As Renewed Fighting Grips Gaza, IFI Gains Foothold in Israel-Palestine

Editor’s Note: Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, just returned from a trip to the treacherous Middle East to promote Forgiveness Education. Here is his report:

After three grueling years of trying to break into the Middle East with forgiveness education, we have finally succeeded. 

We are now in the Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI) in Ibillin, Israel, about 12  miles from Nazareth and 20 miles from the Lebanon border.

The Mar Elias Schools were started over 30 years ago for integrated education between Arab Christian and Muslim students. The ethos of the school is respect, tolerance, and compassion. About 55% of the families in this region are below the poverty level. The founder of these schools, Elias Chacour, is a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

The head principal, who runs the high school, is ready to implement forgiveness education this fall in grades 5 through 12 (similar grading system to US schools). The English teachers will provide the instruction.

In the meantime, we will be busy translating the teacher curriculum guides for grades 1-4 into Arabic so we can implement the forgiveness program with these grades in the 2015-2016 school year. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs are still under discussion. There are no English courses from pre-kindergarten through grade 4 so all of the instruction will be in Arabic.

The plan is to implement this forgiveness education program only in the Mar Elias Schools for the 2014-2015 academic year and then make plans (for 2015-2016) to fold in a nearby Jewish school to implement forgiveness education simultaneously with the Mar Elias Schools so that they can have cross-community dialogue among teachers and students on the topic of forgiveness.

In the 2014-2015 academic year, we will conduct Skype sessions focused on forgiveness education with the 11th and 12th grade Israeli students communicating with Edgewood High School students in Madison and students in Monrovia, Liberia, Africa.

I will return to the Mar Elias schools in January, 2015 to continue discussions with the principals who are anxious to expand forgiveness education in the coming years.

By the way, the first floor of the Mar Elias High School is a bomb shelter—required by the Israeli government. There are thick metal casings around the windows and heavily reinforced concrete. Can you imagine attending a school with a mandated bomb shelter in it?

Footnote: During his time in Israel, Dr. Enright was accompanied by Rev. Joan Deming, Executive Director of Pilgrims of Ibillin, a US not-for-profit organization that strategically and financially supports the Mar Elias Educational Institutions. Rev. Deming helped open doors at the MEEI by introducing Dr. Enright to principals and administrators. When not in Israel, Rev. Deming resides in Madison.

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