With relations between Jews and Arabs increasingly strained by the recent chain of violence and contentious legislation, the latest victims of hostility are the few trying to coexist in Jerusalem, where vandals set fire to a Jewish-Arab school in the city and sprayed it with racist slogans.
Firefighters called to the school Saturday, after neighbors reported thick smoke overnight, found several rooms at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand school damaged by fire. The first-grade classroom was destroyed, its books and toys gathered in the middle of the room and set on fire, staff said.
Hateful scrawls were painted on walls inside the school complex.
One message read “death to Arabs.” Another said, “there is no coexistence with cancer.”
Teachers and parents arriving on the scene were appalled by the messages, but not deterred. Nadia Kinani, principal of the elementary school, called the act “despicable” but said it would not keep the school community from its work.
Living together, she said, is “the only solution.”
High-school director Arik Saporta made similar remarks. “We believe in what we do…. Such incidents will not stop us.”
The school is one of several around the country where Arabs and Jews study in a bilingual, mutually tolerant environment that extends to an after-hours community.
On Sunday, educators and parents discussed the situation quietly with the students, as supporters, politicians and media converged on the school.
The attack on the Jerusalem school, described by parents and teachers as “an island of sanity” and the “holy of holies,” was widely condemned by politicians across the board.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni pledged “zero tolerance” for such acts and said “extremists mustn’t be allowed to set fire to the coexistence that still exists here.” Education Minister Shai Piron urged police to act swiftly to bring “the despicable criminals to justice” and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon called it “an act of terror.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also condemned the attack and pledged firm action against those undermining efforts to restore calm in Jerusalem. “We will not tolerate attacks from any quarter,” he told his cabinet Sunday.
Sobelman is a special correspondent