The most unremitting conflicts of the Middle East," writes former U
S President Carter in his book about the Arab-Israeli conflict,
"are not on the battlefields but in the minds of the people who
live there." Implicit in assess¬ments such as Carter's that
touch on the longer-term prospects for peace, is the view that
conflict resolution is not solely a state-level occurrence.
For contributions to peace, reconciliation and tolerance to
permeate whole societies, these must be supplemented with efforts
by the mass media and other forms of electronic communication, and
above all in the classrooms (Astorino-Courtois, 1995).
Rouhana and Fiske (1995) note that research on mutual perceptions
and other psychological processes in interethnic and international
con¬flicts has generally focused on parties that enjoy equal
or close to equal power relations. But parties of conflict, whether
interpersonal, profession¬al or social, are more often than
not unequal in their power. The concepts of power and threat have a
profound impact in conflicts, such as the Arab- Israeli conflict,
in which a group's collective well-being, identity and even
collective existence are involved.
It follows then that the first step to reconciliation, and even
prior to educating about the other, is the alleviation of any
perception of threat that the Palestinians and Israelis have. This
involves making both parties to the conflict feel that their
physical existence, social and economic well-being and their
identity and values are not endangered.
It should be noted in this context that coerced reconciliation does
not work very well. An imposed reconciliation is not authentic; it
is per¬ceived as illegitimate by disadvantaged groups and is
not consistent with democratic ideals. Reconciliation must be
negotiated and, above all, must be gradual.
Multiculturalism and Multicultural Education
A prerequisite to reconciliation is the reduction of tension
between the Israelis and Palestinians. This could be done by wiping
out its root causes, namely suspicion, ignorance and fear.
Unfortunately, this process is slow and involves changing a belief
Differences, one should note, do not disappear. Deeply held beliefs
have an incredible durability. Moreover, to change beliefs and
practices that were determined by early socialization will require
long-term attention, deep commit¬ment, and investment in
The difficulty of this task is compounded by serious attempts by
some people, who work individually or in groups, to shut out all
opportunity for dialogue and the establishment of common ground
between Arabs and Israelis. To counter all attempts aimed at
derailing the process of reconcilia¬tion and perpetuating the
status quo, individuals and groups on both sides of the conflict
need to work and implement all plans within an educational
framework, based on the principles of multiculturalism and
Dimensions and Implementation
Multicultural education is simply teaching people about other
cultures, starting with the cultures that they are exposed to every
day. James Bank (1994), an authority on multiculturalism and
multicultural education, pro¬poses several dimensions for
Content Integration: This dimension deals with the extent to which
teachers illuminate key points of instruction with content
reflecting diver¬sity and tolerance. This can be achieved by
recognizing the contributions of the others in all fields of
Knowledge Construction: This dimension relates to the extent to
which teachers help students understand how perspectives of people
within a discipline influence the conclusions reached within that
Prejudice Reduction: This dimension deals with efforts to develop
positive attitudes about different groups. Multicultural education,
one needs to add, involves much more than curriculum content.
Educating for diversity and tolerance includes efforts in prejudice
reduction. Researchers have shown that while children enter schools
with many negative attitudes and misconceptions about different
racial and ethnic groups (Phinney and Rotherarm, 1987), education
can help students develop more positive attitudes.
In summary, multicultural education should not only develop
appre¬ciation for the perspectives of others, but should
sustain a value-tolerant understanding, belief system and
Opportunities to Interact
On the implementational level, I offer the following long- and
short-term suggestions that are theoretically rooted in the
principles of multicultural education:
1. Reorganization and reformation of national curricula in a way
that accommodates cultural differences and promotes sensitivity and
aware¬ness. Teachers and parents alike should attempt to
foster a social environ¬ment that offers Palestinian and
Israeli students opportunities to interact and to talk about their
feelings, as well as their concerns.
In addition, school systems should create a climate more receptive
to cultural differences, such as classes that provide students
lessons in rec¬ognizing culturally biased stereotypes and in
accepting and appreciating cultural diversity; and
staff-development training that promotes teachers' awareness and
understanding of strategies that foster tolerance.
2. Attempts, within the limits of democratic censorship, to ban
literature that uses anti-conciliatory reasoning, or at least, to
limit its dissemination.
3. Development of and participation in regional and national
educa¬tional and academic collaboration, aimed at enhancing
rapport between Arab and Israeli academics and educators. This
could prove effective in promoting an exchange of ideas about
methods of involving the school community in conflict-resolution
4. The use of books of the Other culture, authentic or translated,
to broaden students' knowledge of the Other and self-knowledge in
the process. This entails teaching Hebrew and Arabic at the schools
of the respective groups. As a consequence, the sharing of ideas
and the creation of a more peaceful and healthy relationship
between the two nations becomes easier.
5. Institution of exchange programs for students at all levels, and
espe¬cially at the university level. Students can spend a
semester, or part of a semester, matriculating at Palestinian and
Israeli universities. At the school level, Arab and Israeli
students can be invited to participate in reli¬gious and
national ceremonies to foster tolerance and understanding of
religious and ethnic diversity.
6. Other strategies that can be used with grade school students
include talent shows, in which students collaborate with children
of the other cul¬ture to put on skits, musical acts and social
7. Inside Israel proper, the relationship between Jewish and Arab
citi¬zens is multifaceted, characterized by cooperation in
many areas, and con¬flict in others. We can benefit from the
long and rich experience of our fellow Palestinians inside Israel
proper by using their good offices in mediating some outstanding
problems relating to coexistence and reconciliation.
8. Exploitation of the demographic proximity of many Palestinian
and Israeli population centers. Accordingly, a system of civic
participation, including assemblies and TV town meetings, should be
set up. The aim of such meetings would be to discuss how different
sectors of the population, both Arab and Israeli, view peace and
the ways and means that could be used to promote mutual
understanding and educating about the Other.
9. Production, distribution and projection of films dealing with
themes of peace and understanding. Meetings following the shows
would help generate discussions about stereotypes and
10. Related to the above suggestion is the invitation of
organiza¬tions - both local and international - dealing with
issues of peace and justice, to provide information about their
organizations and activities. Panel discussions on the topics of
peace and justice may follow.
11. Offering specialized courses in cross-cultural empathy training
and conflict resolution. Such courses could be sponsored by
different govern¬mental and private organizations. Attendance
and participation could be limited to individuals whose primary
duties relate to supervision and counseling.
In conclusion, and to quote from Vaclav Havel's 1994 address at
Stanford University: "If civic coexistence, reconciliation and
peace are to spread, then it must happen as part of an endeavor to
find a new and genuinely universal articulation of that global
human experience, one that connects us with the mythologies and
religions of all cultures and opens for us a way to understand
their values." I may add in this respect that the best and most
practical way to achieving this articulation is through
This article was presented at the" Palestinians and Israelis:
Educating about Each Other in the Era of Peace" seminar,
cosponsored by the Konrad Adenaur Foundation, the Interreligious
Coordinating Council in Israel ([CCl) and the Palestinian Peace
Information Center, December 7-8, 1995, Notre Dame Center,
Astorino-Courtois, A. 1995. "The Cognitive Structure of
Decision-Making and the Course of Arab-Israeli Relations,
1970-1978." Journal of Conflict Resolution, 39 (3): 419-438.
Bank, James. 1994. "Transforming the Mainstream Curriculum."
Educational Leadership, 51 (8): 4-8.
Carter, Jimmy. The Blood of Abraham. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1985. Havel, Vaclav. 1994. "Democracy's Forgotten Dimension."
Journal of Democracy, 6 (2): 3-10.
Phinney,J. and M. Rotherarm, eds. Children's Ethnic Socialization:
Pluralism and Development. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications,
Rouhana, N. and S. Fiske, 1995. "Perception of Power, Threat and
Conflict Inten¬sity in Asymmetric Intergroup Conflict: Arab
and Jewish Citizens of Israel." Jour/wi of Conflict Resolution, 39