How Jewish and Arab students at one of Israel’s few mixed schools prepare for peace, by simply listening

Jerusalem — Every morning before she goes to school, 12-year-old Dariel Bardach-Goldstein tapes a number to her chest. It marks the days since her cousin was taken hostage by Hamas.

Dariel campaigns almost daily with her mother Rebecca, demanding a deal to bring the dozens of Israelis seized by Hamas during the group’s Oct. 7 terrorist attack back home. But it hasn’t been easy.

In the days immediately after the attack, Rebecca thought her daughter needed help.

Dariel Bardach-Goldstein tapes the number 202 to her chest before heading to school in Jerusalem, representing how many days her cousin has been held hostage by Hamas. 

CBS News

“I spoke with her teacher right away, and we agreed that she should meet with the school counselor — and the school counselor is Arab, and I don’t know her,” recalled the mother. “Is that complicated? Will it be complicated?”

Dariel goes to one of only six schools in Israel that is not segregated into Arab and Jewish students.

“That night, the school counselor wrote to me,” recalled Rebecca. “She said: “My heart is with you.'”

“It was like this wave of feeling felt and heard and seen, and completely secure and confident,” she said.

At the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem, children learn both Arabic and Hebrew. History is taught by two teachers — one Jewish and one Palestinian.

Hanin Dabash also sends her children to the school. She told CBS News it gives them the opportunity to say what they think — to talk about their fears, their future, their misunderstanding of what is happening… I think the kids are normalized to listen to each other.”

“We have family members of students in Gaza that were killed. We have teachers that send their children to the army in Gaza,” said Principal Efrat Meyer. “And we pay attention to everyone.”

Efrat Meyer, the principal of the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem, speaks with CBS News at the elementary school – one of only six in Israel that does not segregate Arab and Jewish students.

CBS News

Meyer, who is Jewish, is in charge of the remarkable experiment. She told CBS News that the laser focus on simply listening to one another stems from several core goals.

“We want our students first not to be racists,” she said. “To acknowledge the different histories and the sufferings of both cultures, and we know that students that graduate from here behave differently in society later.”

To get them to that point, no topic can be taboo.

“We talk about our fear,” explained Deputy Principal Engie Wattad, “and when we see the other side understanding and putting themselves in our shoes… it’s deeply comforting.”

For students like Dariel, that means having difficult conversations.

“I’ve learned that it’s hard for us to speak, because a lot of us are scared to share our thoughts,” she admitted. “But we need to.”

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Principal Meyer doesn’t attempt to portray her school’s work — or any aspect of life in the heart of the troubled Middle East — as easy, but she said it helps to know that she and her colleagues are working to create a brighter future.

“The situation in Israel, it’s not easy,” she said. “I think that it’s easier when you know that you are part of the solution… It’s easier that you know that what you do now affects the lives and souls of students. It’s easier when you talk about it, when you expand your knowledge. I find it harder to be outside of this school right now.”

She knows peace may be far away for her country and for all of her students and their families. But they are prepared.

Students are seen during a class at the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem, Israel.

CBS News

“When peace will be here, for us, it’s not going to be a big change,” Meyer said. “We have the skills, we practice it. We’ll be able to teach other people how to do it.”

Until then, she and her colleagues at Hand in Hand will continue arming their students with a weapon more powerful than guns or bombs: Empathy.

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