, to the two institutions in Jerusalem.  At both places our delegations were warmly received.

Involvement with local schools

Children from the NSWAS School took part in a running contest with several schools from the Beth Shemesh area.  This proved to be instructive for children from those schools, since they were tutored about the encounter with Arab children.  In the competition, the children from our school achieved good results.  The group from the 4th grade came in first.

Meetings for Parents

Following the events of September – October, it was decided to give parents the opportunity to process their feelings in the framework of uninational activities.  Consequently, the Jewish parents took part in three meetings with Ariella Bairey-Ben Yishai as facilitator.  Arab parents decided to postpone the meetings till after the month of Ramadan, which makes it difficult to conduct meetings in the evenings, due to the importance of the evening meal.  After Ramadan, the Arab facilitator chosen had to travel overseas so, as yet, no meetings have been held.

The Jewish parents found that the meetings helped them to understand and deal with the change in the emotional climate felt in the two societies.  Parents too are involved in the encounter that takes part at the school, though they often have little prior experience with Jewish – Arab encounter or dialogue.

The situation for the pupils is not symmetrical.  The Arab students find themselves in a difficult reality.  In order for them to participate more equally at the school, and receive an opportunity to grow up as strong and confident individuals, Arab pupils need greater encouragement and support.  They need extra support in understanding and expressing their special identity as Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Yet some Jewish parents are disturbed.  They do not wish their children to feel guilt for conditions prevailing in their society, or for their Jewish identity to be weakened.  The school’s position is that children should develop understanding for the needs or the pain of the other side.  We seek to develop in the child the capacity for empathy, as long as this does not bring a feeling of guilt.  We try to show the children how, in their small way, they have a responsibility to help change the realities of our society.  These are difficult demands to make upon children, but we feel we have some success.

One thing we try to communicate to parents is that children too are making a journey, and must pass through some thorny places along the way.  Often, this can be worrying for parents.  In the classroom, the children are encouraged to speak of their feelings and difficulties in order to process and come to terms with them.  

One example of the parents’ concern was our handling of the Rabin Memorial Day.  In the school, we chose to reflect upon the importance of human life, and we examined the preservation of life as the highest value.  We considered the effect of the taking of life on our democracy, and were able to relate both to the assassination of Rabin and to the killing of thirteen Palestinians of Israeli citizenship during the events of September – October.  Teachers said that even if demonstrators break the law, this is no reason to kill them.  The demonstrators were expressing their rage towards the injustices Palestinians in Israel have suffered over many years.  Yet, in the parents’ meetings, some Jewish parents said they felt uneasy about drawing a parallel between the Rabin assassination and the killing of the Arab demonstrators. 

The Atmosphere at the School

Following the events of September – October, the teachers decided that it was important to return quickly to a regular schedule.  Teachers continued to process the events in their weekly meetings, and some of these were facilitated by a counselor.  There is currently an improved atmosphere at the school.  Earlier, we were aware of tension, both among the pupils and among the teachers.

Relations with the Latrun Monastery

Abbott Paul, of the Trappist Monastery, has become a firm supporter of the school, both financially and in other ways too.  Warm relations have been established, and several activities involving the Monastery have been organized.  One, in December, was a trip to the Monastery by all of the pupils.  The children observed the preparation of oil from the olives gathered from the Monastery’s trees.  We also staged a concert with Jewish and Arab music, and the Abbott met with the children.  Later, in January, the kindergarten children made a trip to the Monastery.

Other Activities at the School

The School has begun to work with Matya, a center for support of children with learning disabilities.  The Center is helping to identify children with such disabilities, offering assistance to the staff in dealing with them.  All of the teachers took part in a workshop to study this issue.

The teachers have also been learning how better to use the computers in teaching and, in particular, the use of the Internet.  With the new computers that arrived last year, it has been possible to extend the range of activities performed with computers, and integrate them better into regular classroom activities.

Financial Concerns

We are grateful for all of the assistance received recently from the Friends’ Associations to help tide us over a difficult financial period.  The difficulties are occasioned particularly by the change in the School’s status from that of a non-official to an official school.  The change, which we hope will improve the School’s financial standing, brought initial difficulties in the areas of transportation for the pupils and payment of teachers’ salaries (see earlier report).  Although the issue of transportation has been solved for the current school year, we still do not know how much of our transportation costs will be covered next year.

Development

We continue to plan for the construction of a new school building.  Since the Education Ministry agrees only to construct schools on state-owned land, it was necessary to initiate a process whereby the Regional Council could requisition the land from NSWAS.  This process has now been completed, so that it will be possible to approach the Ministry.

In conclusion, a letter that appeared in the school’s January newsletter by Hezzie Schuster, a teacher and NSWAS resident:

 “We recently developed the photos from the first day of the School Year.  Many smiles, lots of gaiety and optimism shone from those pictures.  I thought to myself how deceiving can be the reality of our lives.  Today too, if a guest enters our School he will see smiles and children playing.

Yet the cruel reality that surrounds us gradually penetrates above and below the surface, and grinds away at the regularity of our lives.

Even the words that we have grown used to over the years have changed their aspect.  The old clichés are crumbling before our eyes.  They demand to be changed, to be renewed, and to adjust themselves to the reality.  What is coexistence in our days?  What is fraternity?  What is Jewish – Arab solidarity?

We, the teachers, arrive each morning from many places throughout this troubled land, and it is our duty to project stability to the children, to pave for them a secure road between all the disturbances.  And it is hard for us, like everyone, to make the “switch.”

It is important that the children will be kept informed, will know and understand as much as possible, the reality.  But how much?  Even the conventional wisdom that says it is important to keep up a routine should be re-examined.  Is it a good idea to project “business as usual” when many Israelis and Palestinians are not experiencing a normal reality at all?”

  

(Report prepared by Howard Shippin on basis of interviews with Boaz Kita'in, Diana Shalufi and Maisoon Karaman. Feb 2, 2001)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The despatching of gifts

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