A question Education Minister Yuli Tamir posed, toward the end of the third annual "Getting to Know the Homeland" national competition, might have also made Dahla uncomfortable: It pertained to a quote from Herzl's "Altneuland," describing the Zionist visionary's view of Jerusalem. Tamir asked which enterprises and projects, characteristic of a capital city, exist in Jerusalem, and which elements of Herzl's dream have yet to be realized. However Dahla, the first Arab contender to enter the final round of the Education Ministry's quiz on knowledge of Israel was eliminated in the final's first round of questions. Yair Lieberman, of Kedumim, the only representative from the West Bank settlements, and four others, were eliminated along with Dahla.
Miriam's father, Amran, a teacher, and her geography teacher, Khaled Adawi, accompanied her throughout the stages of the competition. Miriam's grade point average is 100 percent. Her classes, in Tur'an, are taught in Arabic and her knowledge of Hebrew is limited. She required continuous translation, as she toured the Netifim Cave and Reading Power Station, and studied for the competition. There are no Arabic textbooks that cover the material featured in the quiz pertaining to Israel's geography and environmental issues. Dahla, the eldest child in her family, broke out in tears when she discovered that she did not make the final round of questions in the competition. However, she earned tremendous respect for winning an honorable place while grappling with challenges her adversaries did not have to face.
Dalia Fenig, coordinator and supervisor of geographic and environmental curricula for Education Ministry said on Tuesday that a growing number of Arab-Israeli schools are displaying an interest in apolitical subjects connected with Israel.
"This has nothing to do with the history of [Jewish] settlement but with geography, urbanization, natural phenomena, mutual relations between man and the environment and subjects pertaining to Israel's economy and place on the map."
Fenig noted there is less interest in these subjects in schools in the heavily populated "Hadera to Gedera" central area, and that interest in the competition was several times greater in the northern and southern Regions. That may explain the fact that three of the 12 finalists, who participated in the final round held Tuesday in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, came from kibbutzim and moshavim (agricultural villages). Two of them, Gal Bien of Kfar Yehoshua (the Wizo Canada School in Nahalal), and Adi Estheri of Kibbutz Gesher (the Beit Hayareach High School in the Jordan Valley) took first and second place. Tamar Gottfeld of Jerusalem, who attends the Midreshet Sde Boker Environmental High School in the Negev, came in third. About 10,000 students, from all parts of the country, took part in preliminary rounds of the competition: 80 percent of them located areas like the Golan Heights, the Arava, and the Jezreel Valley, on the map, and 85 percent successfully answered environmental questions pertaining to air pollution, damage caused by shoreline construction, recycling issues, waste disposal, water works or loss of sand on Israel's beaches.
First-prize winner Gal Bien earned a grant to study in the Tel Aviv University Department of Geography and Human Environment for a full year.