The Graduate(s): The Harvests of Israel’s Integrated Multicultural Bilingual Education


Source: Race Ethnicity and Education, 2017


Advocates of integration and cross cultural contact believe schools have a seminal role to play in perpetuating or breaking the cycle of violence and division in conflicted societies. Historically, segregated schools are the norm in such societies. An alternative educational model is provided through integrated schools—schools where children from different national, ethnic, or religious groups are deliberately educated together. Integrated schools are believed to be essential in contributing to the healing of the wounds that afflict conflicted societies, easing the path toward peace, reconciliation, and integration.

The present study reports on interviews conducted with the three first cohorts of students which graduated from the only integrated school in Israel running through K12. The interviewees are shown to have been able to successfully negotiate present reigning societal believes in all that regards to the ethos of the conflict and adopt perspectives which help them overcome hatred, fear, and anger while recognizing present sociopolitical complexities and difficulties. All in all, the schools’ environment and educational practices seem to help counter the socio-psychological infrastructures which evolve in the context of intractable conflicts.

Six integrated, bilingual, and multicultural Jewish-Palestinian/Arab schools operate today in Israel serving about twelve hundred students. Though few in number, their experience is worth researching for they challenge the basic national religious segregationist premises which dominates and controls the Israeli educational system (Resh and Dar 2012). A system which, under the dictates of the 1953 State Educational law, is divided into two main branches: the Arab sector and the Hebrew sector – with the latter being divided into secular and religious sectors. The ultra-orthodox Jews, the Druze, and the kibbutzim have autonomous enclaves. It can be said that the socio-political conflicts are reflected in the Israeli educational system (Sprinzak et al. 2001). The integrated schools offer an outstanding opportunity for testing the potential of education to help sooth tensions in societies involve in intractable conflicts.

The present study reports on interviews conducted with the three first cohorts of students which graduated from the only integrated school running through K12. The study cannot be considered a longitudinal one for multiple situational factors did not allow us to interview the same students throughout the year.

Currently, the integrated bilingual initiative opens up spaces where some of the ‘unsaid’ of Israeli society can be openly stated in a sphere of trust. This fact alone makes the school a worthwhile educational project. Through the school curricula, Jewish students are encouraged to uncover the complexities of the Jewish Israeli narrative, and even when they are not overtly encouraged to do so, they revise their own positions regarding its meaning. Palestinian-Arabs, on the other hand, find solace in the school’s being a place for expression of what are, for them, known truths, i.e. that Palestinians in Israel are in many ways second-class citizens. Although the full picture of the bilingual school is complex and rests on future contextual developments (e.g. the obligatory enlistment of the Jewish children in the army, the failure of peace efforts), its value as a dynamic manifestation of an ideology of coexistence and tolerance is indisputable. The Palestinian-Arab and Jewish children who attend the bilingual school are immersed in an environment that fosters an appreciation of other cultures, multiple points of view, and validation of competing national narratives. Whatever the limitations regarding the lasting effects of this environment, it is clear that the children’s current situation – which for some students has lasted through their primary and secondary education – is authentic and positive. Indeed, stopping at this point may be a great betrayal. The integrated initiative must help these students move forward by consistently, explicitly, and critically interrogating the junctions where race, ethnicity, religion, and class meet, while encouraging a self-reflexive engagement with difference (Asher 2007). Though difficult to establish, dialogic approaches that are committed to a pedagogy of articulation and risk (Grossberg 1994) are the only ones that uncover new options. However, in conflict ridden areas, these options must be implemented with care. The groups involved have many reasons to prefer patterns that are recognizable, if painful, to new paths whose transformative potential is unknown. There is no doubt that the children are ready to such challenges; there is considerable doubt whether the adults are.

Updated: Oct. 25, 2017