Posted By Ahmed Abdullah
October 13, 2007
Built in 1984 by Hussein Issa, Hope Flowers School is a unique institution that promotes human rights education alongside the official national curriculum.
Now Issa’s son, Ibrahim, who has taken over the school’s management since 2000, wants to ensure that his 250 pupils learn peaceful values alongside the mandatory school curriculum.
Just like any other part of Palestine, Hope Flowers is affected by the Israeli occupation. But the school authorities are determined to continue working to dispel the negative stereotypes that each fighting party holds about the other.
“Unfortunately we're in a time when hate has escalated between the two sides," Ghada Ghabboun, the school's co-director, told the BBC. “For many Palestinians, Israelis are the enemy, and vice-versa, but here we work hard against this kind of stereotyping.”
Like several Palestinians, Ibrahim Issa and his family lost all their properties when they fled the Deheishe refugee camp in 1948.
Working for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians (UNRWA), Ibrahim is fully aware of the negative impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian children. That’s probably why he wants to teach students peaceful values at his school, which is the only educational institution in the occupied territories where inter-faith classes are held, instead of splitting Christian and Muslim pupils into separate classes. Rabbis are allowed to talk about their religion to the students, who also learn Hebrew.
Hope Flowers School started as a kindergarten that aimed at bringing Palestinian and Israeli children together. But it faced opposition from several parties, particularly Palestinians who didn’t want their children to share a class with those who took over their lands.
But, according to Ghabboun, things have now changed. “There were so many challenges," she says. "In the 1980s, it was a new idea. Back then, Palestinians rejected the idea of speaking to Israelis and the notion of co-existence. But after 23 years, the school has succeeded and managed to overcome the opposition of Palestinians."
Ibrahim agrees, saying: “When you speak about 'the enemy' you don't know him, you create an image of a monster, you deprive him of his humanity… I have many Israeli friends and some I differ with, but we have one common ground, we are all human beings, and it's important to see even your enemy in this way".
Palestinian opposition wasn’t the only challenge the school faced, as after the second intifada, or uprising, the Israeli government denied people from travelling to Palestinian areas.
Israeli movement restrictions, such as blockade barriers and checkpoints, as well as with the high rate of unemployment that resulted from the occupation, dashed Ibrahim’s hopes of creating a role model for all schools in the occupied territories as his school now lacks students, whose parents cannot afford USD 550 a year for tuition.
In 2001, the school was forced to close its secondary level because the number of students decreased from 580 to 120 students in one year, while 16 teachers were laid off to cut down costs.
Even if parents are lucky enough to pay the school fees, movement restrictions prevent many students from reaching the school.
Now the school is facing its biggest challenge; the 700km-long separation barrier the Israelis are building in the West Bank.
“It's frightening. When the wall is finished, there will be surveillance cameras, trenches and watch-towers," said Ghabboun. “For the Israelis, these are security measures, but for us they mean danger."
The school’s cafeteria recently received a demolition order from the Israelis, who claim that it was built with no permit. But the school staff say that the move is aimed at expanding the adjacent Jewish settlement of Efrat.
The Israelis also claim that the school was also built without permission, which costs USD 60,000. Since Ibrahim can’t afford to pay this huge sum, the school might face the same fate as the cafeteria.
Despite all this, Ghabboun still has hope for the school. “There have been worse times than this in our history," she says. "Normal life is difficult for the Palestinians, but the name of the school is Hope, so we'll never say we can't go on."