Ibrahim Issa runs an extraordinary school where he prepares Palestinian students for the peace of the future. Actually, other things were planned for him, but it turned out that it is exactly him who is needed there.
Issa, 46, has laugh lines around his eyes and usually a joke on his tongue. He wears jeans and a casual shirt, unlike many other school principals in the Palestinian territories, many of whom enter their schools only with a tie. 'For me, it's about being myself,' he says, 'giving from the bottom of my heart.' Helping him with his goal of being present is his morning meditation. Early in the morning, when everything is quiet and his five children and wife are still asleep, he comes to himself in thought and then starts into a busy day that often begins at seven and doesn't end until nine or ten in the evening.
Mathematics between shots // School between fronts
Actually, something else was planned for him: After graduating from school, Issa went to the Netherlands to study mechanical engineering. After earning his master's degree, he wanted to continue on this path. But then his father, the founder of Hope Flowers School, died in 2000. Issa returned to support his family. Shortly after, the Second Intifada began and Hope Flowers School was literally caught between the fronts.
On the hill of the settlement of Efrat, just a few hundred meters from the school, there were Israeli military tanks, and behind the school, Palestinian militants were entrenched. Shots were flying while the children were learning math and Arabic. Issa quickly organized a bus to transport the children safely to school and back. Even then, at the beginning of the Second Intifada, in the midst of the gunfire, he understood that in order to achieve something, you also have to talk to the opposing side: Time and again, he negotiated short ceasefires with the Israeli army chief. Often he had only twenty minutes to bring sixty children home in his small bus.
Even when Issa recounts violent events, his features and posture radiate calm. 'I try to bear in mind a phrase from my father,' he nods,
Real leaders can turn negative energy into positive.
Issa nods in the direction of the teacher in the schoolyard holding a spray can: 'She was worried about the cooperation at first, but I don't know how many Israeli Facebook friends she has now.'
Not everyone agrees with what the school director is doing. Nationalist Palestinians launch media campaigns against him and his school, and Palestinian and Israeli security forces interview him on a regular basis. 'Peace work in conflict areas like this one is not easy,' Issa says, looking toward the settlement, 'Many people think I'm naive. They can't understand the difference between cooperation and peace work.' But he is helped by the conviction that he is doing the right thing and has nothing to hide.
Does he sometimes want to quit everything? Issa shakes his head, 'I'm insanely happy to live in this time and place.' He stands at the top of the stairs next to the front door to the school, while students spray paint butterflies on the schoolyard pavement through stencils: 'It's hard to live in conflict zones,' he says: 'But most of all, it's a way to be present and make a meaningful difference.'
About the project
The Hope Flowers School aims to recognize trauma in Palestinian children and help them work through it. In seminars, psychotherapists train teachers and school principals to recognize trauma in children and young adults and understand how to address it in their schools. Many of the projects are carried out jointly with Israeli institutions. In this way, the school aims to educate for a future peace.
About the author
Judith Poppe, born in 1979, lives in Tel Aviv and has been the correspondent for the daily newspaper taz for Israel and the Palestinian territories since 2019. She also reports from the Middle East for various other German-language media. She received her doctorate from the University of Göttingen with a thesis on German-language poetry from Israel.
About the zivik Funding Programme
The zivik Funding Programme supports civil society actors worldwide in preventing crises, transforming conflicts, and creating as well as stabilising peaceful social and political systems. With their commitment, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) complement state actors by providing significant perspectives and activities. The zivik programme is providing funding for international, national or local NGO projects, which are dealing with civil conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts.