On 29 November there was an arson attack on the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem which teaches both Jewish and Arab children. Near to the burnt-out classroom were pieces of anti-Arab graffiti, one of which stated, ‘There can be no coexistence with cancer.’
Within 48 hours, the school community and local residents came together and restored what they could in the damaged classrooms.
MKs from across the spectrum and the Mayor of Jerusalem condemned the attack, and President Rivlin invited the first-graders whose classroom had been destroyed for a day out at the presidential residence.
Jewish groups and organisations in the diaspora have also condemned the attack on the school.
Strengthening Israeli society is one of the aims of the Hand in Hand school network.
There are five schools networked across Israel, all educating with a Jewish and Arab teacher in every classroom, teaching Jewish and Arab children together, speaking both Hebrew and Arabic.
Over 1,200 Jewish and Arab students learn about their own culture and language while understanding the culture and language of others around them.
The Hand-in-Hand schools represent what it means to truly live in a shared society.
Core elements of support for Israel are a deep commitment to all Israeli citizens and a peaceful Israeli society.
Therefore, our commitment toward Israel’s Arab population – comprising just over 20% of Israeli society – is inextricable from our commitment to the Jewish people and Israel as a whole. Since the publication of the Or Commission report in 2003, many in the Israeli government and wider society consider the integration of Israel’s Arab population to be the biggest domestic challenge the country currently faces, affecting Israel’s prosperity, security and global standing.
The potential support that the British Jewish community can provide for shared society and coexistence initiatives is immense.
Pursuing equality between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens will safeguard both the Jewish and democratic principles upon which Israel was founded in accordance with the Declaration of Independence.
As a cross-communal coalition of 38 organisations, the UK Task Force provides opportunities for British Jews to learn about and engage with issues facing Arab citizens of Israel through educational events, training, workshops and speaker tours.
It is undeniable however that 2014 has been a turbulent year for Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.
There have been a range of Government and NGO initiatives which have made good progress in closing economic gaps and supporting integration of Arab citizens into Israel’s economy and institutions of higher education.
However, some legislative initiatives, such as the proposal to downgrade Arabic from an official language – a move which was subsequently abandoned – and the raising of the electoral threshold which will significantly impact Arab parties, show that some forces are pulling in the opposite direction.
Strained relations between Jewish and Arab citizens reached a new low during the summer as events moved from the murder of three Jewish teenagers and revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager to Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
This autumn, despite the invaluable activities of Jewish-Arab organisations, local leadership, community activists, and the constructive statements of MKs and President Rivlin, various issues and events continue to undermine programmes of shared society between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.
It is this context which makes the attack on the Hand in Hand school a cause for wider concern.
Perhaps President Rivlin described it best, when he told the first-graders and teachers from the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem that “You are proof that we can live together in peace and we can’t let the difficult experiences, like what you went through this week, harm our faith in our ability to live together.”
A shared society in Israel is not only desirable, but necessary, and the HandinHand network of schools demonstrates that there is a reality where Jews and Arabs can live together peacefully.
While there will be those who attempt to intimidate and threaten those who prove daily that co-existence is possible, we must show that ‘our faith in our ability to live together’ is stronger – for this is in the interest of all of Israel’s citizens.
Further information about the UK Task Force can be found on our website: http://uktaskforce.org/
The UK Task Force is a broad-based coalition of 38 organisations set up in 2010 to inform the UK Jewish community of issues relating to Arab citizens of Israel and facilitate partnerships to advance the opportunities of Israel’s Arab minority. Members of the Task Force support Israel’s Declaration of Independence, including the article promising social and political equality for all its inhabitants — Jews and Arabs alike.