On January 11th, I went on a guided tour of Jaffa with my conflict resolution class.
The tour started off as most tours do. We stopped at different locations, mainly in southern Jaffa. First, we gathered around a map of Jaffa. Our tour guide pointed out where we would go. Then, we headed out. Our first stop was a beautiful lookout point that showed off the Mediterranean. We were right on the coast and could see for miles. A lot of my classmates stopped to take pictures. That’s when we noticed the ocean had a distinct line where it all of a sudden changed colors. Next, our tour guide brought us to a newly constructed apartment building. The new building, made of concrete, stuck out like a sore thumb in the midst of all the old architecture. Our tour guide discussed how the migration of higher paying residents to Jaffa affected the price of goods in the marketplace. This migration made it more difficult for poorer residents, who were previously the majority in Jaffa, to afford basic items. As we walked, our guide talked about the different organizations that were working to build harmonious relationships between Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Jaffa. His discussion provoked a lot of thought among my classmates and I. It was a valuable and interesting tour.
After the tour, we all sat down for a small lunch at “Abu el-Abid” on Yefet Street. Over lunch, our conflict resolution instructor introduced the topic of school segregation in Israel. My immediate reaction was shock. I had no idea that school segregation was still happening in the world. My instructor spoke of it as if it were common knowledge. He asked our opinions on the subject of interracial schools in Israel, since it was something he said we would talk about it in depth at our next meeting.
A lot of my classmates thought the idea sounded fine, but others brought up the issue of the conflicting historical record. Palestinians and Israelis have very different opinions when it comes to the question “Who arrived first?” Therefore, my classmates insisted, an interracial history class would require the telling of two stories.
For example, a lot of my classmates thought the idea of joined history classes where students compare the two histories and formulate their own opinions would be a great idea. I definitely agree. The opportunity for kids to learn about each others history in an open environment with their so called “enemies” is a breeding ground for future, peaceful negotiations. But, I really just sat back and listened. I still wasn’t sure how to respond to school segregation. In America, school segregation ended in the 20th century.
Unlike the racial conflict in the US, Israel and the Palestinian territories have been in turmoil for years. I guess, war changes the question of segregation for safety reasons. But, I had to wonder. Doesn’t segregation also increase hostility? I mean, how can either side ever expect to understand the other if they continue to live separate lives and teach separate histories? I think one of the most important keys to peace between Israelis and Palestinians has to be fostering an environment of trust and empathy among children. What if government funding was used to promote empathy and trust? What if it was used to increase protection of the students of interracial schools? What if it was used to pay for the highest quality teachers who taught both histories and respected all religious traditions at interracial schools? If these children grew together, learned each others histories, spent time in each others households, would things change? Maybe I am naive, but I think they would. It is time for us to work together. It is time for Israelis and Palestinians to cultivate mutual understanding among children at this crucial time in their development. The children of Israel and Palestine are its future. We must stop allowing these thorny branches to grow between us. Instead, we must get out our pruners and encourage roses to bloom.