I recently had the privilege of visiting an Israeli Arab high school in the town of Shfaram, 20 minutes east of Haifa. I went there with the professional staff of the Division of Religious Communities of the Israeli Ministry of Interior, in order to plan a day of educational programs with Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze religious leaders from the Galilee, which will take place in April, after Passover.
It was an amazingly positive experience for me.
First of all, I met an extraordinarily impressive principal of the high school, Dr.Kamal Shofaniye, who founded this junior and senior high school 20 years ago. Today it has 1000 students: 60% Druze, 35% Muslim and 5% Christian. It is the only mixed high school in this large Arab Galilee town, a place that has known its share of tensions, including some serious rioting last June.
Dr. Shofaniye is very proud of the accomplishments of his students: 80% of them take the state matriculation examinations and 78.6% are eligible to go on to college or university after graduating from his high school!! Some of the secrets to his success can be found in old-fashioned discipline which is rare in Israeli society (Jewish or Arab!!): all the students wear the same uniform to school every day; and all of them rise for their teacher when he or she walks into the classroom; all of them meet every morning in the immaculate large courtyard for a morning assembly.
In the courtyard, which is the entrance to the school, there is a huge sign in English and Arabic which says “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more” (from the prophet Isaiah, in the Hebrew Bible). I have never seen this before—not in a Jewish school in Israel, and certainly not in an Arab school. Who says that minorities in Israel don’t yearn for peace?
The faculty of the school is mixed, reflecting the student body. In addition, Jewish teachers also teach there. Together with the faculty, the principal fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance.
Based on this first visit, I am looking forward to going back to this unique high school in Shfaram in April, with a large group of religious leaders from the Galilee, to implement lectures and symposia for all of the students in the upper grades. It promises to be a fascinating and enlightening experience.