Jewish and Arab students connect through debate

The debate's organizers chose a topic separate from political and cultural issues so the students could find common ground.

ariel college 88 (photo credit: )
ariel college 88
(photo credit: )
Yuval Carny, a 10th-grade student at Lady Davis High School in Tel Aviv, never worked with Arab students before. However, when asked to partner with a group of students from the Arab town of Tira for a debate, she and her friends were not worried. "Some people hesitated, not because of the fact that it was a school from Tira, but because we would be talking [in front of] many people," she said. "To the contrary, more people wanted to participate." Carny was one of four students from Lady Davis to join with four from Tira High School in a formal debate last Thursday. Mixed Arab and Jewish teams competed to answer the question "Is the Internet an invasion of our privacy?" The event was sponsored by Amal, an organization that prepares Jewish and Arab teenagers for matriculation exams, and the US Embassy in Israel. The debate's organizers chose a topic separate from political and cultural issues so the students could find common ground. "The topic was a great unifier," said Yaron Nahari, who ran the debate. "They're all on Facebook, they all use Messenger, so the experience was exactly the same." The event's larger goal was to engage in dialogue across cultures and encourage cooperation between Arabs and Jews in the future. "At one point, one of the girls asked 'What difference does it make? Nothing ever changes,'" said Nahari. "We're trying to change that mind-set." Students from both high schools watched and judged the debate, which was conducted in English. Dr. Rachel Tal, director of English teaching at Amal, believes that debate is an effective way to connect the two cultures. "The idea is to use debate as a vehicle for peace education," said Tal, who has worked on coexistence projects in the past. "Not only do we improve the students' higher speaking skills, but we also give them an opportunity to work with the other side and learn from each other." The students participated in workshops within each high school for months preceding the event, and finally met each other four days before debating. Though controversial issues arose during internal discussions, Carny said the group's tone remained friendly. "We talked about ourselves, about the future," she said. "We had a conversation about the religions. It was really civilized. We talked about it as if it were anything else." Abd Khatib, a 17-year-old student from Tira, said both teams enjoyed the debate. "It's a very exciting experience," he said. "There's a lot of fear when you step on the stage in front of a lot of people." Khatib said he would like to keep in touch with his Israeli teammates. "I wish we could [work together] all the time," he said. "I don't know how we did, but I guarantee you we are happy. We're all happy."