(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Studying Arabic and Arab culture can dramatically lower stereotyping of Arabs among Jewish schoolchildren, according to a new study conducted for the Abraham Fund Initiatives that was released on Sunday.
"This may show we're on the right path," Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post. "The figures are very consistent, and it's clear that for those who study [Arabic] longer, there is a clear process of moderation in terms of stereotyping."
Researchers tested the effects of the Fund's "Language as a Cultural Bridge" program, which teaches Arabic language and culture to Jewish fifth- and sixth-graders, on 912 participants in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Karmiel during the 5766 (2006-2007) school year. The Fifth-graders had been studying Arabic for one year, while the sixth-graders had been doing so for two years.
The difference, the study shows, is dramatic.
While 26.1 percent of the fifth-graders believe "the Arabs are the enemy," the figure dropped to 20.1% among sixth-graders. While 21.8% of fifth-graders report "recoiling from hearing spoken Arabic," the figure dropped to 16.1% after another year of study.
Fear of Arab Israelis also went down, the study found. While 25.1% of the fifth-graders say they would be afraid of a man wearing a kefiya (Arab headdress), that figure dropped to 18.5% for sixth-graders.
Fear of visiting an Arab town was not as dramatically affected, down from 32.6% to 28.6% with a second year of study.
The children also reported a willingness to study the Arabs' language and culture, with 56% saying they do so "gladly" and another 22% saying they are "somewhat glad."
The children agreed with the researchers' conclusions, with 71% saying learning Arabic would improve the relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel.
For Beeri-Sulitzeanu, the findings are proof of the need to expand the program.
"The big question," he says, "is how to bring the state authorities to recognize that there might be the potential here for a systemic change."
The Abraham Fund Initiatives hope to turn the program into "a continuum of study beginning in 3rd grade that will end with an Arabic matriculation exam," he said, fulfilling "the vision of joint citizenship, a shared home, and Jewish-Arab cooperation and civil equality."