School for Change
School for Change
Students from hostile sides of the Middle East learn and live together at Israel's Mediterranean International School. Their first lesson in preparation for a complex and interconnected world: trying to understand each other.
At the entrance to the Eastern Mediterranean International School, EMIS, visitors are greeted by a line of flags. It’s rare to see the Palestinian flag hoisted proudly in Israel. Here it is flown side by side with Israel’s, as well as those of Albania, Canada, Romania and other countries. Each flag represents a student’s home country.
Almost every aspect of the school is exceptional for the Israeli education system. Most notable is its internationalism, but the campus’ relaxing shape, unfenced and surrounded by green fields, is similarly untypical. 67 students from 30 countries are currently studying here, working towards an International Baccalaureate high school diploma. Along the fifth of the students who are Israeli, there are also students from the Palestinian Authority and other Arab countries, who have moved to Israel to live and study in the boarding school together.
Despite its unusual approach, the school has received the blessing of the Israeli Ministry of Education. This is astonishing, as the Israeli education system is otherwise fundamentally separated. Secular Jews study apart from national-religious and orthodox Jewish children, although all of them speak Hebrew. Arabic-speaking students learn separately as well, and Muslims study apart from Christians, Druzes and Bedouins. Each educational track has its own curriculum. EMIS is one of very few islands of coexistence in an otherwise segregated education system.
International, critical, united
At the school we meet Yuval, Director of the program “Entrepreneurial leadership, Sustainability, Peace”, and Rachel, the school’s Development Director. Yuval tells us that “This school is the first in Israel to be international in the full sense of the word – it has students and teachers from all over the world, and the curriculum is international. The students are not children of diplomats or business people, they all come here especially to study.” He adds that all of the students receive generous scholarships, some up to the full amount of the tuition.
“The composition of the studies will be different for every student”, Yuval explains. “The studies are based on personal research and on presenting a range of perspectives and having critical discussions about them.” The curriculum also includes lessons about peace and sustainability, and “Israeli teachers teach side by side with teachers from the Philippines, the United States and Beit Hanina”, Yuval adds. Rachel points out that “one of the problems in Israel is that we don’t know each other. Here, people learn to live together.”
EMIS is a realization of the vision of Oded Rose: to establish an international school in Israel based on the educational model of the United World Colleges (UWC) movement. As a young man, Rose studied at a UWC in North America. Acquainted with the spirit and vision of the movement, he started hatching the idea of EMIS. Later, as an alumnus of an elite American business school and throughout his 30-year career as a hedge fund financier and high-tech entrepreneur, he maintained and promoted his idea until it was finally brought to life during the 2014-2015 academic year. Rose is now EMIS’ acting C.E.O.
To understand the different sides, to change perceptions
During lunch, we meet a few students. Maria, a Romanian, relates her experiences: “We’re learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, she tells us. “At first the Israeli students declared, ‘If you don’t live here and were not raised here then you don’t know what’s really happening and you cannot present your opinion.’ I explained that I want to learn about what’s going on in the region and that’s why I’m here now. An answer like theirs does not allow me to deeply understand the different sides. I think they understood that and learned from it.”
Maayan, who’s been studying at “normal” Israeli schools for most of her life, highlights what is special about the education she is receiving at EMIS. “In the Israeli education system there is a lot of emphasis on preparation for the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] service and on holocaust studies”, she elaborates. “Israeli students get used to live with the permanent threat of annihilation and with the feeling that they have no choice but to protect the country. When I studied history here at EMIS from different perspectives I found out that besides of the Holocaust there were more genocides, like the Armenian holocaust for example, and that also today there are genocides taking place all over the world.”
The first year of EMIS started right at the close of a war between Israel and the Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and this war echoed between the Israeli and Palestinian students – an encounter which could hardly take place anywhere else. Maayan tells us: “I asked the Palestinian students why rockets are continuously shot from Gaza. They answered that the fact that it ruined the summer for the Israelis already makes it worthwhile, even if no one was killed. I don’t think they really believe that, but it comes from their education.” She admits: “Just like my education taught me to defend the country, even at the price of hurting and killing people. Here, because we meet and study together, our perceptions change.”
Reshaping the purpose of an educational institution
“What I want people to know about our school”, educator Yuval concludes, “is that it is a reformulation of what a school looks like in the 21st century.” Success in implementing and promoting the aspired change would be, that “when you walk in here, you ask yourself ‘how hasn't anyone done this before?’” Yuval also emphasizes the school’s philosophy “that the students get the opportunity to set up a social network – to contribute to communities that desire to share EMIS' new and innovative social platform.” Following their graduation, EMIS students can join a voluntary one-year gap program. The school itself also functions as a platform – in Yuval’s words: “Our vision is that the building next to the school will become a centre for mediation and peaceful conflict resolution. Our desire is to reach a point where we host national and international conferences – everything we can do to take this school’s proclamation outside.”
All these endeavours illustrate the connections between sustainability on the one hand and “glocal” citizenship on the other – all intertwined with social responsibility, social involvement and skills suited to the global age. The Eastern Mediterranean International School has just set out on its grand mission: to raise awareness of shared resources and sustainability challenges, of conflict resolution and global citizenship. Its objective is to offer a communal framework for people and communities from hostile sides in the Middle East. By treating this subject actively, the school is reshaping the purpose of an educational institution. As Yuval phrases it: “EMIS prepares its students for the complex and interconnected world in which we live.”