Encountering Peace: Creating a culture of peace in Israel and Palestine

There is a clear right for Palestinians and Israelis to give their version of history in their textbooks.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have decided to put the culture of peace on the negotiating table. Genuine peace is not made solely by signing and implementing agreements between governments. It must be fostered, developed and implemented between the citizens of both sides. Over the past years, a core issue of concern has been text books and incitement. Text books are issued by governments and reflect the official values that societies wish to impart to their citizens. An essential aspect of values-based education is imparting and building the national identity. This kind of task is complicated under the best circumstances; when faced with a 100-year violent conflict with the neighbors, it becomes extremely problematic and difficult. A peace process occurs between nations, transferring them from a state of war between enemies to a state of peace between partners. A successful peace process requires a shift of attitudes in a cross-section of the society and must be built between the two peoples. Education is a powerful agent of change, and both Israel and Palestine must make changes in their curricula and textbooks. There is little or no chance that Israelis and Palestinians will share the same understanding and interpretation of the history of the land and the conflict between its peoples. There is a clear right for Palestinians and Israelis to give their version of history in their textbooks. Both peoples have struggled for their freedom and liberation, and their students must know their history as it is an essential element of collective nation building and in defining their identity. STATES USUALLY tend to enlist a unified "national" view of history as a means to develop the ethos of the society - a shared collective memory upon which citizens develop their sense of patriotism and loyalty. Usually there is very little room for alternative views or other voices, and if these alternative views do exist, their legitimacy and accuracy are often questioned and even sometimes referred to as next to treasonous. In order for this education not to be considered dogmatic or as one that views the other side as a non-entity or as an entity that should not exist, it is important to refer both to the strategic decision of both sides to make peace and to resolve the conflict by peaceful means, based on mutual recognition and on the basis of two states for two peoples. It would be wise for textbooks in Israel and in Palestine to present voices explaining each other's perspectives on the conflict and the peace process. It is important for the students on both sides to have a "peek" into the narrative of the other side, not as a means of convincing someone of the justification of the other's narrative but as a means of increasing the students' ability to understand the complex world they live in. In this context it would be possible, for example, to deal with difficult issues such as the Holocaust and its impact on Israeli and Jewish world views and (not as a comparison) to enable Israeli students to understand the impact of the Naqba on Palestinians. IT IS worth noting the ground-breaking work on historical narratives that was conducted by a group of Israeli and Palestinian teachers under the direction and initiative of Prof. Dan Baron and Prof. Sami Awdan from PRIME. Those teachers have prepared textbooks for high schools providing parallel narratives in the same textbooks (on opposite sides of the page). There is almost nothing in Israeli and Palestinian textbooks that teaches the students something objective or positive about the people they are in conflict with and with whom they hope to some day soon live with in peace. Teaching about commonalities in culture between Palestinians and Israelis can also serve as an open door for exploration (in textbooks of both sides). Whether looking at common foods, similar music and dance or even through looking at the Arabic and Hebrew languages, there are endless possibilities for new discovery and ways to develop a more positive attitude towards fostering a desire among the children to know more about people on the other side. Palestinian and Israeli educators should not fear that by teaching about the "other" they are in any way weakening their national identity or collective solidarity. In fact, the opposite is quite true. In this context it is also worthwhile to point out the importance of teaching not only commonalities between the two peoples, but also the differences. A culture of peace fosters an appreciation of diversity and encourages the ability and desirability to celebrate those diversities as well. In recent public opinion research carried out by IPCRI, we discovered that one of the most compelling motivators for believing that there is a partner for peace on the other side will be when each side teaches peace and about the other in a positive constructive way inside of the classroom. The messages that societies decide to transmit to the next generation is a very good reflection of what the society hopes to achieve in the future and how it relates to its environment. Currently, the messages transmitted by each society to its next generation through its educational system are the virtual non-existence of the other people. If a renewed peace process is to have any genuine significance, the educational systems are going to have to begin to seriously tackle the questions of how we educate about the other people in the conflict. This must be done together and must seek to transmit similar positive and constructive messages. The objectives of peace education are the imparting of values of tolerance and acceptance of the other, mutual respect of rights, equality and social justice. This is a critical process, in which all who are involved in the education process are asked to examine themselves, their truths, and their relation and patterns of behavior towards their close environment, and only later towards the remote environment and their enemies. Alongside of the negotiations on territory, borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security, the two sides have agreed to talk about a culture of peace - this is a big step in the right direction and its importance should not be underestimated. The writer is the Co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.