January 23, 2007 / 4 Shevat 5767
The Jewish Agency for Israel, with support from UJC and Federations of North America, has entered a groundbreaking new partnership with The Abraham Fund Initiatives to advance Jewish-Arab understanding and cooperation in northern Israel.
More than 7,000 students in Jewish schools in the Galilee will study conversational Arabic, beginning this February, within the framework of the “Language as a Cultural Bridge” program of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, with the support of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The cost of implementing the Arabic language study program in the North is approximately NIS 7 million per year (USD 1.65 million).
Chairman of the Jewish Agency Zeev Bielski announced the expansion of the “Language as a Cultural Bridge” initiative, which has operated up to now on a limited scale. His announcement was delivered in the presence of Jewish and Arab mayors in the Galilee, educational leaders and representatives of the Ministry of Education during the course of a recent tour of Abraham Fund coexistence programs in the North.
During the course of the tour, agreement was also reached to jointly implement Jewish-Arab gatherings among children from twenty pairs of Jewish and Arab elementary schools in Israel’s mixed cities and regions. More than 4,500 children will take part in these activities.
Says Jewish Agency spokesman Yarden Vatikai, "A strange process happened during the war this summer. We reached the conclusion that we have to invest in coexistence."
"We saw many meetings - some for the first time - between Jews and Arabs," Vatikai continues. "Since one of the Jewish Agency's goals is the 'social development of the Negev and the Galilee' we decided that part of this development must include improving the relations between Arabs and Jews."
The Executive Director of the Abraham Fund in Israel, Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, said during the tour that “the decision of the Jewish Agency is a very important one, which marks a milestone in the advancement of the vision of a shared society in Israel.”
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu added that “this recognition declares to broad groups within Israel and within the Jewish communities of the Diaspora that advancing relations between the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel is a first-order national priority for the future of the state and of Israeli society."
The “Language as a Cultural Bridge” initiative was developed and implemented by The Abraham Fund with the goal of overcoming the continuing shortcoming of the instruction of Arabic language in Israel, based on a successful educational model that lends itself to nation-wide implementation. All of this is done in order to transmit the values of tolerance and cooperation, and to counteract stereotypes and pre-conceived ideas about Arabs.
The innovative educational curriculum is based on the teaching of conversational Arabic, supplemented by the teaching of reading and writing. An additional element of the program is exposure to Arab culture through experiential learning. The educational program is currently being taught in 5th- and 6th- grades.