Jewish, Christian and Muslim high school students from Tabeetha School in Jaffa will be leaving for Krzyzowa, Poland, on Thursday to participate in a Model International Criminal Courts project.
In Poland, the Tabeetha students will join up with students from the West Bank towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour as well as Polish and German youth, to learn about the ICC through simulating some the historic cases that were heard before the international tribunals.
Every year the Krzyzowa Foundation for Mutual Understanding in Europe invites students from Germany, Poland and an alternating third country to participate in the model trials. This year Israel and the Palestinian Authority were selected, and a total of 20 high school students will be going.
"We were very honored to be invited to participate. This is a very prestigious occasion and invitations to other countries are rare and we are the only school representing Israel," said Antony Short, Tabeetha's principal. "We immediately accepted and began preparing the students for the experience."
Tabeetha School is a small establishment of 334 students, aged 5-19, located in a 140-year-old building in the heart of ancient Jaffa. Classes are conducted in English and the students work towards obtaining GCE A-levels. Most of the students who go to the school come from Jaffa and Tel Aviv, but roughly a third are children of expatriates. Tabeetha boasts students from 39 countries may of them children to members of the international diplomatic and business community.
Short said that upon hearing about the project, the students were enthusiastic about participating and immediately began signing up.
"We ended up having many more application than available spots, so we asked the students who applied to write an essay in which they explained why they wanted to go and how they would in turn relate what they learned in Poland to the other students and members of the community. Our teachers read the essays and chose the students who would go," said Short.
Every student is assigned a role to play in the trial. Some are judges, some are prosecutors, some are defense lawyers and some are journalists. All the students receive preparation materials, which they are required to read prior to the trip. The material includes things like the Rome Statute and the Geneva conventions as well as indictments, transcripts of witness testimonies and early arguments. The students are not given the final verdicts of the historical cases so that they remain unbiased during the trials.
"Since the project is only five days long, the students don't argue the whole case, only the final proceedings," explained Linda Rosenthal, the teacher who will be accompanying the students to Poland.
Once they arrive in Poland, the students will be separated into groups according to the case they were given. Every group is made up of students from the three countries and together they study and prepare for the trial.
In between training sessions the students will participate in workshops on human rights and the international court system as well as attend a tour of the Krzyzowa memorial site and participate in cultural programs.
The final two days are dedicated to the model trials themselves, and after each trial, the participants discuss and analyze the verdicts and compare them to the verdicts of the actual cases. This year the students will be adjudicating the Nuremberg trial of Freidrich Flick, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia trials of DrazË‡en ErdemovicÂ´ and Vinko Martinovic and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Rwanda trial of Georges Ruggio.
"It will be really difficult to stand up and defend a man like Flick, who enslaved Jews," said 16-year-old Stacie Buckalew, who was assigned the role of defense attorney. "But I actually found it pretty easy to find evidence that would help defend him. Our teacher also explained that all we have to do is create doubt, because the judges are supposed to be unbiased."
Grade 10 student Nadia Tannous said she was surprised by the level of cruelty that people could sink to when she read the background information about her former Yugoslavia case, but added that as a judge, she would try to be as objective as possible.
Eleventh grader Yohanna Tesfamariam said she felt like she was in the actual courtroom when she read the transcripts of her case, which dealt with the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. She said she talked over the case with her father, who is the Eritrean Ambassador to Israel, and he advised her to be fair even and look at all the aspects of the case, even though she already knew its results.
After their return, the students will be expected to report back to the other students on what they learnt in Poland. "We haven't decided how they should go about it yet, but there are several possibilities, including writing a report and posting it on the school's Web site, presenting the case in assembly or posting impressions on a blog," said Rosenthal.
"In a school such as ours, which focuses on multiculturalism and openness, we really encourage projects such as these," said Short.
He added that he believed it was such a great learning experience that he was willing to postpone the exam period so the students could attend. "We want the kids to learn beyond the curriculum and think this is a great opportunity."
The students are also aware that in representing Israel they were liable to face some challenging questions from other students.
"I think it's important for people outside of Israel to realize that we live normal lives and are not constantly at war," said Buckalew. "If you look at our school, you can see that Jews and Arabs can be good friends. I'm proud of my school and where I come from."