What It Looks Like to Support Reconciliation Projects in Israel/Palestine

I have to remind myself that it was only two years ago that my church hosted a meeting with a local synagogue to hear about a brand-new project in the planning. We heard about an English-speaking high school in Israel which would seek to transform the Middle East and beyond by developing a global network of young leaders who share a commitment to building a more peaceful future.   Could it really happen?  Would young people from around the world take a punt on a school in rural Israel to with no reputation, no past results, no recommendations? 

Two years on, I still feel that initial excitement whenever I hear from one of the founding team or the incredible students of Givat Haviva International School.  And I am proud that my community has played its part in building this amazing project which is punching way above its weight and bringing about reconciliation between its Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jewish Israelis, not to mention the students from other conflict zones – Armenia Kosovo, South Sudan.

Conflict resolution is a core element of the extra-curricular programming.  This is facilitated by an in-house expert who guides the students in a range of skills necessary to hear and understand the narrative of the other.

Perhaps the best way to understand the impact of GHIS is through the reflections of its students, the first cohort of which have recently graduated.

It is quite a task not to sound like a cliché when everything you have to say is this great, so I apologize in advance. 

Moments that make you question your identity are rare for most of us, but in this school, every moment is one of those. From sitting in a Global politics lesson and listening to young and angry communists arguing with angrier capitalists, to being asked 15 times a day why I don’t believe in Judaism, and even to 3 AM discussions with my Turkish roommate about the meaning of life. Usually, the days go by, one week after another, and then a month, or a year, and maybe we have changed, maybe we haven’t, but what value does a change have if we don’t know its origin or reason? This school, by introducing me to people from all around the world, and exposing me to all the possibilities of the person I can turn in to, forces me, in a fierce but a subtle manner, to figure those things out. 

The way easier path would be the one walked before, in which dreams remain just dreams and nothing more. When examining the reasons of why not to go after those dreams, all of them fall apart, with the exception of fear. The overwhelming and immobilizing feeling that we simply can’t do what we wish to do. Our only way to jump over that obstacle and get our plans started, is to beat that feeling. To be brave enough to be different. To be who we wish to be, without compromising and apologizing for it. This is something that GHIS has taught me. To not create my own obstacles, because life creates plenty already. To make things happen for myself and for the world. Before coming to this school, just 8 months ago, I felt like I could barely hold my head above the water with my unfulfilled thoughts and wishes, and now, I watch them one by one come to life. 

These unusual times make us question what we are here for, and why. I think that we should all come out of this collective experience more sure of what the reason is for all the early mornings, mental breakdowns and sweat. Without a goal, we are just running towards a dead end, losing energy and strength. For me, before coming to this school, there was none. GHIS is helping me to customize one for myself. And suddenly, the energy released doesn’t feel wasted anymore, but well-spent. 

GHIS has opened my eyes, mind and soul, as well as doors and possibilities. I now feel like an essential cog in the machine that is called ‘the world’. I feel like I have power to fight for my beliefs and to promote my ideal – equality. From a girl that thought she knows everything, I am now a girl that realizes she has a lot to learn, and is excited to find out what she is missing. 

Odem Katz, 17 – Israel

Mayar grew up in a secular Muslim family in Bethlehem. Uri comes from an observant Jewish family in Zichron Yaakov. They put their thoughts together on the school’s unique atmosphere: Now in its second year, Mayar and Uri are two of 110 students from Israel and 20 other countries able to study at GHIS through the generosity of our supporters.From Vietnam to Liberia, Turkey to Honduras, Kosovo to the United States – they are the dreamers who will be part of the change in their countries. Outstanding students – many from poor and conflict-ridden regions of the world – who will leave Israel as dear friends, ambassadors for peace and leaders for tomorrow.

We don’t always agree. We know our family narratives, handed down to us as The Truth, yet GHIS is giving us tools to hear and listen to the views of others, without judgement. This understanding has made us close, and our friendship enables us to work together to find solutions for our joint future. Before, we would have thought this impossible. Now we know it is not, and we are already part of the change so dearly needed in Israel and abroad.

Mayar and Uri – Palestine and Israel

And this photo tells a great story – Last Christmas, Tohar, a religious Jewish girl from the Golan Heights went to visit her friend Mohammad from East Jerusalem

The diversity of our teachers and the eclectic choice of subjects

GHIS is not your average international school, so it is hardly surprising that our teachers are often unlikely suspects. This eclectic group are expertly led by the inspirational educator and IB specialist, Yuval Dvir, who transitioned from a successful musical career to establish GHIS. Some come from backgrounds in education and others from business. Everybody brings a unique perspective on what education really means. Take Assaf, who left a successful career in hi-tech to teach math and computer science. Or Karthika, an IB specialist from India, who heard GHIS’s mission and felt that this was the place to contribute to world peace. And Hannah, who relocated from the US when she heard about the school, thought what better place could there be to teach languages – her speciality. 

Global Politics – the first step to changing the world is to understand it. This subject gives students the opportunity to develop their thinking skills through learning different perspectives on political issues, deconstruct arguments in an analytical rather than emotional way and develop their ability to advocate on issues they believe in. 

World Religions – as animosity and intolerance are on the rise, this class is an engine of understanding and empathy, offering a golden opportunity to young people from different cultures and religions to learn from and with each other. 

Environmental Systems and Societies – where students seek to understand THE most relevant issue of our time from different perspectives, so that the solution to one does not impact negatively on another. This approach can have huge applications for other disciplines. 

• Art – at GHIS visual art and theater are the perfect media to examine the central themes of identity and conflict. Our end of year exhibition received huge acclaim from all who saw it. 

Only two years into its audacious vision, GHIS is setting the example of how we can support reconciliation work that is already happening. As a Christian leader, this is what the Gospel looks like, this is how we build bridges.

For more information: http://gh-is.org/

Todd Stavrakos is the pastor at Gladwyne Presbyterian Church in Gladwyne, PA