The grass on the other side.

Using the Dual Narrative approach to educate Israeli and Arab children about each other’s national political histories. Efforts taken, efforts in progress and efforts in vain.

how are children growing up in prevailing conflict zones in the world, such as the Israel-Arab conflict educated about their national conflict? What do they read in their textbooks?

A dual narrative is a form of narrative that describes a story in two different perspectives, usually two different people. It is used to show parallels or emphasize differences in the experiences or points-of-view of different places and time periods.  Why does a writer choose to use a dual narrative?  Usually it is to show parallels between the two storylines (and time periods) and to enrich the reading experience with alternate points-of-view.

In this essay I want to discuss the use of the dual narrative technique to explore the Israel Palestine conflict, most importantly to educate children in Israel and Palestine. In an issue as critical as this, where the choice of words, perhaps the choice of a definitive article can shape the course of events, the choice of narrative is perhaps equally important. This essay will discuss how this technique has often helped in creating a platform to create answers to this complex problem, and the reasons for why it should be used in Israeli and Palestine history textbooks.

The Palestinian schools in Israel use more or less the same syllabus as the Jewish secular public schools, and this comprises the teaching of the Jewish cultural legacy and Israeli history from a Zionist perspective, while the teaching of Arab, Islamic or Israeli history from a Palestinian perspective is deliberately prevented by the Israeli Ministry of Education. As for its Palestinian citizens, Israeli educational policies, to some level, take after    British educational policies from the Mandate era.

Under the impression of the second intifada and the collapse of the Oslo process, the Palestinian educational scientist Sami Adwan from Bethlehem University and the Israeli psychologist Dan Bar On from Beer Sheva University jointly founded a bi-national non-governmental organization called PRIME ( stands for Peace Research Institute in the Middle East)  in 2002.  With PRIME, they assembled a group of teachers and historians from the West Bank and Israel to develop a textbook for middle and high schools, treating the history of the Israel- Palestine conflict from both perspectives.

This idealistic educational project focuses on teachers and schools as the long-term critical force for changing deep-rooted and deeply-diverged attitudes on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Adwan explains, “The way a conflict or history is taught can either support that conflict or support coexistence. The project aims to break down stereotypes and build nuanced understandings.” Adwan and Bar-On describe PRIME’s project as “the disarming of history” a struggle to bridge the gulf of understanding between both sides and future generations.

Different from the officially licensed history textbooks used on either side, the one created by PRIME offers and wide-ranging analysis of the crucial stages of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict all through the 20th century from the Balfour Declaration until the Oslo years, and it calculatingly   considers all    these subjects from a Palestinian nationalist and a Zionist Jewish- Israeli perspective.

The combination of two competing nationalist narratives within one textbook that is intended to be used in Israeli and Palestinian schools alike, is meant to inspire critical self-reflection among students concerning the contingency of their own narrative and to promote their awareness of a diverse kind of historical truth existing alongside their own.  Along this logic, learning about the existence and the view-points of the other regarding the common history of both peoples will eventually lead to mutual recognition and acceptance.

In the development stage, two separate sub groups, a Jewish –Israeli and a Palestinian one created the textbook. “Each group was ultimately responsible for its own narrative, but both met regularly in bi-national location in order to discuss and review the texts, all of which were made available in Arabic, Hebrew and English” says PRIME explaining   development process of the textbook.  As a result of their discussions the two sub-groups often adjusted their own narrative in order to be less offensive to the respective other side.  The book The Telling of Peace Education by Sedi Minachi   explains how some controversial terms like terrorist or martyrs were replaced by less emotional ones, without altering the content of the PRIME textbook.

Given the existing state of affairs of the two mutually exclusive nationalist historical narratives taught in Israeli and Palestinian schools alike, the dual narrative approach is a significant innovation and a model for teaching history in a conflict situation, where no bridging narrative yet exists. “The particular set up for the project –a civil society initiative that creates bottom up pressure on politicians by juxtaposing conflicting historical narratives in a collectively authored textbook designed for use on both sides of the barricades, has the potential of becoming a point of reference in the field of peace education.” says Samira Alayan, Achim Rohde and, Sarhan Dhouib in their book The Politics of Education Reform in the Middle East: Self and Other in Textbooks and Curricula

However, its potential should not be overvalued. Realistically speaking neither the Palestinians nor the Israeli Ministry of Education has licensed the textbook and in the predominant political climate programs such as PRIME are viewed with suspicion on both sides.    Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip mostly reject cooperation with Israelis as illegitimate as long as the occupation continues.

A several Israeli high schools have requested permission to use the PRIME textbook in their curriculum. Sha’ar Hanegev High School near Sderot, Israel is one such school.  To the students of the Sha’ar Hanegev High School, who are fighting to incorporate in their curricula a textbook that comprises both Israeli and Palestinian narratives, the fact that the book holds Palestinian narratives does not necessarily create a change in their views of the conflict. They believe that “it is the opportunity to challenge their perceptions that is being compromised” The students spoke to Haaretz Newspaper regarding this matter:

“[We want to] hear personally an explanation as to why we cannot use this book. We cannot understand the education ministry’s deep fear of this book, which presents two positions on the dispute, Israeli and Palestinian. The ministry’s claim that it has not given authorization is self-serving: It doesn’t have any intention to provide such authorization, and there isn’t any other book that provides the Palestinian version.

“The Education Ministry is showing cowardice. It does not want to change anything in history studies, lest, heaven forbid, we learn about values it opposes. The Education Ministry apparently believes that if we learn the Palestinian narrative, we will think that the Palestinians are right. That demeans our intelligence, and it’s a little insulting to say we will believe anything we read. The same thing could be said about using Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf‘ in history lessons. It doesn’t work that way.” [Haaretz Newspaper]

In my personal experience I believe the best way to implement the dual narrative approach is through parents. Parents and family members are often children’s first and most important teachers. Students come to school with knowledge, values, and beliefs they have learned from their parents and their communities. Thus parental stances may be an inhibiting factor to peace promotion. As complex as these conflicts are, sometimes the solutions are as simple as the saying goes, “Peace at home, peace in the world.”


Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education , Nurit Peled-Elhanan

Side by Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine, ed: Adwan, Bar-On, & Naveh

The Israel-Arab A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time by Howard M. Sachar

A History of Modern Palestine by Ilan Pappe

The Politics of Education Reform in the Middle East: Self and Other in Textbooks and Curricula ,Samira Alayan, Achim Rohde and, Sarhan Dhouib

History Education and Post-Conflict Reconciliation: Reconsidering Joint …

edited by Karina V. Korostelina, Simone Lässig


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