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By David Sklar, Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim
Over the last four months, I have been participating in a new Masa Israel volunteer program called Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim. Looking beyond the worn-out rhetoric of the conflict, this program initially attracted me by allowing me to see the harsh realities on the ground and meet the people who are working for real change in Israel and abroad. As someone who believes in the importance of dialogue and co-operation, I was particularly attracted by one of Achvat Amim’s main focuses, working with the Hand in Hand school in South Jerusalem. This school, a successful experiment in Arab-Jewish education, is one of only five in Israel. Since the beginning of January I have been teaching English as well as Drama. While learning to navigate through the chaos of the Israeli education system, (as someone coming from a structured Canadian upbringing), this school has given me hope for the future of Israel.
I started off eager and slightly naïve. I wanted to get into the “thick” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I wanted to devise a drama program about what my students have to go through on a daily basis and how the school has shaped their lives for the future. I wanted to witness the “other” and have them show me the conflict. Once I stated my intentions with my group, however, I quickly got my own crash course. The students paused, and rolled their eyes.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
The students started in. “They always want us to do that. No one gets it.”
Apparently, I wasn’t the first with this brilliant plan. Whether it is from the teachers, their parents, or donors from the school, the students felt that they always had to play up how they love one another and that they are “working for peace.”
Don’t get me wrong; they liked the school and even some of their teachers. But they didn’t see things from an outsider’s perspective.
“Karen isn’t my Jewish friend – she’s my friend. And Ruba isn’t my Palestinian friend I fought with yesterday; she’s my friend I got into an argument with.”
These students live their reality. For them, it isn’t about building bridges, or creating an abstract peace plan. They are friends and colleagues. They study together; they play together and get into fights. They care about their test this afternoon, passing and eventually graduating.
Their unprejudiced outlook on the situation is refreshing –here are people who come from different backgrounds and have different statuses in this country, and yet see one another not as political stats but as people.
My time at the school has been challenging, rewarding and made me want to continue teaching in the future. My students have given me the confidence to engage with intelligent youth and create a program that addresses everyone’s needs.
David Sklar of Montreal, Canada, is currently spending five months volunteering with Human Rights NGOs in Jerusalem with the Masa Israel program, Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim.