‘Come learn with us,’ says coexistence principal to vandals

Executive-director of Hand in Hand bilingual school in J'lem says cooperation between Jews, Arabs bothers vandals' perspective on life.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
February 8, 2012 02:03
2 minute read.
Valley of the Cross price tag attack [file]

Valley of the Cross Price Tag attack_390. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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“Kahane was not right, Kahane was wrong. Arabs will live and they will live with Jews. That’s what we do here, we live together.”

That is what Shalom Dichter, the executive-director of Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Bilingual Education in Israel, wants his students to take away from a vandalism attack against their unique school.

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On Tuesday morning, Dichter was greeted by giant letters spray painted on the wall next to a basketball court: “Death to Arabs, Kahane was right.” Large black block letters on white stone, cutting to the heart of a painful conflict in the city.

The Jerusalem branch of Hand in Hand has been vandalized before, but never with such difficult words that stood out so starkly, said Dichter. The same night the Hand in Hand school was vandalized, extremists also attacked the Valley of the Cross Monastery, with similar messages spray painted on cars and a stone wall next to the monastery.

At the Hand in Hand school, each class of the 525 students in kindergarten to grade 12 addressed the attack in the first period.

“These kids are not used to vandalism,” said Dichter on Tuesday. “But they know they’re doing something irregular. The kids understand that this was a planned political attack, and they are treating this as a political attack. They don’t feel personally attacked,” he said.

“This was yet another lesson in civic studies, a bad one. But our children learn from everything and they learn from this one, too. They learn they are on the front line of the social change in Israel,” Dichter added. More than 800 students learn at three Hand in Hand schools in Israel, including branches in the Galilee and Wadi Ara.

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One of the students bravely suggested that the school should leave the graffiti, in order for it to serve as a reminder of the challenges the students must overcome. But Dichter decided instead to extend his hand to the perpetrators. He invites those who spray painted the messages to come into the school and learn with the students, rather than spraying hateful messages outside.

“There are people who are against what we’re doing,” Dichter said.

“The cooperation between Jews and Arabs bothers their perspective on life. But, what, we’re supposed to stop because of that?” he said. “No, we’re inviting them to learn with us.”

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