First Bilingual Binational School in Israel
Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam’s educational system was the first Jewish-Palestinian bilingual binational children’s educational program in the country. It was never intended simply as a solution for the Arab and Jewish children of the community, but as a model of integrated schooling that could be emulated in many other regions where an Arab and Jewish population live side by side.
In recent years, other schools have been established that are based loosely on the Neve Shalom/ Wahat al-Salam model. Wherever requested, the educational staff of the school offer their expertise in the area of bilingual/ binational education, both in Israel and abroad
The Primary School builds student’s bilingual and binational capacity, preparing them for a future democratic, egalitarian and fully inclusive Israeli society.
As children learn to speak each other’s languages and become aware of each other’s religions and cultures, they learn that the inter- cultural exchange is natural and desirable. Where most children in Israel grow up and are educated in relative ignorance of the other people that share the same land, NSWAS Primary School children-learning in an egalitarian and democratic model - learn that it is possible for Arabs and Jews to work together and share authority. The atmosphere of openness and tolerance at the school that encourages the children to understand, accept and appreciate each other prepares them for a future shared society that is inclusive and respectful
The Primary School was born in the late 1970’s, at the same time as the bilingual/ bicultural and egalitarian Israeli Arab-Jewish community’s births of their first children. It was the first educational framework in Israel to imagine a school founded on principles of coexistence and equality. The idea was translated into action as the community began to educate children bilingually and biculturally at nursery and kindergarten levels.
In 1984, using recycled building materials, and as the community grew in population to become a village, members constructed a small building for a primary school. Initially serving only the dozen primary-aged children in the village, the teacher’s confidence in their binational and bilingual teaching methods, grew and the school opened its doors to children from outside the village, leading to growth in enrollment and age span.
State recognition came slowly but steadily, with Kindergarten authorization coming in 1992, and Primary School in 1993. In 1997, the Education Ministry assigned to the Primary School the status of "experimental school," recognizing its value in providing a model for emulation. Since 2012, the Primary School has been a recognized independent school and, as the first bilingual / bicultural primary school in Israel, has served as a successful model for several new bilingual schools. It remains the only bilingual/ bicultural school that is located within a bilingual/bicultural and egalitarian community.
The Primary School is governed by these key principles:
- Equal participation by Jews and Palestinians in administration and teaching.
- Use of both Hebrew and Arabic as media of instruction for all children and for all subjects.
- Nurturing each child’s identity by imparting a knowledge of his/her culture and tradition while inculcating a knowledge and respect for the culture and tradition of ‘the other"
In this integrative Nursery through 6th grade, bilingual/ bicultural educational framework, with enrollments of approximately equal numbers of Arab and Jewish children, children meet and exceed national school system requirements while becoming confident and knowledgeable in their own identity, culture and traditions.
In addition to its full bilingual, bicultural curriculum, the Primary School has developed a curriculum for teaching holidays and solemn occasions in a bilingual/bicultural context including Holocaust Day, Memorial Day, Land Day, Independence Day, Naqba Day, Passover, Easter, Eid al Adha, Purim, Rosh Hashanah, Hijri and others.
Children welcome Hillary Clinton to their celebration
The Primary School faculty are working on the production of a fully documented syllabus for teaching in a bilingual/binational/bicultural school environment. The syllabus, now in its draft form, will include the various cultures, languages and national identities of the region’s people, and will be available to other schools.
Impact and Influence
The daily impact of this unique setting for the majority of its students who may travel up to 20 miles daily from more than 20 Jewish or Arab towns outside of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam is powerful. The location of the school within the village of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam demonstrates that their learning environment is actually a living environment, that a commitment to equality and mutual respect ‘works.’
The Primary School, now educating a third generation of children, continues to be the leading edge model for the future, inspiring the creation of several schools across Israel such as the six Hand in Hand Schools and the Hagar School in Beersheva.