There is much in the news about Israel. Most of it reflects conflict in some form, whether with the Palestinians, the European Union (particularly the EU Foreign Affairs Department), the recent U.S. declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (although stopping short of words which would preclude Israel and the Palestinians negotiating important final status issues including borders), the United Nations and its UN Human Rights (which could be a column all to itself!), rockets fired from Gaza and Israel’s retaliation, and the list could go on. I could actually take each of these topics and outline what the media is not reporting. But that might be for another time.
I want to focus on the Israel that is – more or less – totally missing from news cycles, not necessarily those which underreport or misrepresent the Israeli narrative.
For over 25 years, our Maimonides Society has had a relationship with Galilee Medical Center (nee’ Western Galilee Hospital) in Nahariyah. The hospital today has grown into a regional medical center and is not only excelling at quality health care, but is an institution that is hallmarked by humanity and generosity. You should meet Dr. Massad Barhoum. Born and raised in Haifa, in 2007, Dr. Barhoum became the first Arab physician to head a major Israeli hospital. The Galilee Medical Center isn’t just any hospital. It serves Israel’s multi-ethnic (Jews, Muslims, Baha’i and Druze) western Galilee region and, since it’s only a few miles from the Lebanese border, specializes in treating trauma – especially trauma caused by war.
Under Dr. Barhoum’s leadership, the hospital leveraged these characteristics in a powerful expression of Israelis’ own fundamental decency and generosity. It began treating casualties from the civil war across the border in Syria (see here). An Israeli hospital treating Syrians. Arabs. “The enemy.” Men, women and children. Thousands of them. No questions asked, and no payment for services. “This is our way,” Dr. Barhoum wrote recently in Newsweek. “This is the way of Israel, my country.”
Whoever says Israeli Jews and Palestinian/Arab Muslims cannot live, learn and become enriched by each other is wrong. There is a school in southern Jerusalem, with six other branches across the region, enabling Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims to learn together. The school, Yad B’Yad (Hand in Hand), has Israeli and Palestinian principals and both Israeli and Arab teachers in each classroom. It is a bilingual school and includes full integration throughout the school day and in extracurricular activities.
Hand in Hand’s public schools, by contrast, build friendship and cultural understanding. When Arab and Jewish children learn together, they break the cycle of negative stereotypes and learn to relate to one another with mutual understanding and respect. Hand in Hand’s extraordinary model provides a clear and simple example that Jews and Arabs can study, work and live together in peace.
Not everyone agrees with the goals of the Yad B’Yad schools. Three years ago, a group of Jewish terrorists fire-bombed the school, destroying a first grade classroom and the library. This past February, I visited the school and heard from students and their parents about that incident. They were not deterred and felt that something very special was happening at the school. School officials spoke about their fear that parents and students would not return to the school and recruitment of new students would be difficult. At the time of the fire, Yad B’Yad operated four schools around the country with roughly 1,200 students. Today they operate seven schools with over 1,600 students.
Jews and Arabs - learning together, living together - and inspiring broad support for social inclusion and civic equality in Israel.
There are lots of other such stories. Like how Israel ORT, a Jewish organization and the leading education improvement organization in Israel, is today operating schools in both the Jewish and Arab public school systems. Like how Israel integrated its Ethiopian Jewish emigrants. If you know of other special stories that should be shared, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We might not get it on CNN, but we can get it into HAKOL.