The Max Rayne Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem was set ablaze late Saturday night in what appears to be an anti-coexistence hate crime.
The school, which has branches in several locations throughout Israel, provides bilingual and multicultural education for Israeli Jews, Muslims and Christians.
The school was started in the late 1990’s, with one grade. The idea was embraced by the parents and students and eventually spread to having pre-school through 12th grades and several branches.
The Jerusalem branch, located in southern Jerusalem, near Beit Safafa and the Pat neighborhoods, has 620 students, split roughly 60 percent Arab and 40 percent Jews. Staffing is split roughly 50-50. In the younger grades the classes are jointly taught by a Jewish teacher and an Arab teacher.
The school was set ablaze Saturday evening. The Israeli police concluded, based upon their initial investigation, that the fire was set from inside the school.
No injuries were reported and although the fire was successfully extinguished by emergency fire crews, at least one classroom was badly damaged.
Graffiti was reportedly found on walls inside the school, with messages such as “you can’t co-exist with cancer,” “enough with assimilation,” and “death to Arabs,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
This summer, during Operation Protective Edge, anti-Arab graffiti was also found on the school. The response was to immediately address what happened in classes. The students responded by making a poster that said Jews and Arabs can be partners.
“When relationships between the two communities are, at a national level, particularly tense, this tension comes to the school. So then we as a school have to support the children and parents in the hostile environment,” Rebecca Bardach, Hand in Hand’s director of resource development and strategy told the Canadian Jewish News during a visit to Toronto this summer.
Rachel Azaria, the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem came to school and said: “Harming this school is a horrific crime perpetrated by people who want to destroy any place that creates real cooperation between Jews and Arabs despite our fears and differences. We will not let them do this. The municipality of Jerusalem fully supports the school and we will ensure their continued to work.”
Hand in Hand CEO Shuli Dichter responded: “This is not the first time that our shared civic endeavor has been targeted. Even when they stain our school walls, they will not succeed in destroying our work. In addition to strong condemnations and expressions of support, we invite the Israeli public to join us in building civic cooperation among Jews and Arabs in Israel. We will continue to grow and develop our educational and social structures, where 1200 students, 200 teachers, and thousands of community members come together every day.”
Israel’s Education Minister Shai Piron issued a statement condemning Saturday night’s incident.
“This is a violent, criminal and despicable incident aimed to injure and undermine the foundations of Israeli democracy,” Piron said.
“The fact that this was an arson attack on an educational framework that advocates coexistence severely damages the fabric of relations between Jews and Arabs.”
The mayor of Jerusalem also condemned the arson attack.
“Pyromaniacs and those who disrupt order cannot take the law into their own hands to disrupt the routine of our lives,” Nir Barkat said.
The Hand in Hand schools are publicly funded.