2010, Oct. 26; The peace process in the Middle East might not be the bearer of good news, but it appears that off camera there is a glimmer of hope when it comes to cooperation in the region. For the past decade, Israeli and Arab students from different countries have been involved in a joint medical program, which understandably has been kept secret.
The first to go public about the project was the BBC network in Arabic, who managed to anger many people in the Arab world. In a TV report broadcasted recently, it was said that this project has been operating for over a decade and is perceived as an academic normalization between Israel and the Arab world.
The project, called 'The NIR School of the Heart', was founded by business women Dr. Judith Richter, also the founder and chief executive officer of Medinol. The school opened back in 1998, allowing Israeli high school students to meet with other students from different Arab countries and acquire medical knowledge, such as learning about heart function and blood vessels. Lectures and workshops are given by scientists and senior doctors from leading universities across the globe.
Each year around 30 Israeli students attend this two-year program, meeting with other students every few months in Israel, Jordan, or Europe, where they study and spend time together.
Richter, who has invested millions in the project already, told the BBC that when people learn to respect their differences it helps them solve their issues and compromise.
Yuval Hilerowicz, a former student of the NIR School, went on to study medicine and is currently serving as a doctor in the IDF. In an interview, he had said that while in the school Israeli and Palestinian students conducted negotiation simulations. "We did not agree on everything," he mentioned, "Unlike what you might think signing a peace treaty is not an easy task".
The simulation results were not that different from real-life negotiations. Hilerowicz said that at the end, both sides could not agree on the core issues, including the future of Jerusalem, borders, refugees, and the Golan Heights. However, he did mention that despite disagreements, some of the students remain friends till today.
Young Arab students who took part in the project have said that meeting their Israeli counterparts was a surprise. Fadi Ziadat, a former student from Amman, Jordan, said that before joining the NIR School he did not know much about Israelis. "I have never spoken to them and I did not know about their habits and traditions," mentioned Ziadat, "but after participating in the project I made many Israeli friends, got to know them and their leaders, and learned about our differences. The experience changed my opinion of them."
'Zionistic and dangerous brainwash'
Unfortunately, not everyone is pleased to learn of such a project. This story has stirred up much anger amongst the "Jordanian Anti-Normalization Committee" organization members. They are fighting to prevent any kind of connection between Jordan and Israel. The organization chairman Bahadi Rafiyah spoke out against the school saying the intent of such a project is not educational or scientific, but only a cover to get people to join hands and coexist.
Rafiyah went on to say that these kinds of programs intended to integrate "the Zionist enemy" in the region and attempt to "reinforce the stance that Israel is a well-known fact in Palestine". He added that academic normalization with Israel is very dangerous since he sees it as an attempt to perform a "Zionistic brainwash".
Rafiyah views the joint discussions, meals, and quality time spent with Israeli and Arab students as an Israeli attempt to show a different side, something he considers to be "very dangerous and even more so when done secretly".