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Nursery School Teacher Takes a “Small Step” to Help the World

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | September 8th, 2007 | Comments No Comments

The following blog is one of a series of interviews with hopeful, intelligent young adults who grew up in Neve Shalom~Wahat al-Salam (nswas.org), an Israeli village of 25 Jewish and 25 Arab families who have lived biculturally — and peacefully, if not always harmoniously — for 30 years. The full interview and podcast may be heard at American Friends of Neve Shalom~Wahat al-Salam (oasisofpeace.org).

“I think the children who grow up in Neve Shalom~Wahat al-Salam, they have the perfect childhood. It’s like in the movies. You have all these green trees and you play everywhere and it’s safe. Dogs and cats and butterflies,” gushed an enthusiastic Natalie Boulos.
Natalie Boulos
“One year, I went to a Jewish school and I had a very difficult time,” continued the 18-year-old Christian Palestinian, about her first year of public school following Neve Shalom~Wahat al-Salam’s bilingual, bicultural primary school.

“I didn’t have friends at all and it was because I am Arab. This was a real shock to me. I came from a place where it is OK to be Arab, and I can speak Arabic as much as I want. Then I went to the Jewish school and they all looked at me like I was something else, something different, something weird,” she said, her lilting voice falling. “So I left it.”

“[I was] 11 or 12. I was used to a place where people respect me for whatever I am and whatever language I speak and I don’t have to hide it. The thing about Neve Shalom [is] we live in a whole world not connected to the other world. I can speak Arabic whenever I want as much as I want as loud as I want. After the Intifada began, when I went to Tel Aviv or went to see a movie or whatever, it was like we had to speak Arabic quietly or not at all, because they [non-Arabs] looked at us weirdly or like they can harm us.”

She transferred to an all-Arab segregated school. “At first, it felt weird to be with all these Arab children. Why are there only Arabs? OK, I’m Arab, but why are there only Arabs? Where are the Jewish students? Where’s the Jewish teacher? Then you get used to it,” Natalie continued. “Also, the Jewish kids went to a Jewish school with no Arabs. So suddenly they didn’t have any Arab classmates. I lived in Neve Shalom~Wahat al-Salam, [so] I still had my Jewish friends, in the pool, in the playground, in the neighborhood.”

Today, Natalie works at the nursery school where she grew up, speaking Arabic to Jewish and Palestinian pre-schoolers alike.

“We have to help and cheer schools like Neve Shalom~Wahat al-Salam because when the kids go home and know both languages and they can see an Arab child that is not throwing stones and doing something like they show on TV, it helps a lot. I tell [people] that they should support us if they are interested in having the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews get solved. I think it’s an amazing idea. It is working, so why not support it?”

About 90% of the children attending pre-school, kindergarten and the primary school live outside the Village.

“These kids are learning a new point of view of life. They are learning that the Arabs are not like they see on TV. Arab kids get a chance to meet Jewish kids that are not like the people who go into the Army. Most of [the teenagers who live in the Village] do not go into the Army. They get to see each other from another point of view. I think it’s very important because everything we see on TV and hear on the radio and [read] in the newspaper is very exaggerated. When [the nearby children] come to this school and study together and have breakfast and lunch and dinner together and have parties and trips and it’s all together and it’s in both languages, I think the kids themselves know they are special.”

“Small steps like Neve Shalom~Wahat al-Salam are helping the entire world, the entire country. The smallest thing helps us a lot and shows us that [we] are respect[ed for] what we are doing.”
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