Israeli Arab scholar sees education as empowering tool

Dalia Fadila 

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Dalia Fadila, a prominent Israeli Arab college administrator and founder of the Q-schools program for teaching English to Arab youth and adults, sees education as a “tool of empowerment” and as a way for Israeli Arabs to cease seeing themselves as victims.

Fadila is provost and former acting president of Al-Qasemi Academy, an Arab college of education in Israel, and is a highly regarded expert on organizational development. She also is a researcher on American and women’s literature and ethnic studies.

Fadila was in St. Louis last week at the invitation of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. The organization has provided financial and human resources support to her programs, which are based in Tira, Israel. Fadila earned a doctorate in ethnic literature from Bar Ilan University.

The Federation has provided a $15,000 grant to support the Q-School’s Model United Nations program for Jewish and Arab children for neighboring communities with the goal of enhancing their awareness of complex international issues and the value of negotiations over conflict.

While in St. Louis, Fadila met with local Jewish leaders, including fellow educators, Jewish professionals and community volunteers. The Jewish Light caught up with her for an interview last week at the Jewish Federation building.

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Describe the Al-Qasemi Academy in Baqa, of which you are the provost and a former acting president.

It started out as a school for the teaching of Islam and related subjects. It has developed over the years into teaching math and English and computers. It has been recognized by the Ministry of Education in Israel.  I held various positions with the school. I was an English teacher, and then was assistant to the president. I developed the first unit on international affairs for the college. I  used my English and my ability to connect with different cultures in the area of Islamic studies, translating the teachings into English. We teach Islam and other cultures, Islam and the world, and Islam and women, among others. I have used my knowledge and my skills to broaden the scope of the college, and internationalizing it.


How much growth did the college experience?

We went from an enrollment of 200 students to over 1,000 students. What is more important to me is that I was able to encourage Arab and Muslim girls to attend and study science and technology.


Are the Q-Schools part of the college?  

No. The college is entirely separate from the Q-Schools. The Q-Schools is a private educational system that I established in my home town of Tira, and then it got established in other places.  


How would you describe the goal of the Q-Schools?

The whole idea is for the students to develop the language and other skills to promote self-confidence among Arab kids, from preschool to high school. (We want) to bring a new generation of Arab kids who are very confident, who don’t feel they are victims, who don’t feel they need to apologize, and (help them) formulate their plan and their vision and achieve them.


How long have the Q-Schools been in existence?

Since 2007. We started as an afternoon school, and then we set up different branches in different places. Two years ago, we started a preschool and day school, which is the basis for growing the school. We also have programs in the public school system. We also operate programs with Ethiopian kids.


It sounds like the Q-Schools have goals in common with the Seeds of Peace program in the United States, which brings together Jewish Israelis, Palestinians and others for a summer educational experience.

Oh, yes. I love Seeds of Peace, and we do share similar goals. It is a wonderful program. I have met some of the kids and leaders of the program.


Maxine Weil of St. Louis, director of the JOLT Jewish community high school program, along with another local teacher, studied with you in Israel. What did you learn from working with her?

Maxine helped us in so many ways. First of all, she worked with the kids. It was the first time the kids interacted with an experience preschool teacher. They have gained a lot. Second, she trained our teachers. They have learned much from her. She showed an open structuring of the preschool experience. And third, she also spoke with the parents. She met and worked with them and helped them realize the importance of the preschool experience. She connected them to the vision. She did a lot in one week.


The Jewish Federation of St. Louis has provided Q-Schools with a $15,000 grant to support a Model United Nations program. What do you hope the students will take away from this program?

The program has been running for over three or four years now. We started with a group of Arab kids from Q-Schools, training them in participating in negotiations and debating according to the Model U.N. program. Then we connected with a Jewish school in Petach Tikva, and we partnered with them on shared projects. We taught our students and their students to work together, not in competition, but to work  jointly on some global issue, like what to do about Syrian refugees, food issues, Africa, all of the issues that are on a global level. We have other joint Arab-Jewish programs around art and music. Parents love it and are very enthusiastic about it.   


How many kids are involved?

We have 30 Arab kids and 30 Jewish kids.


Is it not sad that such programs do not get the media attention that Mideast politics and violence get?

My efforts are concentrated in my own area. I think if (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) would rise above their egos … there are all kinds of ongoing programs that bring together Arabs and Jews to foster peace. There are some good things going. It is not all black and white.