Learning has no borders at Arab-Israeli clinic

taibe, israel | The drive along the Green Line is not very green.

On the road to the Israeli Arab city of Taibe, rocky stubble and low berms bump up against the border between the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel. The boxy architecture of the Arab villages is broken only by the graceful spires of minarets.

It doesn’t look or feel like the world’s greatest powder keg. But it is.

In Taibe, young Israeli Arab mothers come to the well-baby clinic Tipot Chalav (Hebrew for “A Drop of Milk”) funded largely by the government and staffed by Arabs and Jews. Mothers have been bringing their children here for years, mostly for immunizations, checkups and other essential pediatric services.

Now these women have access to more at Tipot Chalav: parent-training classes to help them cope with the stresses of child-rearing. These classes, along with an indoor gym and outdoor playground, were funded in partnership with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Ashalim, a private, Israeli-based social services institution.

On their recent mission to Israel, members of the federation’s Israel and overseas committee visited the clinic to meet their partners and beneficiaries face to face.

A recent autumn rain had left the town of 30,000 wet and muddy, and more rain threatened as the San Francisco contingent rolled through alleyways too narrow for a tour bus. The village mayor, a serious young man who spoke perfect Hebrew, greeted the arrivals, as did a complement of other local dignitaries.

It was the middle of Ramadan, so the traditional Arab welcoming feast was absent. In its place, were bottled water and plastic cups. But the welcome was warm, though a bit strained as any meet-and-greet between Arabs and Jews might be.

Bilingual Arab nurses run the clinic. In fact, with all conversation conducted in Hebrew, visitors noticed immediately the bicultural nature of life in Taibe. The mothers — covered in traditional Muslim head scarves and speaking Arabic among themselves — were after all Israelis, too. But they do not see Israel as having a stellar record when it comes to caring for all its citizens equally.

Aleeya, a young mother of three, told the visitors: “There was no places for kids before, no playground, nowhere to learn life skills.”

That changed with the launch of the new program. Said Dina Lipsky, a project manager for Ashalim, “Parents come in to work on parenting skills, while the kids come in to learn all kinds of things.”

While mothers take the courses, local volunteers play with the children on colorful climbing equipment, something Americans take for granted, but which is rare in Arab culture.

“Arab women are required to take care of home and kids,” says Lipsky. “Kids are expected to be very quiet and still. It’s not acceptable to go into someone’s house and play.”

Little by little, at least in Taibe, parents are opening up to new and progressive ideas when it comes to child-rearing. “My 4-year-old never went to bed,” recalls Aleeya, “but I learned how to set limits. Now we have a nighttime routine. I read to the children, and they all go to bed.”

At the end of the briefing, visitors from the Bay Area helped paint a wall just outside the clinic. Giggling Arab mothers, their children and Jewish Bay Area visitors donned gloves, wielded paintbrushes and together helped brighten up an already beautiful place.

This must be what peace looks like.

Dan Pine accompanied the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Israel and overseas committee on a recent trip to Israel.

Related Story: JCF’s excellent adventure

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.