Aaron Balshan

A new model for Israeli Arab identity

A unique educational experiment aims to empower students to take responsibility and leadership

The Arab education system in the state of Israel has thus far been inadequate in fostering a distinct Israeli Arab self-identity. With this in mind, a new education model has developed in the town of Tira, a city in the center of the “Arab Triangle” area. This model, created by Professor Dalia Fadila, is attempting to educate the Arab youth while helping to shape a more inclusive, progressive narrative for the Israeli Arab people. Her vision, which has manifested itself in the form of the Q school, has ten levels of classes for ages seven to seventeen. It uses textbooks made specifically for the school with progressive messages and employs a curriculum that seeks to expose the children to Israeli Arab identity and culture, which until now has been almost entirely non-existent in Israel. Thus far the results have been extremely promising.

The reason the Israeli Arab education system is so dismal stems from a myriad of reasons of which both Israeli Jews and Arabs are at fault. While the Arabs constitute about 22 percent of the country’s population Arab schools only receive roughly 8 percent of the education budget. This unequal policy has translated into a 2012 Arab Monitoring Committee report that found a shortage of 6,100 classrooms and 4,000 teachers in Israeli Arab society. Rather than hoping that the problem will correct itself, the school hopes to make a change on its own. The school provides smaller more intimate classrooms with high quality western learning materials and Anglo native teachers. Although it’s private, 10 percent of the students are on full scholarship coming from disadvantaged families. 

Beyond budget allocation another obstacle much larger looms for the impoverished minority. Since 1948 the Arab population has been suffering through a tremendous identity crisis. Combinations of many factors lead to a leadership that was never truly representative of the Israeli Arab people. Even today, leaders like Haneen Zoabi and Ahmed Tibi deliver harsh rhetoric about Israel and center their political platforms around solidarity with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza strip while the issues plaguing Israeli Arabs remain neglected. As a result of a lack of identity and massive political apathy, the population itself broke down over a multitude of fault lines. Today, they may define themselves as Israeli, Arab, Palestinian, Muslim, Christian or anywhere in between. Unfortunately, these variables often clash with one another. 

This is where the model’s impact will be so tremendous. On the surface it serves as a simple private English school, however its primary goal is far more profound. It is first and foremost a human resource development institution. The public schools in cities like Tira should be the place for a collective narrative to develop. However, the textbooks they use are primarily from 1980’s Syria and Jordan. As well as being grossly outdated the textbooks almost exclusively portray women as helpless simple housewives and daughters. Beyond this, there is nothing in the learning materials about Israeli Arabs. 

Unlike the Syrian and Jordanian textbooks, the stories in the Q School’s books feature as many female characters as males and the lessons behind the stories push a liberal, modernizing agenda. By using these textbooks created by the school Dalia hopes to help shape a new proud progressive identity for her people. Professor Fadila, one of the most prominent Israeli Arab scholars today, is the former Provost of Al Qassimi academy, the President of Baka El Garbia Engineering College (no small feat for a Muslim women) and a lecturing professor at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya. She said she hopes her distinctive curriculum will “bring Israeli Arabs to shoulder responsibility for advancing society, and strengthening Arab participation in international civil society.”

Dalia Fadila
Dalia Fadila

Because of the previously mentioned lack of identity, cultural institutions in Arab communities are almost non-existent (for example, there isn’t a single community center or theater in all of the Arab Triangle). To alleviate this injustice the school holds cultural workshops and field trips intended to provide cultural exposure to the children. An optional Model UN club teaches them about the rigors of the international political system as well as inspiring interest in changing the world around them.  

All of this is done in English to allow the students the best chance of succeeding in the world outside of Tira. Since 2008, there have been more than two thousand graduates and the results have been wildly successful. In the past eight years graduates from Q School have gone on to all of Israel’s Universities and on average score higher on Israel’s matriculation exams than their contemporaries. There is also a clear effect on the community. Family members of graduates become more inclined to learn English and learn this reshaped culture. In this way the Q School alumni become ambassadors of its ideology to the rest of the city. 

If this model is able to proliferate in other Arab cities around Israel, I genuinely believe it could be the answer to so many of the problems Israeli Arabs face today. The children have the potential to be the leaders of a new movement within the Arab community. 

Unfortunately, there is just one Q School in a modest four-room building on the outskirts of Tira. Only meager portions of the funds are provided by the Israeli government while a much larger portion is donated by the US Embassy and a few NGO’s. As a society, we should continue to fight for a fair and inclusive education system for all of our citizens. However, while our Education Minister, Shai Piron, sheds crocodile tears over the state of the education for our minority populations, the change can be made at a grassroots level by using this type of model. Until individuals stand up and begin developing collective identities, this status quo will persist. Education models like the Q School need to be supported and proliferate in order to create a fair opportunity for our compatriots of Arab descent.

About the Author
Aaron Balshan is an Intelligence Analyst for the Levantine Group, a Middle-East based geopolitical risk and research consultancy firm. He is a former Argov Fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya and staff sergeant in the IDF.