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Nadia Massalha

At Hand in Hand’s annual community gathering, held last month in Ben Shemen Forest, we got the chance to sit down with several members of the community to speak about the role Hand in Hand plays in their lives.

Nadia, one of our dedicated community activists, and a parent of two Hand in Hand students, spoke with us about her journey to Hand in Hand, what she loves about the Bridge Over the Wadi School, and why she felt it was so important to educate her sons in a bilingual, shared environment.

Here is what she had to say:

How did you make the decision to join this community?

That’s wonderful question. Where I grew up, people always talked about how we needed to stay separate from the Jews. How we shouldn’t get involved with them. That we’re in a totally different life situation than they are. That’s what I grew up hearing, but I never agreed with that. I always thought that we’re all humans, we’re all equal. What do you mean some people are better than me? So then I went to university to study social work, I got a bit older, I started my own life bit by bit, and then later on, I had kids. And then I understood that the only place I wanted my son to go to school was at Bridge Over the Valley. And I insisted on this. So we went, and I understood that there was the reality that we had been living in, and then there was the reality that exists at Bridge Over the Valley. And that reality is Jews and Arabs living together, in peace, in harmony, and there’s no politics in this. And I said: that’s life!

After we joined Hand in Hand, I slowly understood that we could also open this up to the parents—not just the kids. And when the wonderful Zohar started a dialogue group, I started to go to every meeting. This was during my first year at Hand in Hand—in any case, I’m always very active when it comes to the things that I love—and we had such interesting conversations in these dialogue meetings. All of a sudden, the parents are talking at the level of parents, not at the level of children.

About what?

They were really difficult conversations. One of the other participants was my cousin and he was telling a story about the war in 1948, and how my grandmother—or rather, our grandmother, who died a while ago—she was fleeing, and she had a baby daughter at the time. She was escaping, and running and running, and she had several children—she eventually had nine, but not at this time—but eventually, as they were fleeing, she realized that she couldn’t continue. She had to either continue with the smallest one or with the ones who could run for themselves. So she entered a cave that she saw along the way, and she put her smallest baby girl there. And she continued to run. And as the day went on, she just couldn’t continue. She couldn’t leave her there. And she said, “It doesn’t matter what happens, if I run into soldiers, or whatever else: I need to return to her.” And so she returned to the cave for her. And that baby girl was the mother of the man who was telling the story—my cousin. And I hadn’t known this story. To hear this about my grandmother and my aunt—I was shocked. It was such a moving story. And there were stories like that from the other side as well—stories from Jews who survived difficult things in ’48 and who also lost loved ones. And I said to myself, “Wow.” What’s wonderful about this meeting is that, all of a sudden, people are listening. People are connecting over pain, over sadness. It doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t matter on what side. All of a sudden, we’re together. And that was such a new feeling for me. All of the time it was: separate. And now we’re together. And in my eyes, that was a wonderful thing.

There were also fights. I got into an argument once with someone over the army. He said, “the army of Israel is here to protect all of us.” And I said, “Yes, but my son is friends with your friends, and then all of a sudden they’re split up and your son is fighting against Arabs.” And we tried to talk about this, and it was really difficult. But I understood that these dialogue meetings allow parents to come together and to speak with one another and to share their personal experiences. And it’s empowering.

And all of a sudden I realized that, thanks to this school and my participation in it, my identity as an Arab was becoming more and more defined. Not that I was becoming opposed to Jews in any way, but that it connects me [to my identity] more and more from a different place—from a place of calm, in an authentic and real way.

What did your family think about Hand in Hand? Are they for? Against?

My family is very supportive. My family on the side of my children’s father was more skeptical at first. “What do you mean? School with Jews?” So there was some of that as well. But we don’t receive any of that anymore because they have no choice. And my children’s father too was a bit skeptic at first. But then once we had arrived, and we experienced it, he totally changed. He’s really supportive, he’s really active. It’s really changed. But there are both reactions: On the one hand, it’s this amazing, special school. On the other hand, people come to me and ask me, “But, are you okay with the fact that your kids will be raised to live like Jews? Or that, maybe your son will fall in love with a Jewish woman?” What does that mean? It’s like if your son goes abroad to study and then he returns with an Italian woman. What’s the difference? So, there’s two sides.

But this school really is such a special place. And it’s the only community whose school is located in an Arab village. So we receive some support because of that.

What do you say to people who are either against Hand in Hand or who simply don’t understand why it’s so important?

Wow. I talk about this type of thing all the time at work. We’re social workers, and I see that there’s this opposition to the school amongst some of the other social workers—on the one hand they see it as important work, but on the other hand, they’re not ready to  bring their children to the school. So these two sort of contradict one another. So I always tell them: In our world, life should be about humanity. In my eyes, there’s no religion or gender… All of us are equal. Women and men, Muslims and Jews and Christians. That’s my life. But I tell them that sometimes, the way our life is in this country—which is not such an easy existence—I believe that we need to find places that remind us of that. And there aren’t many places in the country like that. And I tell them that Hand in Hand’s schools are the most basic place that reminds us of this equality. As soon as you enter, you see that we’re all equal. That we live together in such a good and happy way. Children are playing with one another. The parents are close friends. And as soon it’s revealed that we’re all human, we get along in a human way. Not political and not problematic. And we discover that we can all live together—in fun, in peace. We can be together at all of these family and community events. And I tell them that this is the place where things are different: It’s this bubble that we live in that is growing and growing.


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