Thursday, May 28, 2009

Honest Education is the Way Forward

This opinion piece published in the Jerusalem Post argues that an important obstacle on the path to Israeli-Palestinian peace is that Palestinians, both through formal education and through the statements of their leadership are taught that there was never any Jewish presence in Israel prior to the modern Zionist movement of the late 19th century. The article argues that such beliefs, which fly in the face of history and which are propagated by people, some of whom must know that they're lying, make it impossible for Palestinians to accept Israel. This rejectionism stems from the view that Jews in Israel are foreign colonizers and not indigenous to the land. Why would any group willingly choose to accept a foreign group that has arbitrarily chosen a hotly contest piece of land to settle in?

By changing what Palestinians are taught, and by asking US diplomats to reinforce Jewish history with Palestinians, the article argues that it will become possible for Palestinians not only to better understand Israelis, but also to make peace with honor. A peace with an indigenous group returning home, rather than foreign usurpers with no right to be there.

Indeed, even some of the most notable Palestinian leaders, such as the late Yasser Arafat and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat at the Camp David negotiations in 2001 both stated that they did not believe there was ever a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. In response to Erekat, Israeli negotiators were said to have been stunned, and to have shown him a book off a nearby shelf listing the many references to the temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.

In general, this article hits the nail on the head. It has long been argued that the absence of Israel in the Palestinian curriculum has contributed to the feeling amongst Palestinians that Israel has no place in the world. Indeed, some of the Palestinian textbooks that do refer to Israel make exactly the point that Israel is the product of colonialism, of an alien people coming to a land to which they had no connection. Such an assertion is patently false, as the Jewish connection to Israel extends back at least 3000 years. No hyperlink is required to make that point.

A point worth adding to the op-ed writer's piece, however, is that Israelis too need to understand the Palestinian narrative which conflicts with their own, but is important for Israelis to understand. Understanding between parties in conflict is a two way street, it must be mutual. It seems, from this (long) article (of which I have had time to read little more than the conclusions) that Israel's education of its students has only recently begun to reflect the Palestinian narrative and do away with the stereotypes of Arabs presented and some of the nationalistic mythology all peoples have. While it seems that Israel has made great progress towards a balanced curriculum in history, (this other, long article provides a detailed analysis of Israeli textbooks) Palestinian rejectionism continues to be fed by a system that still has a long way to go towards honesty in education.

It's not all bad news though. As organizations like "Teach Kids Peace" points out, the Israeli government sponsors many programs aimed at bringing kids of different backgrounds together and teaching them about one another. One program, for example, called "Children Teaching Children" is described as "Jewish and Arab teachers and middle school-age students are guided in grappling with complex issues of national and individual identity, community life, and conflicting narratives in a shared land."

The key now, is to double these efforts by having them duplicated in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Understanding the other is key, and just as hate can be taught at a young age, acceptance and understanding can be too.

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