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.