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Israel: Hand in Hand Schools

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 19 April 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to support initiatives, such as Hand in Hand schools in Israel, which bring together children from the Arab and Jewish communities to encourage greater tolerance and understanding between them.

My Lords, we support work that aims to improve mutual understanding between young people to promote dialogue, respect and tolerance between different cultures. Between 2005 and 2006 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office provided £98,300 in support of Hand in Hand. We also support a number of other projects in the occupied Palestinian territories through other FCO funding mechanisms.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her response. I picked those schools because they are such an obvious and excellent example of the way in which it is possible to bring together Arab and Jewish children to encourage co-operation and co-ordination. As the Minister knows, the teachers are mixed Arab and Jew, and the head teachers are Arab and Jew and share responsibilities for the schools. That is just a small example of the large number of efforts that are being made to improve relations between Arab and Jew, Palestinian and Israeli.

Is my noble friend aware that the Israeli 100 shekel note, for example, has a picture of a village called Piki’in where Jews, Christians and Druze live in a close harmonious relationship? Does she agree that organisations such as One Voice, with its 250,000 young Palestinian and Israeli members, and hospitals such as Hadassah, where Arab and Jewish doctors and nurses work closely together, are the sorts of grassroots activities that we in the UK should be publicising and building on as we try to encourage the peace process?

My Lords, I was aware of all the examples cited by my noble friend. They are all extraordinary examples of the way in which mutual understanding must be, and is being, fostered between Israel and Palestine, thus providing a strong basis for peace when it is attained in the Middle East. It is only through efforts at these grassroot levels that peace will truly be attained.

My Lords, Hand in Hand and similar experiments are very welcome but we should be realistic and recognise that there are 750 children in Hand in Hand schools, and that the great bulk of children in Israel and Palestine are still educated in schools that are effectively segregated. Given that, can the Foreign Office, or possibly DfID, help both Israel and the Palestinian areas by looking at the curriculum by which schools work in the separate countries, and which are fundamentally very inclined towards separatism and stressing fundamental differences rather than similarities? Is that not one of the keys to spreading more widely the excellent work to which the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, referred?

My Lords, it is indeed, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing to my attention the importance of the curriculum and ensuring that the curriculum in both Israel and Palestine is properly balanced and tolerant. I shall certainly take that back to the FCO and DfID.

While Hand in Hand is small, organisations such as One Voice are big and expanding, and we must continue to support their work, as well as looking at things like the curriculum.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of other initiatives, such as those of the Trade Union Friends of Israel and the Trades Union Congress? Both organisations have sent delegations to the occupied area of Palestine and to Israel, and their fundamental message is to bring people together. If children, through the wonderful idea of Hand in Hand, are to get the benefit, their parents should be able to talk about the co-operation between the communities that exists through the trade union movement. I cite the constant trade union involvement in Northern Ireland through those difficult years, where the unions’ objective was a better economic and social life for all people.

My Lords, trade unions have an extraordinarily important job in improving the quality of life of their members, as well as their work in other countries, in promoting tolerance, understanding and bringing people together. I pay tribute to the trade union movement, both in this country and Israel and Palestine.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Japanese Government are providing considerable financial assistance for an agro-industrial park near Jericho that combines Palestinian work with Israeli technical expertise? These peaceful and promising ventures would flourish even more with some additional UK Government help, in particular in science fellowships and scholarships to bring Palestinian and Israeli scientists over here. A couple of the ventures are Sesame, which is to do with a radiation source in the Middle East being built in Jordan, and One Voice, which is working on campus collaboration. Additional UK Government help would go a long way towards peace.

My Lords, I was not aware of the examples cited by the noble Baroness or of the support of the Japanese Government. However, it is clearly incredibly important that scientists are able to exchange views. Bringing them together from all the countries of the Middle East not only enables them to do better research and work together but also fosters understanding and is an important way forward. I will take this back to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the more that we can promote exchanges between scientists, as well as supporting their work in the region, the better.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in Israel there are already Arab players in the football team and Arabs in Israeli orchestras and that there was an Arab in the Israeli Olympic team? All of these things, which are not actually organised, are good for the future. Is the Minister aware, however, that hatred of Israel and Jews is being taught in Arab and Palestinian schools to children who are as young as four or five? We should protest about that very much indeed.

My Lords, I was not aware of the extent of the participation of Arabs in the Israeli football team, for example. I warmly welcome that.

Of course it is obscene when children of any age, in Palestine, Israel or any part of the world, are taught hate. Children should be taught tolerance, and we should encourage the nurturing of understanding of different cultures. We are critical of hate if it is taught in schools in any part of the world—Israel, Palestine or anywhere else—and condemn it.

Is the Minister aware of the many Israeli NGOs working hard for constructive relationships between both countries? Does she agree that public opinion is in place for real peace in both countries? The Israeli Government understandably want recognition but also, as an established state representative, must accept their international obligations. We had George Soros’s interview yesterday. Does the Minister agree that it is time for Israel to start at least partial withdrawal from some of the occupied territories, and reducing checkpoints and settlement blocks?

My Lords, the Government’s position is that both Israel and Palestine must adhere to their international obligations.