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Peacemakers

Osnat Aram-Daphna & Najeeba Sirhan | Israel/Palestine

Osnat Aram-Daphna and Najeeba Sirhan, Israel/Palestine

When violence broke out in the Galilee in October 2000, the ensuing destruction deepened tensions between the Jewish town of Karmiel and the neighboring Arab community of Majd Al Kurum. In the wake of the unrest, Osnat Aram-Daphna, principal of the Kalanit school in Karmiel, and Najeeba Sirhan, principal of Al Salaam school in Majd Al Kurum, decided to use their respective positions to reach out to each other.

Together, Osnat and Najeeba promoted open dialogue and understanding between their communities through education. They participated in a program organized by the mayor of Karmiel, leadership of the Arab villages in the Galilee, and the Ministry of Education to promote partnerships among Arab and Israeli educators.

The beginning was difficult and many people were skeptical. Osnat and Najeeba went from one educator to another, attempting to persuade them to become involved. Eventually, they each found 10 teachers who were willing to take the necessary risk, beginning a process of reconciliation for these two small towns.
After one year of meeting regularly, the group of 20 educators found that they had established a network of mutual understanding and trust. Osnat and Najeeba considered how to expand the process beyond the walls of their schools. Their vision was to create a forum for transforming patterns of prejudice and intolerance on a grander scale throughout their two communities.

When attempts to recruit parents were met with resistance, Osnat and Najeeba shifted their strategy. Bringing their message to the classrooms, they attempted to organize a day trip for students of the two schools to meet each other. But many parents refused to allow their children to travel to the other town—they were just too afraid. Osnat and Najeeba adjusted their approach again, this time finding a ‘neutral’ place at an educational farm that both schools had previously visited. They organized a day of joint activities for students with a focus on the plants of the region.

The activities were successful and students began communicating as email pen-pals. After a series of similar joint activities and positive learning encounters, students started to turn to their parents, persuading them to get involved. Osnat and Najeeba organized a marketplace event at Al Salaam school where different market stands sold traditional food and crafts made by students. Some 1,200 parents attended to support their children, thereby establishing initial contact and beginning the process of developing bonds that have often transcended religion, ethnicity and politics.

Throughout their work, religion was a connecting force. Students, teachers, and parents participated in the study of Judaism and Islam through the celebration of religious holidays and visits to places of worship. The lessons from these encounters are now integrated into the curricula of both schools. Starting in first grade, students have the opportunity to participate in Arabic and Hebrew language exchanges. The two schools also have a joint choir and soccer team.

Following Osnat and Najeeba’s example, many parents have developed their own initiatives as well.
Because of the transformative power of education, residents of Karmiel and Majd Al Kurum are able to interact as neighbors. Though Osnat passed away from cancer in August 2008, Najeeba continues the work that they started together. Click here to read Osnat’s memorial page.