Folding Together


2004-5 Major Project

In February 2004, the Israeli Origami Center received a grant of US$81,760 from the Grassroots Development Fund of the Foreign Ministry of Japan.

The grant was specifically to run 4 'Folding Together' courses of 12 meetings, each meeting to last for two and a half hours. Each course was for 20 Israeli and 20 Palestinian children aged 9-12. A Community Center in Givat Tsarfatit (French Hill) in Jerusalem was chosen as the venue, being symbolically on the border between the two sides. The courses were to be completed within one calendar year. The Project was monitored locally by a non-diplomatic representative of the Foreign Ministry of Japan, working out of the Embassy of Japan in Tel Aviv.

The form and content of the Project were based closely on the 2002 Pilot, though many changes were made. It was the success of that Pilot that ensured the success of the application for this major Project.

This complex, year-long Project was a major commitment of the Team's time and emotional energy. It is impossible within the limited ambitions of this web site to give full details of all the Project meetings, all the difficult religious, political, educational and emotional issues that arose and how attending the Project affected the lives of the children and the Team. Instead, here is a potted account -- not too sanitized! -- of what happened.

Statements about the Major Project written by the Team may be read here.


Participating Schools

The children from the Israeli side came mainly from the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo. Over the years, Gilo had suffered many attacks and was known to be very anti-Palestinian. It was felt that if the Project was to have any value it should involve the children of Gilo, rather than the children of left-wing, liberal families from other Jerusalem suburbs. Many families were initially reluctant to send their children to the Project. However, as time passed, they became passionately pro-Project, having seen the positive changes it was creating in their childen.

The children from the Palestinian side came mainly from an all-girl school in the Old City. This had the effect of creating a potential imbalance of the sexes, so we were careful to invite boys from several other schools. Sometimes, the girls brought their brothers or cousins.

All the children who participated did so with the written permission of their families and the full support of their schools.


Travel to and from the Project Venue

The children travelled in hired busses, directly from their schools to the project venue. An assistant member of the teaching team travelled with them to check that everyone had caught the bus and to ensure good behaviour. The Project meetings were generally held directly after the end of the school day.

When the Project meeting had concluded, the children returned to their schools by bus, again with their teaching assistant.

The assistants were also invaluable in conveying last-minute messages to the Project team from the schools, identifying problems with the children and notifying the team of any transport problems or traffic delays en route to the Project venue. They were an essential conduit between the Project team, the children and their schools.


Arrival at the Project Venue

When they arrived, the children of the 2 sides always shared pizza together. This was primarily because they arrived hungry after the end of the school day and needed relaxing before they could concentrate inside the origami class. It was also an invaluable opportunity to allow the children to mix socially, outside the project meeting room. After a few meetings, games of football would develop, or groups from the 2 sides would mix and sit together, eating. The cost of the pizza and soft drink for 40 children (plus the teaching team) was a major and controversial expense of the Project, but one which we felt was completely justified.


At the First Meeting of a Course

The first meeting of a course was always a little tense, so we allowed the children of the 2 sides to sit where they chose.

We distributed A4 plastic wallets into which the children put:

•  a free packet of origami paper
•  a pen
•  a notebook to use as a diary of the project

As the project developed, the wallet would also be used to keep letters for parents and a growing collection of models. Each week the wallets were taken home and brought the following week. Remarkably, no wallet was ever lost (!), a measure of the commitment of the children to the project.

The children were also given name badges. Each child wrote his name in his language (Hebrew or Arabic), then had to ask a child from the other side to write the name in his/her own language. Names were also written in English and Japanese (representatives from the Japanese Embassy were usually present at a first meeting). This simple activity was always extraordinarily successful, allowing the children to mix freely to find out who was who. The novelty of seeing one's name in 4 languages was of intense interest.

The origami activity at the first meeting was usually the 'Flik-Flak Domino Rally' -- a kind of origami Domino Rally. The children learnt the simple origami model, then 2 arbitrary teams were formed to carefully line up the origami dominos into 2 lines. The competition -- such as it was -- was to see which team could form the longest unbroken chain of tumbling dominos. It was always a rowdy and good-humoured contest, sending the children home from their first meeting feeling happy and wanting to return.


The Meeting Room

After the first meeting, the children of the 2 sides were carefully seated Israeli - Palestinian - Israeli - Palestinian around 3 sides of a square, seated at tables. The teacher stood at the fourth side to teach. The main teachers were Paul (teaching in English) and Miri (teaching in Hebrew). All spoken instructions were translated into Hebrew or Arabic, and often also into English. This might have become a slow or confusing process, but it worked quickly and very well.

Miri, Paul and Abeer were helped by the teaching assistants, who had previously travelled to the venue on the busses with the children. They would assist the children to fold, or stand quietly at the sides of the room if they were not needed.

To gain the attention of the children, the team would count '1...2...3' in Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese and English. The children would join in, becoming absolutely quiet and attentive (usually!) at the conclusion of the counting.

Sometimes, the tables would be re-arranged or removed, so that the children could work in groups or work on the floor.


Origami Activities

The Project focused on the making of origami models in what we described as 'a Japanese atmosphere'. Many of the models were traditional Japanese or of Japanese subjects, such as a Japanese Boy and a Japanese Girl.

The models were carefully selected to introduce elements of interactivity between the children of the 2 sides. These included origami games, puzzles, puppets, portraits, collaborative collages and the co-operative assembly of units.

Each group made a garland of 1000 origami cranes, as a symbol of its positive hopes for the future. This was a major project, taking several meetings and much folding at home to achieve.

Our most successful sessions were not when the children were sat learning models as individuals in a big group, but when they were working together with a partner from the other side or in small groups, often with the tables re-arranged or removed. At first, we thought this relatively rowdy environment was counter-productive, but we saw that it allowed for greater communication between the children of the 2 sides ...which, after all, was the primary purpose of the Project. As the Project developed, we worked more and more of these informal sessions into the courses.

The fourth and final course brought together selected children who had participated in the first 3 courses. In this new course, the children made a lot of high-level origami for exhibition and began the first steps to becoming origami teachers themselves in future Folding Together projects. The children were selected not because they showed great talent for origami (after a course, most of the children were pretty good), but because they had benefited the most from the previous course and had something to contribute. The passion of this final group for their meetings and for origami was extraordinary and touching.

Incidents of Cursing and Disrespect

There were occasionally incidents of verbal abuse, usually by the Israeli children towards the Palestinian children. Sometimes, these incidents were racist, but more often were incidents of one child being annoyed with another and expressing this in unacceptable language.

In all cases, the class was immediately stopped and the incident discussed by the teaching team and by the children. In these discussions, the children expressed their opinions of the incident -- the Team did not preach or manoeuvre the discussion to a pre-determined answer. It was generally found that the cursing was based on a misunderstanding. Somewhat embarrassed to have been the focus of attention, the children involved in the incident would sit down, often with a new bond of friendship between them.

On one occasion, an Israeli cursed a Palestinian girl as a 'Fatma' a girl's name in Arabic, used in Hebrew as a curse. She was very upset. The group discussed the issue. The Israeli children learnt that Fatma was the daughter of the prophet Mohammed and was a Holy name to Moslems. We discussed other Moslem and Jewish Holy names, and found many of the children in the room had these names. With this discussion, the children learnt to respect the names of the children of the other side, and no more incidents of name calling were ever heard. That day, the discussion was more important than the origami.


'Miss Miri' and 'Miss Abeer' as Role Models

When Miri or Abeer was teaching, or was talking to the group, the other would stand next to her to translate. This teamwork between 2 people with absolute respect for each other, and who regarded each other as their equal, became a very important role model for the children. Many children wrote in their diaries 'I want to be like Miss Miri and Miss Abeer'. This equal partnership between an Israeli and a Palestinian was unusual for the children to see, and had great meaning for them. It was an aspect of the Project that we did not understand at the beginning, but in time we came to realise the importance of the team as role models.

The relationship between Paul and Fadi, the male Palestinian teaching assistant, also had great meaning for the children.


Group Final Parties  

Each of the 4 groups concluded their course with an exhibition and a large party for the children, their families and invited dignitaries from the Japanese Embassy, except for the second group, when no party was held due to a period of mourning in the Palestinian community following the recent death of Yasser Arafat.

These parties were considered essential to conclude each group. They enabled the children to say 'good bye' to each other, and involved the families, schools and the Japanese Embassy in the project

The parties were fun and frantic, but also highly charged with feeling. Emotional speeches were given by the children, their parents, the Folding Together teaching team, school Principals and dignitaries from the Japanese Embassy, about how the project had successfully brought the children of the two communities together to get to know each other and to respect each other. At one party, we asked the families of the two sides to fold together in pairs and were surprised by the enthusiasm everyone showed for this 'get to know you' game.

The final party at the end of the project was a huge party for all the children from all the groups, and their families.

For images of the parties, click here.


Does it Last?

The valid point is sometimes made to us that while the Project is very worthwhile and apparently successful, the real test is what happens to the children after the Project concludes -- are the new-found attitudes of respect and equality maintained, or do the children revert back to fear, mistrust and disrespect of the other side?

We would not pretend to offer a definitive answer, but there are positive signs that the new-found attitudes will remain.

We still receive letters and calls from parents of the two sides imploring us to continue the Project. They tell us that the respect for the other side learnt by their child in the Project, is continuing.

The schools who sent children to the Project tell us that attitudes towards the other side have changed. The Principal of Gilo Aleph school told us that from being a very anti-Arab school, the school is now respectful and curious about Arab culture. She remarked that the children who attended the Project were the envy of the school.

When we brought the children of the 2 sides together 6 months after the end of the Project to visit the Agmon Hahula, they spent 6 hours together in a bus (3 hours in each direction). The supervising adults on the bus were touched by the consideration the children showed for each other, how they folded quietly together and how they enjoyed being together again. Clearly, their mutual respect had not diminished.

Of course, we have no way to see into the future. But we do know that when many projects that have brought together Israeli and Palestinian children have failed to improve relations between the sides, the 'Folding Together' project has achieved passionate support from the children, schools and families for its successful work. From that we must derive great hope that the Project will have a lasting effect.


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