Israeli Parents Ask: Should We Dismiss The Arab Cleaner At School? : Parallels In response to recent attacks, some Israeli schools have banned Palestinian janitors. One Jerusalem school had lengthy discussions and then took a vote.
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Israeli Parents Ask: Should We Dismiss The Arab Cleaner At School?

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Israeli Parents Ask: Should We Dismiss The Arab Cleaner At School?

Israeli Parents Ask: Should We Dismiss The Arab Cleaner At School?

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The wave of attacks on Israelis this month has prompted some cities to ban Arab janitors from schools when children are present. We bring you now the story of one school in Jerusalem where parents debated about what to do about the Palestinian janitor. Here's reporter Daniel Estrin.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Last week, two Palestinians, armed with a gun and a knife, boarded a bus in Jerusalem, killed two Israelis and injured about 15 other passengers. It happened just 200 feet from the Eitan School, an elementary school with a Jewish religious curriculum. One parent had almost boarded that bus, but at the last minute, his wife, Rebecca Amar, told him to take the car.

REBECCA AMAR: It was like a miracle that he didn't take the bus because it could happen when he was in the bus.

ESTRIN: Immediately after the attack, parents at the school started sending messages on WhatsApp. Mishael Zion, father of a fourth-grader, takes out his cellphone and reads the exchange that went back and forth on the messaging app.

MISHAEL ZION: At 10:15, someone's asking, is everything OK at the school? Immediately, someone else says, what's going on? And someone asks, did you speak to the school? And someone responds and said, I spoke to the school, and everyone is fine.

ESTRIN: Once they knew their kids were safe, the discussion changed direction.

ZION: And then, immediately, by 10:26, less than 10 minutes since the first report, someone says, but we have to kick out the Arab cleaner. And someone says, yes, urgently.

ESTRIN: The Eitan School employs a Palestinian janitor from Jerusalem. Parent Rebecca Amar wanted her fired.

AMAR: She cleaned well, and she always - I am speaking with her. And I smile, and she smile. I mean, we have good relations, but we don't know with her family.

ESTRIN: She worried that a relative or friend of the cleaner could enlist her to do something bad at the school.

AMAR: You have to do all what you can do to be sure that your children will be safe.

ESTRIN: Mishael Zion and other parents wanted the cleaner to stay.

ZION: We want to protect our children, but we also do not want to discriminate against innocent people or to give in to terror by treating other people the way in the past we Jews have been treated against.

ESTRIN: Some parents offered to chaperone the janitor around during school hours. The debate continued. Zion spoke with the principal, who told him the janitor herself was frightened. Both the principal and the cleaner declined to be interviewed, and the cleaner did not want to give her name. But here's what happened next, according to Mishael Zion. The principal took the cleaner around to each classroom and gave this message.

ZION: At a time like this, in a Jewish religious school, what we as religious people do is we try and see the other person for who they are and for the image of God that's in them. And in that way, we employ the image of God that's within us.

ESTRIN: Zion says he and other parents were moved. That night, the PTA voted 10 to 4 to keep the cleaner and let her work during school hours. Some parents are now petitioning City Hall to overturn that decision. But Rebecca Amar conceded gracefully.

AMAR: On one side, I was happy that there was very respect of this person because she's a person, OK. She's a human.

ESTRIN: The morning after the vote, Mishael Zion says, the janitor came to school shaking. On her way to work, she said, Israeli police ordered her to lie on the ground and pour out the contents of her bag. When they let her go, she rushed to the school. She later told Mishael Zion, the Eitan School is a place she feels safe. For NPR News, I'm Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.

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