Two Israeli international schools encouraging future leaders

The two high schools bring together students who would never have the opportunity to even meet, let alone make deep, lasting connections.

The Eastern Mediterranean International School, the first International Baccalaureate high school in Israel (photo credit: COURTESY EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL)
The Eastern Mediterranean International School, the first International Baccalaureate high school in Israel
In Israel, there are two international high schools that attract students from around the world. Students come to Israel from war-torn countries like South Sudan, cosmopolitan European cities and even exotic locales like Hawaii, to study at the Givat Haviva International School and the Eastern Mediterranean International School to receive a rigorous academic education in English, to learn about conflict resolution and develop leadership skills. The two high schools bring together students who would never have the opportunity to even meet, let alone make deep, lasting connections.
THE GIVAT HAVIVA International School, which started three years ago, is located at the National Education Center of the Kibbutz Federation, a pastoral setting near Hadera, that currently educates 100 students. The center was founded in 1949 and awarded the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education for its work promoting Jewish-Arab dialogue and reconciliation. It seems a natural extension of its prior work to have an international school with Jewish and Arab students On a recent afternoon before the academic school year ended, a trio of unlikely friends spoke about their experiences since they started high school there last fall.
Mohammad Jayyousi of Issawyia, near Jerusalem, said that when he first saw an advertisement for the Givat Haviva School on Facebook, he couldn’t believe such a school even existed. He didn’t tell his family he was applying until he was accepted, and then his family had mixed feelings.
“They thought the school would change me,” Jayyousi said. “But if anything, it has helped me improve myself.” For example, he explained that he went from never speaking up in public to recently being elected to serve on the school’s student council, proof for him that the school has given him confidence.
His two friends, Tohar Shalem from Katzrin and Odem Katz, of Kibbutz Maagan Michael, echoed his sentiments about how the school has had a positive impact on them. Odem Katz said that coming to Givat Haviva was a way for her to “get out of the bubble” of her kibbutz and meet students from other Israeli communities, including Tohar Shalem, who is religious. Shalem and Jayyousi agreed that they found it ironic that they both grew up in similar conservative societies, attending sex-segregated schools. Shalem said being at Givat Haviva has helped her “stretch” herself and learn about different cultures. Katz added that because of her Christian and Muslim roommates, one from Turkey and the other from Georgia, she is learning as much “out of the classroom as in it.”
Nurit Gery, co-founder of the Givat Haviva School, said that local Jewish and Arab students “find themselves on the same side” as they host students from around the world and welcome them.
THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN International School, based in HaKfar Yarok, Ramat HaSharon, began in 2014. It is the first International Baccalaureate high school in Israel and is also home to the Leon Charney Resolution Center, which is dedicated to the history and future of diplomacy. This year the school has 150 students. Both of the schools offer scholarships that include room and board; in addition, the schools sponsor trips around Israel and volunteer opportunities, following safety guidelines due to COVID-19.
The schools’ vision is to make education global, thereby encouraging students to become more open-minded and accepting of others. This kind of education is crucial. For Layaar Awad of Bethlehem, who graduated from the Eastern Mediterranean School this year, the school gave her the chance to “hear a different narrative.” She said that she can now “see both sides of the story.”
Both international high schools provide students with an international baccalaureate that is accepted by universities around the world. Their curriculum encourages critical thinking and exposes the students to a variety of subjects including philosophy, theory of knowledge, sustainability and economics in small classes. Over the past six years, students graduating from the Eastern Mediterranean School this past spring have been accepted at a wide range of universities throughout the United States and Europe.
FOR CHRISTINA PHILLIP, a 19-year-old from South Sudan, the Givat Haviva School not only gave her a sanctuary after being a refugee her whole life but also gave her a way to “shape who I am.” Born in Lebanon, her family fled to Egypt and then walked across the Sinai desert – led by Bedouin guides – to reach Israel. While her parents worked in a hotel in Arad, Phillip learned Hebrew and was an active participant in an Israeli Scouts Movement. However, the family was deported to South Sudan, where Phillip saw bloodshed and war.
“For most of the time, my parents said we were just ‘touring the world,’ because they didn’t want to expose me to hardships,” Phillip said on a recent Zoom interview. While in a boarding school in Uganda, Phillip contacted her former Israeli Scout leader from Arad who joined forces with an Israeli organization that helps refugees, enabling Phillip to return to Israel where she attended Givat Haviva and graduated this month.
Phillip said that when she first got to Givat Haviva, she was so “scared and traumatized” she didn’t talk to anyone. But teachers and mentors kept asking how she was – and surprisingly, they really wanted to know.
At the school, she met a fellow student from Kosovo who shared his experiences in his war-torn country as well as students with other personal stories. Phillip began to change her perspective and blossom. She now studies government at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, with financial support from Givat Haviva.
Luka Wohl, from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, is a senior at Eastern Mediterranean International School. After a 10-month exchange year in India where Wohl lived with a local host family, he became more interested in cross-cultural connections and international education. He discovered the school online and was offered a scholarship. Wohl spent his summer working in a youth activist start-up, and as a chief editor in current events at an international economics youth forum. Wohl said the school has given him an experience that “cannot be found anywhere else in the world.”
One of his schoolmates, Ruby Morris, from New York, a 2020 graduate, said that she sees the Eastern Mediterranean School as “a place where people see the differences in color and hear the differences in language for the right reasons.
It’s a community where people are free to be themselves and are accepted no matter the circumstance.” Morris said that studying sociology at the school inspired her to study it at Geneseo College in New York this semester.
The vision for both schools is to give students the tools to feel they can make an impact with their lives. The students this reporter spoke with all shared a sense of optimism, commitment and the belief that they as individuals can make changes in their communities. And Israel gains as much from these students as the students gain from their time at the school.
“This really is how we become a light unto the nations,” said Gery.