Fifty years ago I was asked to address several university classes in one large auditorium. My subject was “An Integration That Can Lead to Understanding and Peace”. There was a question and answer period at the end of my lecture.
My main theme concerned itself with the problem of separation of Jewish and Arab pupils into segregated schools. I began by condemning Israel’s Ministry of Education which strongly opposed same schools for both groups of elementary school pupils.
From 1948 to several years later, Jewish schools were divided between political parties with political agendas, known as the trend system. Schools for Mapai children. Schools for Mapam children. Schools for religious children. Each category of schools emphasized the political beliefs of the respected parties. Indoctrination in accordance with party ideologies.
I asked why we did not have schools where both Jewish and Arab pupils could learn together, each one learning the language and customs of the Arab and Jewish children.
Additionally they would eat their snacks together, often sharing it with one another. And of much importance, they would play together choosing mixed teams. In this way the children could learn about one another. Jewish children would learn that not all Arabs are terrorists and Arab children would learn that not all Jews are taught to hate them.
The most significant part of unification is the integration of the elementary school system in Israel where young children, Jews and Arabs, can learn in classes together, can play together, to share snacks with one another and to learn that both groups are human with a desire for peace among their two peoples.
These are the formative years. By the time each group enters segregated secondary schools, their opinions have been formed and childhood friends often remain in contact as friends. It is an inspiring concept.
At the end of my address I asked students to raise hands if they were in favor of my proposals or if they rejected them. The response was almost equal. Most of the Jewish students were in favor whereas most of the Arab students thought it was impractical.
Now I have read that a new elementary school has been opened as an experiment for Jewish and Arab children to learn, play and respect together.
The BBC has produced an exciting film called “Crossing Divides: An Israeli School for both Arab and Jewish young children: How one school is trying to bring Israeli society together”.
The children play together and share activities and learn together in the same classroom. In their common play groups there are no fights and no hostilities. And at the end of a school day each child goes home to live a separate life.
Pupils attend the integrated school until the age of 12 when they then continue in their own separate secondary schools.
One of the directors of the program, Mohammed Marzouk, is proud to tell us that each class has two teachers, one Jewish and one Arab. Thus the children get to hear and to learn the two languages and can communicate with one another, which strengthens bonds of friendship beyond the school years.
This unique concept was what I had proposed in my address to university students fifty years ago.
Sometimes it takes many years for planted seeds to grow to fruition.
For these young Jewish and Arab boys and girls, I wish a heartfelt shalom and salaam. Let there be peace and understanding between us.
And it has to begin with fresh young minds.
Integration. Finally has the Messiah arrived?