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Swiss help foster Jewish-Arab relations

The centre for Jewish-Arabic relations in Jerusalem

(RTS)

With tensions in the Middle East running high, a Swiss-based organisation is promoting a Jewish-Arab school in the hope of fostering better relations between the two communities.

The Zurich-based branch of the Jerusalem Foundation provides funding for the innovative education centre in Jerusalem.

"We don't have to wait for peace, we've already got peace in our school," says Noah, a Jewish pupil at the school.

Samara, an Arabic teacher, agrees. "We are creating a new generation by bringing them up differently," she says.

Both Noah and Samara are quoted in the brochure of the Jerusalem Foundation Zurich - the Swiss branch of the international organisation aiming at promoting peaceful living in Jerusalem.

Hand in hand

Set up by the Israeli-Arabic organisation Hand in Hand in 1997 and partly funded by the Jerusalem Foundation, the school teaches Jewish and Arab children, who all share a classroom, in Hebrew and Arabic.

The school not only aims at educating children, it also tries to teach the parents to let go of their preconceptions and suspicions towards the other culture.

Even religious studies are taught in the same class. "Thora, Bible and Koran are all equal in our class," Yaffa-Shiro Grossberg, a teacher at the school, told swissinfo during a visit to Switzerland.

"For our children it is nothing special that Mohammed, Itai, Matan and Nabil play together," she added.

High hopes

Despite the recent surge in violence, Grossberg has not given up hope. "We'll do everything we can to create a generation that will live without terror and violence," she continued.

For this reason pupils as well as teachers try to deal with the brutal reality of terror attacks and to discuss it without blaming each other.

There are currently 123 pupils attending the school and the number is on the rise.

"Despite the daily violence in Israel more and more parents want to send their kids to our school," Erika Gideon-Wyler of the Jerusalem Foundation in Zurich told swissinfo.

The chairman of the board of the Zurich branch, Josef Estermann, hopes that he will be able to raise the SFr4.3 million ($3.3 million) needed to build an extension to the school.

The centre, which is supported by the United Nations agency Unesco and recognised by the Israeli education ministry, is a good example of life in a democracy.

"This is a good place to learn how to respect each other every day," Estermann said.

swissinfo, Jean-Michel Berthoud (translation: Billi Bierling)

Key facts

The centre was founded by the Israeli-Arab Hand in Hand organisation in 1997.
The Jerusalem Foundation and Unesco support the centre.
123 pupils are currently attending the school.
The Israeli government funds 75 per cent of the school.

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