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In the wake of the signing of the Oslo peace agreement in 1993, the trend towards peace education assumed an important proportion within the educational process in Palestine and Israel. The rationale was that, to be sustainable, peace, reconciliation and tolerance must permeate society as a whole, through various means and on every level, especially in the classroom.
Basically, the past eight years or so have witnessed the creation of many forums aimed at exchanging ideas on the ways and means of bringing reconciliation and peace to the region through educational projects. These forums sought to create a vehicle through which ordinary Palestinians and Israelis learn about each other, communicate with one another, bridge the gaps of ignorance and fear, and work for the restoration of peace, reintegration, reconstruction and social solidarity with their communities and the region.
In terms of the content of peace education programs, several themes and topics were introduced and discussed under the broad rubrics of Civic Education for Peace, Democracy, Human Rights and Development, and Citizenship Education. This was the case because the concepts are both closely related and highly complementary. Programs addressing topics as broad as civics or human rights, or as narrow as tolerance and conflict resolution, were also organized in informal educational settings, as well as within the school setting.
The mechanisms for implementing the concepts were also different and varied. In most cases, they were in the form of enriching materials incorporated as sub-themes into certain subjects like citizenship education, history, languages, and human rights. In a few cases they were organized in a separate course (adult and continuing education courses). Peace, democratic and human-rights principles and lessons were also easily infused into most subject areas, including the natural sciences, the humanities and the social sciences.

Current Trends

Overall, and until the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada (September 28, 2000), the findings of a brief survey pointed to a dynamic and growing field of practice in education for peace and international understanding throughout the region. The survey was conducted informally by this writer using the Internet, individuals, NGOs, and other resources, like personal contacts and experiential knowledge gained over years of work in the field.
Much of this work was carried out within the framework of joint Israeli-Palestinian projects (mostly in private schools in the Ramallah, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem districts, and a limited number of public and private schools in the northern districts of Jenin and Tulkarem). Participation on the Israeli side included public and private schools (both secular and religious), from all over Israel, but with a focus on the central and northern regions (both Jewish and Arab communities).
Work within these projects had focused on introducing and enhancing factual knowledge of the principles of democracy, human rights and civil society, in addition to the skills of cooperative work, peer mediation, constructive conflict resolution, and interpersonal and social communication skills. Knowledge and skills were introduced within the framework of joint teacher and student encounters and workshops and via twin-school plans (sister schools in Israel and the Palestinian National Authority [PNA]).
This lively level of activity in both the formal and non-formal education sectors, and this degree of involvement of both the so-called public and private realms, was seen by many as one of the key hopes for the penetration and impact of education for peace and international understanding.
During the last several months, however, many of the building blocks in several areas were fractured, if not completely damaged. The unfortunate current events and violence we have been witnessing in the area over the last nine months have certainly marred the relationship of trust and acceptance that was slowly, yet firmly, being forged at both the official and grass-roots levels between Palestinians and Israelis. Most joint educational projects aimed at educating Palestinian and Israeli school-age children have either been completely stopped or temporarily frozen or turned into uni-national projects.
This fact brings us face to face with several difficult and challenging questions: Can we still talk about peace education and education for democracy and human rights? Can the existing low profile, grass-roots-level programs be sustained? If so, how? Are we in need of new perspectives that are compatible with the current circumstances and state of affairs? How can we best demonstrate commitment to peace education? Is it wise to import successful programs from other regions in the world or should we be selective and strategic in our approach? All these questions and others are at the heart of the ongoing debate about the utility and effectiveness of peace education programs.
Answering these questions entails the recognition that a rift has indeed been created between Israelis and Arabs in the region, and that major efforts need to be made to heal the mistrust and anxiety that have developed during the past period.

Expectations and Realities

Until recently, individuals and groups alike talked about peace education with confidence and optimism. But today, and given the present state of affairs, it is legitimate to ask if we still could talk about peace education. The answer is conditionally positive. The changing political environment poses serious challenges to peace education programs, which calls for both critical self-examination and creativity in exploring new ways of working with all stake-holders in the region.
In this respect, one has to accept the view of peace education as a field that is inextricably linked to the other related fields of civic education and education for democracy and human rights. Prior to their dissemination and implementation at the bi- and multinational levels, the principles and concepts that underlie these fields, need, in essence, to be instilled and reinforced uni-nationally. Thus, it is imperative that all nations involved in the regional conflict pass laws and regulations that promote a culture of peace. At the implementation level, this calls for instituting a comprehensive course (incorporating the major principles and themes in civic education and education for peace, human rights and democracy) at both the school and university levels.

New Perspectives

Alternative perspectives need to be introduced into the school curriculum to more accurately portray the different ways in which people view the world. There is increasing sensitivity to the political implications of depicting one worldview at the expense of others. Introducing programs and units on human rights, character education, and multicultural issues is an important response to the increasingly complex social environment in the region. It requires vigilant public involvement.
The culture of peace comprises all the events, attitudes, and forms of behavior that reflect respect for life, for the dignity and diversity of human beings, for human rights on all levels, the rejection of violence in all its forms, as well as the commitment to the principles of freedom, justice, solidarity, tolerance, multiculturalism, and understanding among peoples, groups and individuals. Thus a link exists between a culture of peace and human development.
This link is premised on the existence of peaceful relationships between the two parties, or, at least, the absence of aggression and violence. A first step in this direction would require work at the uni-national level prior to the gradual resumption of binational projects. Some educators argue that, unless the peace process is back on track, any talk about the resumption of joint projects would be unrealistic. They further state that, under the present conditions of a stagnant peace process, even uni-national endeavors would be futile. Many even question the utility of unilateral education for peace programs, given the adverse political ambience, especially the inequalities that exist between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, and the persisting negative stereotyping, incitement, and verbal and physical violence. These educators question whether the conquered can pursue unilateral peace education projects, which they contend would only widen the chasm that already exists, and may fly in the face of any form of empathy on the part of the other side. Others argue that, under the present adverse circumstances, the more compelling issue of security must take precedence. For them, any talk about peace education is a luxury the peoples of the region cannot afford.

Conclusion

Beyond all theoretical conceptualization and rhetoric, a basic question remains: can we get beyond the present situation and embark anew on a fresh path of reconciliation?
The answer to this question is not an easy one, but remains in the realm of the possible. It can be achieved once some prerequisite conditions are met, chief among which relate to the acknowledgment of the argument that peace education projects (whether unilateral or joint) cannot be sustained in adverse circumstances. A peace process in abeyance is certainly not conducive to the resumption of joint projects. Thus, sincere local, regional and international efforts should be made to create a peaceful environment conducive to the resumption of peace talks. Additionally, peace education, like the peace process itself, should not be viewed as a one-time event; rather, it should be taken as an ongoing process of broadening children's horizons in terms of knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and values. And, finally, it is important to come to terms with the fact that the process of healing is a long one, demanding great patience. Within this context, peace education should be viewed as a credible long-term strategy aimed at long-range targets.

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