Skip to main content

Middle East

A ray of light in the darkness

Teachers at a Hand in Hand school in 2016. Craig Stennett/Getty

History’s “default setting” is carnage and suffering, says Simon Schama in the FT – “the plague in Athens; slave ships; Passchendaele; the Gulag; Hiroshima”. But we shouldn’t overlook the “small points of radiance” that remain lit amid the darkness. One example is the Max Rayne school in Jerusalem – a “visionary” enterprise where Jewish and Arab children are taught together in Arabic and Hebrew, by teachers from both communities. Founded in 1998, and run by the “inspirational” Hand in Hand Centre, the school hasn’t had an easy time of it – it was burned to the ground by Jewish fanatics in 2014. But it was rebuilt and reopened, and today there are six Hand in Hand schools across Israel, all devoted to “sowing the seeds of a future free of mutual demonisation”.

You might assume these ambitious ideals have “taken a beating in the present calamity”. But the war has made the need for this kind of cooperation “more urgent than ever”. After a two-week break following the October 7 atrocity, all six schools re-opened. Arab students have family members who have been killed in Gaza; many of the Israelis know someone kidnapped, or worse. It’s the ultimate test of their ideals – but it’s also “the picture of a possible shared future”. The Israeli writer Amos Oz once compared the conflict to a consuming fire. You can either run away, or you can pour water on the flames using whatever you have – a bucket, a cup, even just a teaspoon. The fire is huge, but these schools demonstrate that “everyone has a teaspoon”.