Secret Israeli-Arab Study Program Sparks Anger
Program had been ongoing for 12 years.
For 12 years, Israeli students have been joining their Arab counterparts worldwide in a joint program for medical studies, it has been revealed, and a Jordanian organization is now referring to the project as “Zionistic brainwashing.”
Understandably, the program has been kept secret.
The first to go public about the project was the BBC network in Arabic, subsequently angering many members of the Arab community worldwide. In a recent news report, it was said that this project has been operating for over a decade, and is perceived by many as “an academic normalization between Israel and the Arab world.”
The project is called The NIR School of the Heart, and was founded by a business woman named Dr. Judith Richter. The school opened in 1998, allowing Israeli high school students to meet with other students from different Arab countries and acquire medical knowledge, like learning about heart function and blood vessels.
According to ynet, the program involves lectures and workshops given by scientists and doctors from leading universities across the world.
Each year, close to 30 Israeli students attend the two-year program, where they meet with other students every few months in Israel, Jordan or Europe, studying and spending time together.
Richter, who has already invested millions of dollars in the venture, told the BBC that when people learn to respect each other's differences, it contributes to solving bigger issues and cross-cultural dilemmas.
Yuval Hilerowicz, a former student at the NIR School, continued on to further his study in medicine, currently serving as a doctor with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
In an interview he stated that while at the school, Israeli and Palestinian students conducted negotiation simulations."We did not agree on everything," he said. "Unlike what you might think signing a peace treaty is not an easy task".
The simulation results, it turns out, were not that different from those of real life talks. Hilerowicz said that at the end, neither side could agree on the core issues, including the future of Jerusalem, Middle East borders, refugees and the Golan Heights.
Interestingly, however, he said that despite not seeing eye-to-eye on many issues, some of the students continue to remain friends to this day.
Not everyone is pleased about the project, however. In fact, it has elicited some controversy among members of the Jordanian Anti-Normalization Committee.
The organization is fighting to prevent any kind of relationship between Jordan and Israel. Bahadi Rafiyah, chairman of the organization, denounced the school charging that the intent of the project is not science or education as it claims, but rather a ruse to get people to “join hands and coexist.”
Rafiyah added that the perceived goal of this program is to integrate "the Zionist enemy" and "reinforce the stance that that Israel is a well known fact in Palestine.” He also stated that academic normalization with Israel is very dangerous, as he sees it as an attempt to conduct a "Zionistic brainwash.”
The overriding concern of those who disagree with the project, then, appears to be that any attempt to collaborate and forge connections between Israelis and Arabs is really just a cover for brainwashing.
It is noteworthy, however, that the project, like a microcosm of the Middle East proper, at least succeeded in maintaining healthy relationships, even where they failed to see eye-to-eye politically.