My spirits were lifted by three stories I heard coming out of Israel this week. All three involve Jews and Palestinians coming together to overcome obstacles and chart a new course for the future. These stories show that progress is being made, and they underscore the importance of the need for the recognition of the humanity of the other.
Two stories relate to the field of education. First, the number of students in bilingual, Hebrew-Arabic schools in Israel has increased 60% in the past five years. This growth is anchored by our peacebuilding partners at the Hand in Hand school system. The most encouraging aspect of this growth is that it is disproportionately among preschool and younger children. Five years ago, there were 80 students in Hand in Hand preschools, and today there are 470. As these children get older they will be joined by others, a growing movement of young people who have personally connected to their Jewish and Palestinian peers. These human connections will have a profound impact for years to come.
Second, the Israeli Council for Higher Education released a report concluding that the number of Arab Ph.D. candidates in Israel has more than doubled in the last ten years. Arabs comprise 20% of Israel’s population, yet in 2005 only 3.5% of Ph.D. candidates were Arabs. Now that number is up to 6.7%. While there is still work to be done to achieve more equal representation, it is encouraging to see this kind of progress. This growth is the direct result of organizations like the Abraham Initiatives and Givat Haviva, who are working with Arab and Jewish youth from a young age to create a shared society and more opportunities for Israel’s marginalized Arab population.
Finally, on a more somber note, there was a glimmer of hope that came out of tragedy. A group of Palestinians and Jews paid a mourning visit to the family of murdered Israeli teenager Ori Ansbacher this week. It is easy to think that tragedies like this only pull people farther apart, but this visit proves that human beings can unite even in the depths of grief.
These stories are too easily overlooked, especially as our discourse in America is too often focused on who hates whom, and who has wronged whom. It is important that we continue to lift up the voices of progress, hope, and change, like those we saw this week.