DevMode

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 system.
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 education.
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 multicultural education.

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 multicultural education:
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 life.
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 discipline.
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 customs.

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 strategies.
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 events.
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 misperceptions.
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 education.

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, Jerusalem.

Bibliography

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, 1987.
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 (1): 49-81.

Comodo SSL