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Communities unite in class

Israel

Despite the deteriorating relations between Israelis and their Arab neighbours, a mixed group of parents and educators are quietly laying the foundations for the development of an innovative Jewish-Arab elementary school.

A bilingual, Hebrew-Arabic class, probably for six to seven-year-olds, will open in the Galilee region of Misgav in September. If the first year is successful, additional grades and a kindergarten will be added gradually.

The only sour note so far has been sounded by Moshe Peled, the right-wing deputy education minister, who suggested that Misgav's Jewish pupils might benefit more from meetings with religious Jews than with Arabs. His comments have been condemned.

Israeli Arabs account for a fifth of the country's 1.8 million pupils, but study in separate schools for geographical, linguistic, cultural and religious reasons.

Although recent years have seen a growth in organised meetings between Jewish and Arab pupils, Israel can boast only one Jewish-Arab school so far.

Neve Shalom ("Oasis of Peace"), between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is home to a unique community of Jews and Arabs committed to living together on the basis of mutual respect. Its kindergarten and elementary school, established in the 1980s, were natural expressions of this communal bond.

The Galilee school idea, by contrast, was developed out of the efforts of the non-profit-making Centre for Bilingual Education in Israel, which had been scouting the country in search of the ideal location for the first of a string of Jewish-Arab schools it wishes to create in the coming years.

Two teachers - one Jewish, one Arab - will be employed next month, and serious work will then begin on curricular planning and the design of bilingual materials.

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