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In a highly symbolic move, a new Arab high school was inaugurated Monday on the southeastern rim of Jerusalem at the site of a former minefield used by the Jordanians during the 1967 Six Day War.
The unusual site, which is located at the entrance to the east Jerusalem village of Sur Bahir opposite Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, had been off-limits to villagers for nearly four decades until the fields were cleared of hundreds of mines over the last year and half in a special project carried out by the Jerusalem Municipality and Education Ministry in coordination with the Ministry of Defense.
"This is a place with symbolic significance with can serve as a true bridge between east and west...a bridge of peace and discussion," said Education Minister Professor Yuli Tamir at the festive inauguration ceremony.
The NIS 30 million three-story, spanking-new Ibn-Rushad school, which opened this week, has 27 classrooms and a large basketball court.
The school, which was constructed by the architect Zeev Baran and overlooks Bethlehem to the south and the center of Jerusalem to the north, is the third city school in the neighborhood, with a fourth still under construction.
600 male pupils are currently studying at the high-school, which runs from seventh through the twelfth grade, said school principal Khatib Ibrahim.
The school is actually meant to serve as a girl's school, and the boys who are studying there now will move out next year when their new school which is being built just down the road is ready, he said.
At the ceremony, which was attended by scores of village leaders and mukhtars, Tamir acknowledged that east Jerusalem was still lacking many classrooms, but added that the government was working to fill the gap.
"For years, it was not decided what was happening with east Jerusalem," she said, adding that east Jerusalem pupils should receive "the same rights and the same treatment" of any school in the State of Israel.
She noted that 6,000 classrooms were lacking in Israel, including 1,300 in east Jerusalem.
The infrastructure work and city services in Jerusalem Arab villages lag far behind that of Jewish neighborhoods of the city, although, over the last decade, the municipality has done much to try and rectify this situation, specifically under the tenure of former Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert.
"Education can give us... a better future of peace, tolerance, and unity," said Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski.
"When you talk about the unity of Jerusalem, [municipal] activity for all its residents is at the basis of such unity," he said.
Of the more than 220,000 pupils studying in Jerusalem schools during the last academic year, 46 percent were studying in haredi schools, 28% were studying in state secular and religious schools and 26% were
studying in city-run Arab schools, according to statistics released last year by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.
The pupils at the east Jerusalem school were clearly delighted with their new school, along with the visit of the VIP's.
"We are so happy with the new school," said Fadhi Abu-Alfalit, 16, an eleventh grader.
The teen took advantage of an encounter with the Education Minister under the camera lights to ask her to increase the amount Hebrew classes in the school from just once a week, which he said was insufficient, and for more computers in the computer lab.
"We are living in the State of Israel," he said, adding, "we want peace."