There was a criminal attack on the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem.
When school principal Nadia Kinani arrived early one morning, she found “Death to Arabs” spray-painted in huge letters across the walls of the school.

Close by, at the large Greek Orthodox Christian monastery, was scrawled “Death to Christians.”

Jerusalem police suspect this was one in a series of “price tag” attacks carried out by right-wing Jewish extremists.

“You know, Lee,” Nadia said to me on the phone, “if this had happened at a Jewish-only school and someone had sprayed ‘Death to the Jews,’ it would have caused more hatred of Arabs. If ‘Death to the Arabs’ had been written at an Arab-only school, it would have led to more hatred of Jews. Here at our Hand in Hand school, this kind of thing just strengthens the solidarity and partnership between us. It brings our Jewish and Arab students, teachers and families closer together. Our school is the answer to this kind of racism and extremism.”

Nadia is so perfectly correct in her observation. We know that the majority of Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, do not condone this kind of racist and hateful behavior.

But we also know that in Israel today, so much work must be done to bridge the divide between Arabs and Jews. There is way too much ignorance, fear and separation between these two communities.

I believe with all my heart that there is nothing more important happening in Israel than Hand in Hand.

More than 1,000 Jewish and Arab students are coming together every day to study in the same classrooms, learn each other’s languages and build friendships based on mutual respect and understanding.

These young people are joined by their parents, extended family members and many other Jews and Arabs from the wider community.

Together, they are proving that this conflict and hate-fueled segregation are not inevitable and can be overcome.

“The Arabs will not die as these extremists wrote on the wall of the school,” said executive director Shuli Dichter, “but rather will live together with Jews here. I invite the criminals who sprayed their hateful graffiti to come inside our school and join with us in learning how to live together.”

Regular classes were canceled on that day, as staff met with parents to discuss the incident and city workers began cleaning up the ugly graffiti.

In days to come, students will discuss and work through their feelings and responses to the attack, supported by their teachers and parents.

That’s how we do things at Hand in Hand: We talk openly and honestly; we look together at hard realities and devise peaceful solutions for a more hopeful future.

The vision of Hand in Hand – Learning Together, Living Together – could never be more important than it is today.

LeeGordon is co-founder of Hand in Hand, a network of integrated public schools in Israel. This adapted column first appeared on the organization’s website.

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