Challenges we face - Hope Flowers School

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Challenges we face

Living in an occupied country with recurring outbreaks of stress, conflict and hardship, we face special challenges, and these are outlined here.
Cultural-political challenges

At Hope Flowers we live in a land where different people's perspectives and positions are insecure and polarised. We are committed to bridging divisions, but this has its complexities.

Hope Flowers once had pupils, teachers and visitors from the Muslim, Christian, Jewish and secular communities. Today the Jews have gone, due to official Israeli policy and the building of the separation wall, and many Christians have gone, due to emigration. The multicultural mix of Hope Flowers has been reduced.

Hope Flowers is not a religious school, though it recognises the importance of faith and human spirit. We help students understand other people who have different beliefs from their own.

In a conflict zone, when the heat rises, things get very polarised. It's not easy to build bridges. Israelis regard all Palestinians as a threat, and some Palestinians are anxious about other Palestinians collaborating with the enemy or weakening resistance to the Israeli occupation. At Hope Flowers we stand in the middle, attracting suspicion from either side.

Yet we work to build a culture of peace and shared understanding, acting as a foundation for long-lasting resolution of conflict in our land.

Internal Palestinian politics

In Palestine there is a big debate between those who support negotiation with Israelis and those who support resistance. The former feel that conflict has led Palestinians to too much loss and suffering, and that negotiation is the only effective way to end it. However, 25 years of negotiation have led nowhere for us.

Those who support resistance believe the Israelis do not want peace, negotiations don't work and that Palestinians should never yield to Israeli pressure. Noble talk of peace, non-violence and coexistence imply lying down and accepting Israeli force - and they have a point, since Palestinians have worked hard to comply with peace agreements and scale down violence, with little result. Israelis meanwhile have taken Palestinian land, built settlements and controlled our lives in myriad ways.

At times the school gets into trouble for what it does. Sometimes we have had to pull back from activities such as school visits to meet Israeli schoolchildren, or inviting rabbis to visit us. We prefer to protect the school from risk than to attract reprisals for what we do.

But we know that, in the longterm, peace will come. Understanding and neighbourliness will come with it. So we never teach the children to feel bad toward people on the 'other side'. We teach them to build up their belief in themselves as Palestinians, without looking on others as 'the enemy'. 

But they need also to be astute: Palestinians are mostly peace-loving, yet we must teach children to be astute and discerning so that they are not exploited or violated by Israelis. It's a delicate balance.

'The clash of civilisations'

In the last 25 years friction has arisen between Muslims and the West. This is awkward for Hope Flowers since we seek support and funding in the West. It can be difficult for Westerners to understand why we don't go to Israelis with open arms to embrace them in peace. It simply doesn't work like that. Some Westerners want us to preach anti-terror ideas or talk about counter-radicalisation - but this can lose us friends and support in our own country.

Some Westerners suspect Muslims of being backward, or that we are all potential terrorists. Yet Muslims have work, families, houses, cars and bills to pay, just like anyone. Bethlehem is also one of Palestine's most peaceful and tolerant towns.

Palestine is one of the most free-thinking countries of the Muslim world. Modernity and tradition mix freely, and people here are generally neither fundamentalist nor conservative in their views.

If these questions interest you, we encourage you to visit Bethlehem and Hope Flowers. Visiting us can help you understand the conditions we live and work under.
Poverty and disadvantage

Conditions in Palestine have been difficult. Significant poverty, unemployment and disadvantage affect Hope Flowers economically, presenting it with big social and educational issues to overcome. It also gives the school it its reason-for-being - we are here to heal the wounds and consequences of conflict and hardship.

Hope Flowers is dedicated to overcoming disadvantage, through offering scholarships, school meals, empowerment courses for women and refugees, and also in psycho-social terms, through counselling, self-improvement programs and other measures. One of our mottos is every act of violence starts with an unhealed wound - and we work to heal those wounds and remove the causes of future conflict.

This is double-edged, because we also have to teach Palestinians how to stand up for themselves non-violently.

The school is independent, finding its own funding and support - it does not receive regular support from government, NGOs or religious organisations. Thanks to this, we have developed unique and pioneering educational methods, but it has disadvantages, since we must continually raise funds to support the school, and this funding can fluctuate and disappear over time.

We operate on a low budget. Our staff work with us because they are dedicated, not because of salary incentives. The management does not earn high salaries either - though some Palestinians believe we do. This financial stringency creates difficulties but it is a strength because we can show people how to achieve big things on small budgets. We survive through determination and commitment.

Some of the school's income comes from modest school fees and other local income sources (such as sales of crops from our mini-farm, hire of our facilities, or training courses), but this depends on the state of the Palestinian economy at any time.

The Palestinian economy is very much affected by Israel and international bodies and it can go into a tailspin quite easily. At Hope Flowers  our income and funding is insecure too. This is challenging. We seek consistent, reliable funding to ensure that we can continue in our work longterm - especially when times are tough. It is always painful to reduce activities due to funding shortages - especially because many of the schoolchildren are poor.

Irregular funding

The school survives on the generosity of funding trusts who often finance specific programs on a year-by-year basis. When funders decide to reduce their involvement or withdraw, often for reasons of their own, we have to find funding elsewhere, or do without.

Also, applying for funds is a lottery, demanding much effort and resulting in many failures.

Our dream is to have consistent, ongoing funding. We appreciate your support in finding new funding sources, since this is a regular cause of concern to us.

Outbreaks of violence

Hope Flowers has survived two intifadas (uprisings) and more recently we have seen the Arab revolutions and, in 2015, our own uprising of young people has taken place. These aren't Muslim extremists - they're frustrated youngsters who feel they have no future.

Our capacity to survive has become an asset. It has enabled us to show people how to create good results out of challenging situations.

During times of conflict we need your steady support. Sometimes we need you to make representations on our behalf in your own countries, to help us through difficult issues. One issue which returns again and again is the risk of demolition of the school or the neighborhood around it. Thus far, with the help of international supporters, we have avoided demolition.
Educational establishments worldwide face many challenges, but ours have a unique flavour. The school is located on the frontline, right next to the ugly separation wall dividing Israelis from Palestinians, and overlooking an expanding Israeli settlement called Efrat. Actually, we are in 'Area C' - a Palestinian area controlled by the Israeli army.

We appreciate your understanding of the problems we face. These keep us on our toes, causing us to innovate and turn adversity to advantage. Through our training courses we seek to spread this knowledge for application across Palestinian society and in other countries and conflict zones.
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