How is Israel taught in Palestinian schools

Eastern Mediterranean International School
School of Change

Young people from opposing sides of the Middle East live and learn together in Israel at the Eastern Mediterranean International School. “Mutual Understanding” is the first lesson in preparing for life in a complex and interconnected world.

At the entrance to the Eastern Mediterranean International School, EMIS, visitors are greeted by a flag trellis. In Israel you rarely see the Palestinian flag waving proudly on a flagpole, but here, where the flags represent the countries of origin of the students, it is hoisted side by side with the Israeli flag, but also with the flags of Albania, Canada, Romania and other nations .

This school differs in almost every aspect from the other institutions of the Israeli educational system. Most obvious is the international character of the grammar school. But the relaxed campus atmosphere is also unusual for Israel. Instead of a fence, the school is surrounded by green fields. 67 pupils from 30 countries prepare here for the international Abitur. One fifth are Israelis. You live and learn in this Israeli boarding school together with young people from the Palestinian Autonomous Territories and other Arab countries.

Despite its unusual approach, the school has received blessings from the Israel Ministry of Education. Otherwise there is a rigid separation of the various branches of education in Israel. In other Israeli schools, secular students study separately from national religious and Jewish Orthodox children, even though they all speak Hebrew. Arabic-speaking pupils also learn in their own schools, whereby a distinction is again made between Muslim, Christian, Druze and Bedouin youth. Each of the groups learns according to a specific curriculum. EMIS is thus one of the few islands of coexistence in an otherwise strictly separate education system.

International, critical, united

At school we meet Yuval, the head of the “Entrepreneurial Leadership, Sustainability, Peace” program, and Rachel, the head of development. “Our school is the first truly international school in Israel,” emphasizes Yuval. “Students and teachers come from all over the world and our curriculum is international. In addition, our students are not the children of diplomats or business people. Our students have chosen this school to study. ”All young people are financially supported with generous scholarships, which in some cases even cover the entire tuition fees.

“Our students put together their own schedule,” explains Yuval. "You carry out independent research, whereby the selected subject areas are examined from very different perspectives, and then you have to face a critical debate." Subjects such as peace and sustainability are also part of the courses on offer. "Israeli teachers teach here side by side with teachers from the Philippines, the USA and Beth Hanina," adds Yuval. Rachel points out: “One of the central problems facing Israel is that we do not know each other. We teach coexistence. "

EMIS is Oded Rose's vision that has come true: to build an international school in Israel based on the model of the United World Colleges (UWC). As a student, Rose herself had attended such a college in North America. The idea of ​​EMIS sprouted from his own experience. Later, as an alumnus of an American elite business school and in the course of his 30-year career as a hedge fund financier and high-tech entrepreneur, he stuck to this idea, promoted it and finally implemented it in the 2014/15 school year. Rose is now the managing director of EMIS.

Understanding of the other side, changed perception

At lunch we meet some schoolgirls. "We learn something about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," says Maria from Romania. “Anyone who does not live here and did not grow up here cannot really understand the conflict and should hold back from expressing an opinion, the Israeli students repeatedly stated at the beginning. I have explained to them that with this answer they are preventing me from really understanding the various sides. Over time, they understood that and learned from it. "

Maayan has spent most of her school career in "regular" Israeli schools. “Israeli schools attach great importance to preparing their students for military service. Holocaust studies also make up a significant part of the curriculum, ”she explains. “Israeli children are getting used to the constant threat of annihilation. They are taught that they have no choice but to defend their country. At this school I was taught history from different perspectives. We learned that there were other genocides besides the Holocaust, such as that of the Armenian people, and that genocides are still being committed in different parts of the world today. "

Just towards the end of the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, EMIS started its first year of school. The war had repercussions on Israeli and Palestinian students - who most likely would never have met outside of school. "Why are rockets fired at Israel all the time?" I asked my Palestinian classmates, "says Maayan. "Even if we only ruined the summer for the Israelis, even if no Israeli had died, it was worth it," some have replied to me. They have been taught that in their schools. I don't think they really think so. ”She adds,“ Just like I was taught to defend my country, even if other people suffer or are killed as a result. At this school we live and learn together. That changes our perception. "

Redefining the Purpose of an Educational Institution

“I want people to understand the following about our school,” says educator Yuval, concluding our conversation. “We are working here on a redefinition of the school of the 21st century.” For him, it would be a sign of success if “someone walks on campus and wonders why no one had such an idea before.” Part of the EMIS philosophy is also that the students get the opportunity to build a social network and thus to make a contribution to all communities and groups that want to use EMIS as a new and innovative social platform. After graduation, students can take part in a voluntary one-year bridging project. The school itself also serves as a podium - Yuval describes the vision: “The adjacent building is to be converted into a center for mediation and peaceful conflict resolution. In the future we want to hold national and international conferences here - everything we can do to support the philosophy of this school. "

All these endeavors are an expression of the basic idea that sustainability, glocal action, social responsibility, social commitment and other competencies that are so necessary in the global age are closely linked. The Eastern Mediterranean International School has only just begun its great mission: to raise awareness that all people in this world have to share resources with one another, as well as the challenge of using these resources sustainably. As citizens of a global world, conflicts must also be resolved together. Therefore, the young school aims to create a common framework for the people and communities in the Middle East that have hitherto been hostile to one another. By actively addressing these lines of conflict, she is working on a new definition of the purpose of an educational direction. Yuval puts it this way: "EMIS prepares its students for the complex world in which we live - a world in which everything is interlinked."


Yarden Skoop writes about education issues for Haaretz and is co-founder of the Israeli Association of Women Journalists, which works for a better presence of women in the media.

Translation: Antje Eiger
Copyright: This work is licensed under an attribution - non-commercial - distribution under the same conditions 3.0 Germany license.