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Last Arab-Jewish public school in Israel may close its doors

Coexistence in Jaffa is under attack, as the Ministry of Education and the Tel Aviv municipality refuse to ensure parity in classrooms of the “Weizmann” mixed Jewish and Arab school

The Weizmann school in Jaffa (photo: William Sayegh)

By Issa Edward Bourseh

The Weizmann school, a mixed Jewish and Arab elementary school in Jaffa, is facing another round in its survival struggle. The delicate fabric of coexistence between the pupils will be at risk if the only Jewish-Arab public school in Israel is not be granted “regional and unique” status by the Tel-Aviv municipality and the Ministry of Education.

The regional status would allow registration from pupils outside of Jaffa, thus adding an additional base to the current structure, while the unique status would preserve the delicate balance between Jews and Arabs. The fear of both sides of demographic domination by either side would vanish if the school were recognized as such with an equal number of pupils from both sides.

The present reality is not less worrisome. Two separate registration methods are taking place: one through the municipality of Tel-Aviv, which is the common system at other schools, and the other through The Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism. For the past couple of years, municipality registration officials have tried to persuade Jewish parents to avoid registration at the Weizmann school while the Daniel Center is concerned about the “take-over” by Arab pupils – for obvious reasons. The Arab public schooling system in Jaffa is failing in many elements and except “Ajyal” and private schools, the children in Jaffa lack reasonable possibilities for proper education.

Moreover, pupils have been divided into two grouping systems in two different buildings. One group is formed by the Tel-Aviv municipality with a majority of 85 percent Arab pupils, and the other by the Daniel center (two kindergarten and one first grade classes) with a third and two-third policy preserving a Jewish majority. Tel-Aviv municipality officials have offered, on record, to preserve the current system and replace the building separation with floor separation in the same building. This is nonsense!

Additionally, the Tel-Aviv municipality is working feverishly to form a new school in Neve Tzedek to offer a “better” alternative for the Jewish pupils, far away from the fear of assimilation with the neighboring Arab population. I do agree with the concerns presented by the Daniel Center, but for different reasons: I honestly think that without a quota that preserves the unique structure of the classes, the school will end up another failed public school in Jaffa.

In addition to the parents’ call to solve the problem, the education staff has offered their full support to the call, emphasizing the importance to preserve the values of equality and cooperation amongst pupils who couldn’t care less if their classmate’s name is Luca, Bilal, Moti, Dean, Mohammeed, Majd, Adam, Antonious or Assaf.

The failure of similar mixed schools and the disturbing reality in our society should motivate us to push as hard as we can to fight for the successes of the Weizmann school. Such a success would not only bridge the differences between the pupils – but also between their parents, families, and the city of Jaffa, Tel-Aviv. Who knows, maybe we would have more similar projects in other mixed cities like Ramleh, Lid/Lod, Acre, Haifa and more.

I hope that when my time will come to make schooling decisions for my kids, schools like Weizmann won’t be fighting for their survival but will flourish and lead our society with their values and principals, through their graduates.

Gideon Saar, Minister of Education, make it happen!

Join the effort and sign the petition at http://www.atzuma.co.il/weitzman

Issa Edward Boursheh is a graduate student at Tel Aviv University

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    1. Ben Israel

      (1) I recall in the 1980’s and 1990’s there was a lot of publicity given to the Neveh Shalom mixed Jewish and Arab community located near Latrun. I presume they had a mixed education system. I also recall there were some difficult social problems there. I haven’t heard anything about them for a long time. Does anyone know what happened to them? If the Jaffa school is the last mixed school, that would indicate that Neveh Shalom no longer has a mixed school.

      (2) Are the Arab students given instruction in Islam or Christianity, whichever faith the kids are born into? Or is it like a secular Israeli Jewish school where religious studies are deemphasized as compared to the Orthodox/religious Israeli schools?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Michael

      The Weizmann school is far from the last mixed Arab-Jewish school in Israel. Besides the school at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, the Hand In Hand Organization operates four school, in Jerusalem, the Galilee, Wadi Ara and Beersheva. These schools are all affiliated with the Israeli Ministry of Education.
      More information:

      Reply to Comment
    3. Issa

      Weizman school is the only *public* mixed Jewish-Arab school in Israel. The rest of the schools mentioned above are private initiatives.

      Michael, I suggest you look more into the Hand in Hand Org in Jerusalem. The school practically has 0 Jewish students graduating this year. 0!

      Reply to Comment
    4. The HAGAR community in Beer Sheva is proud to have a blooming public school for Arab and Jewish children to learn and grow. Celebrating our fifth year, we have 190+ children from over 120 Arab an Jewish families attending day care, 3 kindergartens and first through fourth grade. The HAGAR School is supported by the Ministry of Education and the Municipality of Beer Sheva, with additional assistance of the NGO.

      For more information:

      Reply to Comment
    5. Issa

      Hagar sounds like a terrific project but despite the support from the Ministry of Education, Hagar is not a considered a public school.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Hagar is indeed an incredible community and recognized as a public school as part of the Ministry of Education.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Umm Einav

      I certainly hope that the Weizmann school will be kept open as bringing Jewish and Arab students in the same classroom breaks down stereotypes, and encourages understanding and recognition of the other.
      My kids attend the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem, which is considered a public, but specialized school, partially funded by the municipality and partially by the Hand in Hand organization. While the elementary school seems to be surviving, the high school especially has trouble keeping Jewish students. Parents are concerned that the high school isn’t good enough, in addition to “social” issues (which I think refers to dating). The decisions to leave the school seem to emanate from the parents, and not from obstacles put up by external forces (such as the municipality ). Fortunately, the high school graduating class did excellent on the Bagrut, and hopefully greater efforts will be made to keep both Jewish and Arab students in the high school.

      Reply to Comment
    8. ARTH

      This article is misleading: This is a secular Jewish/Hebrew school at which the majority of students are Arab. Many Arab parents would like and do enroll their children in Hebrew/Jewish schools, rather than the Arab schools, because they are better funded and have a higher quality of education and opportunity.
      The issue here is that the parents of the Jewish students do not want their children to study in a school in which the majority of the students are Arab. The question of assimilation is two-fold here: On the one hand, the Arab students follow the Secular Jewish Israeli curriculum in which they learn about Jewish holidays, history and the official Jewish version of the History of the State of Israel. Many of them will graduate more capable of reading Hebrew then they ever will Arabic. On the other hand, the Jewish students will be studying their curriculum in classes with Arab majorities.

      Reply to Comment

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