Galilee, like much of ancient Israel, was at the crossroads of the Fertile Crescent. Not everyone came in peace. The Babylonians, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks trampled the region on horseback. And with swords.
Last month we learned of another “invader,” this time from America, from Texas. This time, they’re not coming with knives in their satchels. Instead, they’re coming with a fig leaf, big Texan smiles, and lots of money.
Texas A&M, the 4th largest university in America is coming to Nazareth in Galilee. Their mission: to build a “Peace Campus” in the Arab town. Texas A&M will join forces with the one and only Arab college in Israel: Nazareth Academic Institute.
The project is the brainchild of Texas A&M’s chacellor John Sharp and the Texas governor and former Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry. Christians United for Israel Pastor from San Antonio, Texas also “lobbied” for Nazareth, a town where Jesus grew up.
They’ve already built an American university elsewhere in the Middle East, in Qatar, in the Persian Gulf. Now they’re bringing their science and research branch to Nazareth. It’s not going to be as big as the “mothership” university in Texas (1/2 the area of Tel Aviv!), but the modest start is drawing attention from many educators and hands-on involvement from Israel’s president, Shimon Peres.
Simon Peres wants to be remembered as the advocate for peace. It follows his recent ambitions to foster cooperation between Jews and Arabs in Galilee. And the Americans are coming with $70,000,000 in their briefcases to help build the new campus.
Israel is 80% Jewish, 20% Arab. The Arabs remained here after the war of 1948. They enjoy equal rights under the law. The official languages are Hebrew and Arabic. All road signs, milk cartons, bags of potato chips carry both languages. However, in elementary school, the Arabs kids, Christian and Moslem, start out in Arabic and eventually they turn to Hebrew as well.
This late start in Hebrew plus their wish to retain their culture are what keeps them from getting ahead in later years. Rarely do they catch up in high school and colleges where all is taught in Hebrew and English. They don’t get the grades. Many fail the universities’ entry exams and end up in quasi-academic schools that churn dubious diplomas. In recent years, Arabs have made great strides in education. They work in hospitals, pharmacies, law firms, social work. They’re narrowing the gap. Somewhat.
So what’s an Arab to do if he can’t get the grades, can’t graduate? Up until recently, not much. As many as 10,000 Israeli Arabs study in Arabic — in Jordan(!). Many trek to study in the West Bank. Thousands more study abroad, in Hungary, in Italy, Bulgaria.
That’s all about to change in 2015, the opening of the “Peace Campus” in Nazareth. The Texas university will award degrees in chemistry, engineering and other science programs.
Classes will be taught by American professors as well as Israeli. Arabs who’d struggled with academic Hebrew will have to deal with another challenge – English.
But everyone’s excited. Israel’s Ministry of Education stresses the American campus will be open to all: Arabs and Jews. Classrooms at Haifa University, Zefat and elsewhere in Israel already cater to both populations.
It’s not a melting pot. Not by a long shot. At best, it will be a salad, with the greens next to each, Jews and Arabs. The salad dressing will be American.
So if you’re near Nazareth in 2015, come see the students: Arabs women wear head covering, Jews wear aviator sunglasses, and Texans wear ten-gallon hats.
What’s next? Texas steakhouses next to Hummus joints?
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com