Student Kater-al-Nada scanned the other fourth graders on the theater steps in the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem. Spotting her newfound friend Shachar, her face beamed.

''Ta'ali ou'di Janbi,'' Kater al-Nada mouthed in Arabic, ''Come sit next to me.''

Shachar, who knew five words of Arabic but not those uttered by Kater al-Nada, nodded. Shachar dropped into the seat. They exchanged smiles.

Two exuberant 10-year-old girls choosing to sit next to each other shouldn't be a big deal. But Kater al-Nada is a Muslim Palestinian whose family lives under Israeli governance in the Beit Hanina area of East Jerusalem, and Shachar is an Orthodox Jewish Israeli who lives in West Jerusalem.

Although eight miles separates their neighborhoods, they're light years away geopolitically.

They don't share a religion. Nor a language. Nor a nationality. They live in worlds that think of each other primarily in derogatory terms and hold deep grievances.

Neither Kater al-Nada nor Shachar had ever before had the opportunity to meet someone her age from the other side.

They were participating in The Image of Abraham, a bring that brings together Jewish Israeli and Palestinian 10-year-olds for four weekly visits to the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem.

A party at the end of the program includes parents. Kader al-Nada joined her classmates from Beit Hanina Coeducational Elementary School; Shachar joined her classmates from Efrata, a public elementary school in the Israeli National-Religious school system. Both schools are part of Israel's Education Ministry.

In The Image of Abraham, the act of reaching-across-the-divide is subtle, even secondary. ''Peace'' and ''coexistence'' aren't mentioned.

Learning is threaded through art, history, religion and play time.

This entry point is less charged than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the museum's Arabic department director, Tareq Samman, has said. And 10-year-olds seem to be mature enough in terms of social skills and sufficiently receptive to differences.

The program has played out amid the grievances and distrust still held by each side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Since the program's inception in 1998, about 6,300 Jewish Israeli and Palestinian students from greater Jerusalem have had the Image of Abraham experience, in which, in which they are assigned to commingled groups led by a Jewish Israeli and Palestinian guide in both Hebrew and Arabic.

But numbers can be a misleading metric for the program's success.

In the words of Amanda Weiss, a director emeritus of the museum, the program ''has been impacted by the political events around us - always - but remarkably, it generally strengthened the commitments of the parents and the school body to participate when things were particularly stressful around us.''

The World Students Society thanks author Ruth Ebenstein.


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