Arafat Osman, a biology teacher at Arab Israeli high school Al Bian School in the Galilee, believes in coexistence.
“Arabs and Jews in the Israeli state can have a better life with coexistence, he said. “Not everyone believes in it.”
That vision, coupled with like-minded neighboring Jewish Misgav School, was the backdrop for a 10-day trip to the United States with one teacher and two students from each school through the organization Sparks of Change.
Sparks of Change was started to honor Daniel Joseph Siegel, a Baltimore native who died of brain cancer in 2010. He was a graduate of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and a political science student at Yale. The organization formed in his memory works to promote peace and well-being in communities as well as educational efforts and programs to decrease violence.
The four students and two teachers, as well as a representative of Oranim Academic College of Education, visited the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Md. and attended a Shabbaton with the schools’ students, toured Washington, D.C., visited The Park School of Baltimore and toured New York City, where they saw the sites and lunched with students from a local high school and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
In order to participate, students wrote essays focused on the coexistence between Arabs and Jews and were interviewed faculty members at their schools.
“Arabs and Jews in the Israeli state can have a better life with coexistence. Not everyone believes in it.” — Arafat Osman, biology teacher at Al Bian School in Israel
During one of the group’s days at Park School, where they were hosted by local families, the students and teachers spoke to history classes, ate lunch with students and presented at assemblies.
Ori Ziring, 16, one of the Jewish students on the trip, said she’s had interactions with Arabs in her life but never this intense. She said she was surprised to learn how similar their lives are but also noted differences in opinions regarding joining the army and the right of return.
“Opinions of our Arabs friends is something I haven’t heard before. It’s been challenging for me,” she said. “I’m still a teen. I’m not sure where I stand, so listening to other people is very important.”
Jon Acheson, who teaches 20th-century history at Park, said he could see how surprised his students were as the group spoke about coexistence, but individuals differed in what that means and how to achieve it.
“Even though they’re all peaceniks, they don’t agree,” Acheson said. “They see the complexity.”
Arab student Kassem Abu Zaid, 16, said the students have asked him really good questions.
“They asked me, ‘How do you live in Israel? What’s the solution for Israelis and Arabs?’” he said, adding that they’ve also asked about one state versus two states for the populations.
Amit Dinur, 17, an Israeli student, said he’s enjoyed discussing the Jewish-Arab relationship in Israel.
Aerin Abrams, a senior at Park whose family in hosting Amit, said he’s spoken to her family a lot about his life and where he lives in Israel. That morning, they listened to Amit’s music on the way to school rather than Aerin’s.
Students in the history classes where the group spoke were intrigued by discussions of what it’s like being Arab versus being Jewish in Israel, the Gaza situation and the differences in historical and generational perspectives.
“[We asked,] ‘What would be ideal for all of you?’” said Jennie Jacobs, a junior. “They all said the same thing, which is peace. But they didn’t know how to go about it.”
Roberta Bell-Kligler, director of international programs at Oranim, said Misgav and Al Bian were chosen because those schools share the vision of a unified Galilee like the college, which has Jewish, Arab and Bedouin students.
“It fills one with hope to see four smart, articulate dedicated students who really want to make life in Galilee better,” she said.