When Zehava Kaufman flew to Washington a few days ago with two other Israeli teachers, Yasser Arafat was alive. As she returned to her country yesterday, his body was laid to rest.
The Palestinian leader's death gave new urgency to Kaufman's purpose: to remind Americans that the students and teachers of Israel hope and pray for peace even as they gird for terror and war.
"Our children go into the army, but they don't want to fight," Kaufman, a psychology teacher, said yesterday to students at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville.
The three teachers from Ami Asaf School in Bet Berl, Israel, came to the United States to film a television ad for the Israel Project, a nonprofit group in the District, and to visit the private school. The ad will air in the Washington area on three cable news networks until Thursday, said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the group's founder.
Ami Asaf School, a government-run institution for students in grades seven through 12, sits a few hundred yards from the West Bank, behind a steel fence and layers of armed security, the teachers said. Threats routinely prompt lockdowns of the campus until late in the evening. Two years ago, a bomb planted on the grounds failed to detonate only because a secretary found it the morning students returned from Passover and alerted authorities, who disarmed it.
"I don't think people can remain sane living in that situation for a very long time," Kaufman said. "I don't remember the last time I went into class and started talking about psychology right away. Every day in Israel, something happens."
Kaufman and her colleagues, social sciences teacher Yael Barkol and English teacher Barbara Ori, spoke to 40 students from a group of nearly 100 who plan to spend one semester studying in Israel after graduating in January. They marveled at the plush interiors and comparatively casual security at the school, where in September, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announced that the state would spend federal homeland security money to safeguard Jewish schools.
The teachers weren't the only ones preaching peace yesterday. In Ramallah, West Bank, mourners fired guns into the air as Arafat's body was buried. At the White House, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged Palestinians to seize the moment and resolve their differences with Israel.
"We've been talking about whether [Arafat] will be remembered as the father of terror, or whether he'll be remembered some other way," Daniel Messeca, 17, a senior, said after the morning session with the Israeli teachers. "The door is open for more peace talks, so I think mostly good can happen now."
The Israeli teachers described how their campus gets through a day after a terrorist attack. On such days, teachers give students time to vent their feelings before they move on to academics.
Recently, after a particularly horrible wave of attacks, "I went into class and there were no words. We just hugged each other," Ori said.
Last month, an attack in Egypt wounded the younger sister of a 12th-grader at the school. He returned to an unprecedented outpouring of affection and grief, the teachers said.
"Can you imagine a school of 1,500 kids running to hug him all at once? Everyone was standing there, crying," Kaufman said.
The teachers said their school educates Israeli children in Islamic culture; Arabic language study is required.
One student at Ami Asaf whose name was not given described the contradiction between the lessons of peace and the life of war in a letter to the American teens: "On the one hand, we are educated for values of peace," the student wrote. "But on the other hand, we experience daily terror in our country."
The Israel Project used the event to contrast Israel's lessons with the Palestinian curriculum.
Too many Palestinian teachers incite hatred toward Israel, Mizrahi said. "Peace comes often from things as simple as what children are taught in school. . . . Until the Palestinian children are taught peace, we can't truly have peace."
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in the District, countered that Israeli educators are just as guilty of teaching violence and hate in the classroom. One method, he said, is to take violent passages from the Bible and teach them as historical fact.
"My point," he said, "is that there's extremism on both sides."