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How Israel Reacted to a Racist Attack on a Jewish-Arab School

Jerusalem rallies behind coexistence school torched in arson attack

by
Yair Rosenberg
December 01, 2014
A woman inspects the damage on the aftermath of an arson attack that targeted first-grade classrooms at a Jewish-Arab school near the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, in southern Jerusalem, on November 30, 2014. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman inspects the damage on the aftermath of an arson attack that targeted first-grade classrooms at a Jewish-Arab school near the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, in southern Jerusalem, on November 30, 2014. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

On Saturday night, Jerusalem’s Hand-in-Hand school–a bilingual Jewish-Arab institution designed to foster coexistence among Israel’s youth–was torched by vandals in a racist attack. Two first grade classrooms were damaged, and one was completely burned. The arsonists also set fire to piles of Hebrew and Arabic schoolbooks and spray painted phrases like “there is no coexistence with cancer” on the walls. Sadly, such attacks have become more common in Israel as racial and political tensions rise. (The very next day, a Tel Aviv synagogue was vandalized, apparently by leftist partisans.) But while the bigots in Jerusalem staged their attack under the cover of night, in the light of day Israelis from across the spectrum mobilized in solidarity with the school and its students.

Education Minister Shai Piron, himself an educator and former yeshiva head, condemned the attack as “a violent, criminal and despicable incident.” It was aimed, he said, “at hurting and undermining Israel’s democratic foundations. The fact that it was an arson attack on an educational facility that advocates coexistence severely undermines the fabric of relations between Jews and Arabs. I urge the Israel Police to act immediately and bring to justice these despicable vile criminals.” One Tel Aviv school responded by cancelling their regular curriculum and devoting the day instead to discussing the attack on the coexistence school. Several other Jerusalem schools, both religious and secular, organized visits to Hand-in-Hand. Jerusalem’s HaPoel Katamon professional soccer team even came to play with the school’s first and second graders.

Jessica Montell, the former executive director of B’Tselem, one of Israel’s leading human rights NGOs, tweeted pictures of several of these shows of solidarity, along with credit to those who made them happen:

Sign at Hand in Hand school after attack: We are ashamed of racism & violence & glad you are here -Residents of Patt pic.twitter.com/z8MFGUmDWz



— Jessica Montell (@JessicaMontell) December 1, 2014
[Patt is a working class Jewish neighborhood next to Hand in Hand Jewish-Arab school]



— Jessica Montell (@JessicaMontell) December 1, 2014

Hapoel Katamon team came to play soccer w/1st & 2nd graders @Hand_in_Hand Jewish-Arab school #MyJerusalem pic.twitter.com/ksDtYfgwFN — Jessica Montell (@JessicaMontell) December 1, 2014
Jerusalem schools that organized solidarity visits to @Hand_in_Hand: Keshet, Nisui, Leyada, Himmelfarb, Hartman (both orthodox), Kedma — Jessica Montell (@JessicaMontell) December 1, 2014

Kedma School says no to racism! [Kedma is school for disadvantaged Jewish kids, mostly of N African background] pic.twitter.com/zhqpSqMA7h



— Jessica Montell (@JessicaMontell) December 1, 2014

In the end, as Montell noted, far from suppressing the efforts of those seeking to promote Arab-Jewish coexistence in Israel, the attackers only succeeded in boosting their prominence:

In short: the racists only succeeded in raising the profile & increasing support for @Hand_in_Hand the Jewish-Arab school. Thanks racists! — Jessica Montell (@JessicaMontell) December 1, 2014

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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