Not Only at School: Education, Occupation, Activism and Dialogue
On June 12, 2001, the Palestine-Israel Journal held a round-table discussion in Jerusalem, moderated by Ari Rath, a former editor and managing director of The Jerusalem Post. The participants were Gila Svirsky, co-founder of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, which brings together ten Israeli women's peace organizations to protest the occupation; Lamis Alami, UNRWA chief Field Education Program officer in the West Bank; Naftali Raz, an educator, one of the founders of Peace Now in 1978 and now co-chairman of Brit Shalom (Peace Alliance), a Jewish-Arab organization for peace and coexistence; Lucy Nusseibeh, director of Middle East Non-Violence and Democracy; and Ziad Abu-Zayyad, publisher of the Palestine-Israel Journal. The two managing editors of the Journal also participated.

Ari Rath: In this present very difficult situation, the intention of this round-table is to seek a degree of mutual understanding in the field of education. This is at a time when joint Israeli-Palestinian projects have stopped functioning for the time being because of the Intifada.
The main idea is to look ahead, to look forward rather than to apportion blame. Allow me a personal comment. This is the right time and place to say that we, all of us, mourn the loss of Faisal Husseini who, already in the early 1970s, recognized the importance of getting through with the Palestinian message to Israeli public opinion. Ziad and Faisal were among the first who went around Israel as Hebrew speakers to address Israelis and advocate what many thought at that time unthinkable: the so-called two-state solution. This kind of spirit is still with us here; that we, in the Journal, meet like this today is surely a hopeful sign.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: First of all, thank you for coming in spite of these difficult circumstances.
The main topic of this issue of the Journal will be education in times of conflict. We thought it would be fruitful to bring together Palestinians and Israelis, mainly educators and activists, and let them tell us how each of them envisages the issue of education on his/her side and on the other side.
Of course, there have been many accusations - mainly against the Palestinians, but also against the Israelis - about incitement in education and textbooks. I myself am aware of what is going on on both sides. But the Palestinian side is in the spotlight and many people accuse it only. Maybe the Journal and our discussion can shed more light on this issue on both sides, because I believe that both parties have to reconsider their approach to education. At the same time, the unique situation of the occupation is unfortunately interrupting and dominating everything we can do on the Palestinian side.

Ari Rath: First of all, I agree, as an Israeli, that many Israelis, even in the so-called peace camp, are not sufficiently aware of terrible hardships in the day-to-day life that occupation creates. I want to introduce into the discussion the much-misused term CBM - confidence-building measures - a term created way back by Butros Ghali during the so-called autonomy talks under the auspices of the Egyptians begun in 1979, after the peace was signed between Egypt and Israel.
These so-called confidence-building measures again appear in the Mitchell Report, but I'm afraid that neither side - even those who are very much for peace and for finding a common language - is fully aware what it means to translate this into day-to-day life, for example into reviving now-dormant joint Israeli-Palestinian projects.

Lucy Nusseibeh: First of all, thank you for inviting me. It's really a pleasure to be here and to meet so many people who are obviously committed to working toward improving the situation.
I entirely agree that one of the problems is that information is lacking on the Israeli side. I want to explain that I have to leave, because I am going to a board meeting of a school which actually practices coexistence, the French Lyceé, which has 60 percent Palestinian children, but mostly Israeli French faculty staff members and a number of Israeli and international children. Therefore, it's an important school in this situation, because it manages to maintain the principle that people are, above all, human beings. And I would like to define that as one of the primary aims of education - to produce human beings who are aware and sensitive to the needs of other human beings, and not growing up with stereotypes of any kind.
I worked as coordinator for the Palestinian educational materials for the Palestinian Sesame Street TV program. A lot of research was done for that project, on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides, among three- and four-year-olds. It was found that, even at this age, there are already very strong negative stereotypes among both Palestinian and Israeli children. So most of the work that has to be done in education after this is actually undoing what children have already learned. If you are working with children aged fourteen or fifteen, you are dealing with people who have already had ten years of growing up with their fears and their hatreds, which on the Palestinian side are reinforced daily by reality.
I was speaking with a leading child psychologist from Yale, Donald Cohen, who said that one of the things that is almost guaranteed to produce racism and stereotyping is when a child sees its parents humiliated. This is important in this context, because one of the worst sufferings of the Palestinians is the constant humiliation to which they are subjected. With their children witnessing this, they are therefore developing an ineradicable sense of hatred against the people who perpetrate the humiliation.
If we are to educate people to live together in the long term in this region, then we have to work both with the reality and with the stereotypes. It's not enough to work just with one or just with the other. The Palestinian reality of occupation is one thing that we all hope will improve. But one way to change the reality among the Israelis can be through information. If people know what they are doing to the other side, then perhaps it will make them think twice before they do it with such abandon. Perhaps, also, the people who really believe in a form of coexistence will work within the society to make more information available.
On the Palestinian side, one of the prior needs of an infant as it's growing up is self-esteem. When you don't have self-esteem, you cannot really relate to other people in a normal way.
I think this also applies to a people. When a people has its self-esteem systematically crushed, or its rights systematically denied, you will get the same problems that you get with a child who has been systematically abused - they will come out as abusers and unable to relate in a natural way. Again, if Israel wants coexistence with Palestinians, it has to show a basic respect for human rights, and a chance for the development of self-esteem.
Part of my work is using psychodrama and different tools that work with Palestinians' self-esteem. I've done work with a girls' empowerment project - Choose a Future - an eighteen-month training project with teachers and girls in various schools in Jericho and villages in traditional areas, which gives the girls, amongst other things, basic self-confidence as well as tools for information technology that can enable them to get ahead. The need to develop self-esteem is something that should be respected on both sides.
One final point. We have been doing a lot of work since December with counseling in front-line areas, either in the Aida refugee camp, Qalandia, or Tekoa village - areas where children have been affected the worst - giving them and their teachers an outlet for their fears and trying to give them something to hang on to. In Aida refugee camp, though, the girls get bombarded from three directions.
Recently we were doing some work in the boys' school in Qalandia refugee camp with some of the children who had been the most affected. The facilitator asked these boys, What would you like to be when you grow up? The answer from every single child was that he would like to become a martyr. This is not brainwashing. This is a reflection of the despair and the lack of hope these children have for the future. If children of thirteen, fourteen years old have so little hope that their only aim in life is to be killed, I think this is a terrible reflection of the whole situation. It's one of the saddest things I have ever heard. And as I said, it's not that anyone has told them this is how you become a hero. This is what they see and hear. They can't envision any jobs for themselves, or any form of life that they consider worth living with human dignity.
Until and unless they have such prospects, then education is battling against a tide that's going the other way. Meanwhile, you will just be able to keep people alive, but you won't be able to give them the hope they need in order to develop fully, which is what education is for. This isn't to do with stereotyping, but with fulfilling each person's potential. I think, therefore, that it's very important to find a way, within the educational system, to give people a sense of having a future. Actually, this is again linked with the present harsh reality. But there must be ways, through education, to also recreate the vision of a decent future that's needed to get out of the present sense of despair.

Gila Svirsky: First of all, I would like to second your words. As an Israeli, I notice in our Israeli textbooks that we do have a serious problem of stereotyping of Arabs, in general, and of Palestinians, in particular. I cannot compare this with the Palestinian texts, but it's quite clear to me that this stereotypical notion of who Arabs and Palestinians are goes very deep in our culture.
At a bar-mitzva ceremony of Israeli children, our own president recently spoke of Palestinians as the enemy, and as an enemy who is not equal to us in our values. In fact, he said, the Palestinians are seemingly not only not from the same continent, but not from the same planet, or even from the same galaxy. Those were his words. I find it simply shocking that our president could speak this way about our neighbors when his prime role should be to educate the Israeli people into understanding there must be coexistence with our neighbors, to think not of war but of peace and, therefore, to begin to build trust between the sides.
I have been primarily engaged in political activism for the last 20 years, and not in education. But I must say that I regard education as every bit as important as the political activism, and I would like to see a great deal more energy invested into education for pluralism, for coexistence, for respect of the other. Currently, I believe that, from this point of view, our formal educational system is practically hopeless, because of a rightist government in and a minister of education who is trying to transform parts of the school system in Israel into channels even more nationalistic than before.

Lucy Nusseibeh: I am so sorry. I really would love to stay.

Ari Rath: Your contribution was very important.

Lucy Nusseibeh: Thank you. I think education is the only way to achieve long-term change. So I hope you'll come up with some answers.

Gila Svirsky: While Lucy's presence is still sharp in my mind, let me also say that I think her comment about abused children becoming abusers also works on the level of Israelis - or Jews rather - Jews having been abused historically as a nation and who are now abusing another nation.
Information is a very important part of educating the public at large. The Israeli media are currently in the service of the Israeli government. I see what happens with my own eyes on the streets in Palestinian areas, then I read about it in the newspapers, and there's very little connection between the reality of what took place and what is reported in our media. Even more important, the priorities are distorted. It's appalling to me that we, in Israel, really do not have any sense of the suffering of the Palestinian people at this time. No clear picture of what takes place is presented by the Israeli media so as to bring a picture from the Palestinian point of view of what is happening to them and how they feel about it.
Finally, I would like to talk about those famous CBMs, the confidence-building measures that you referred to, Ari. I think a lot of the thinking during the early days of Oslo was that the confidence-building measures would be taking place among the grass roots, by people to people, so to speak. Well, I participated in a good number of those, and they're very valuable and they must be continued. One of my positive experiences was with the Jerusalem Link, together with Lamis - Bat Shalom and the Jerusalem Center for Women. I think that kind of model is a very useful and effective one.
I think that if we could get back on track with joint people-to-people work, on a basis of equality and parity between the Israeli and Palestinian side, that would make a very important contribution to educating for peace.

Leila Dabdoub: I would like to go back to stereotyping, especially stereotyping in the formal setting of the classroom. I've read papers about the Israeli curriculum, and it seems that Israeli students are fed on material that basically dehumanizes and delegitimizes Arabs and Palestinians. They're portrayed simply as terrorists, thieves, liars - really subhuman. So I don't know how easy it is to de-dehumanize Arabs and Palestinians in the eyes of these young Israeli people or to de-program them, as it were, once they leave school and integrate into Israeli society.
It also seems to me that the stereotyping on the Israeli side focuses more on character traits of Palestinians or Arabs; the Palestinian side, on the other hand, while not altogether free of stereotyping, focuses more on the Israelis as occupiers. Our main problem is occupation, dispossession, and we want to end the occupation.
Secondly, when we say there is not enough information on the Israeli side about the suffering of Palestinians, my perception is that, even if there were, would they ever care? What I'm seeing now, especially since the last Intifada broke out, is that most Israelis believe we're getting what we deserve. That's probably very harsh, but I don't think they would sympathize even if they got the correct information about what Palestinians are going through; I don't think it's going to make a dent. The basic issue is that there are two narratives, and the crux of the matter is the recognition that there is occupation. Then there would be hope for understanding, for dialogue and, eventually, for peace and coexistence.

Naftali Raz: Frankly, I'm embarrassed, and I want to apologize for saying some not-so-optimistic words, and maybe for being frank, because I don't like what I've just heard in the room. It's very one-sided. For me, as a peace activist for 35 years, I suddenly feel very uncomfortable to be pushed into a corner so that I have to defend Israel and to blame the Palestinians. Yes. Our books in our schools have a lot of anti-Palestinian stereotypes. And what about the Palestinians' books? Yes, our media, as Gila said, has a lot to be ashamed of. But the Palestinian media hasn't?

Gila Svirsky: Are you asking or do you know?

Naftali Raz: I know, and I'm pretty sure you know and everybody else around the round-table knows. As you said, Ari, our goal is not to measure who started and who is more to blame. I think the goal of the meeting was to see what we can do for the future, if anything. I, of course, know and am ashamed of Israel's government, media and public opinion. We have our share in making mistakes on the issue we are talking about. But I see that the Palestinian side also has its own share of mistakes, and I don't see any point in measuring who erred more and who did less.
To be realistic, I would say almost the only thing we can do now is to save the small seeds of peace that are still left on the ground, in the field, from withering and dying. I'm afraid we can't do much more. What I mean, as an educator - is that I doubt if education can do anything now. Lucy said something about it too. This is so for my own five children, even if they each had in class the best teacher for peace education. By the way, Gila, I disagree with you about the problem of our education minister. She's as horrible as you said, of course. But I am an educator; I can tell you that the influence of what she says and does in the classroom, for the teacher in the classroom, is negligible. The teacher in a class can do whatever s/he wants.

Gila Svirsky: The minister removed a very important textbook from the schools.

Naftali Raz: I have been involved in education in schools for 30 years. A teacher can still do whatever s/he wants in class, even if the system changes the textbooks, and regardless of whatever the minister will say.
Ari Rath: Even if there will be a new regulation by the Ministry of Education that every day you have to start classes with singing the national anthem?

Naftali Raz: Yes. I, as a teacher, will start with Hatikva and will emphasize that the words "to be a free nation in our land" is also to be free of war. The minister can't influence what the teacher does. For pupils in Israel, what they see in the evening in the media - and here I agree with Gila - on TV, in the papers, on the radio - is so much stronger than what they heard in class that it's this which is dominant. Not completely, but almost. It is reality, as Lucy called it, which determines, such as a child that sees Israeli soldiers humiliating his parents. But then think about the Jewish child who sees his father coming back from 30 days of reserve duty in the occupied areas, and listens to his father telling him part of what we see on TV - attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. So I go back to what I said before about the seeds. What we have to do - and it's almost the only thing we can do now - is to save those seeds that are still alive - meaning talk to each other, first of all. I want to give you a small example.
My wife is a psychologist. Three weeks ago, the Israeli association of psychologists called for a meeting, naturally inviting all Israeli Arab psychologists and some Palestinian psychologists from the territories. None of them attended, neither Palestinians from the territories nor Israeli Arabs. The topic of the meeting was Israeli-Palestinian psychological problems. So that could have been an opportunity for Jews and Palestinians, professionally or otherwise, to talk about what every one of us has in our guts and on our minds. The opportunity was missed.

Ari Rath: My understanding is that this round-table is supposed to seek ways of continuing and reviving mutual understanding. Perhaps we can take it a step further and not just save the seeds, but see which of the seeds, even in this very difficult time, can be nourished by both sides and grow into saplings.

Lamis Alami: I would like to explain how hard it is for an educator like myself to work under these difficult circumstances. I was in charge of a college for women during the first Intifada, and now, during the second, I am in charge of all education run by UNRWA. And I must say it's much harder now to run an education program than it was during the first Intifada. With UNRWA, my task is a bit easier, due to the fact that I am dealing with children of a younger age group, the ages of eight to fifteen.UNRWA has 95 schools in the West Bank. In Gaza it has a much larger number of schools, and the problems of UNRWA direction are much more compounded than in the West Bank.
For the first time, we are faced with children who are extremely traumatized by fear. For the first time, we have Palestinian children crying that they don't want to go to school, whereas everybody knows that, for the Palestinians, education is a very important asset and has been their only means of survival and maintaining their cultural identity. Children don't want to go to school because they're now scared that they might be shelled, that they would meet soldiers or settlers on the way. This is a new concept being introduced into their vocabulary. Some of the schools have been shelled, especially in Gaza, where a whole school was shattered and the children had to be moved elsewhere. Aida School, opposite Gilo, is an example of a school that has been attacked by all kinds of weaponry and which is unsafe for the children. Unlike in Israel, the Palestinians hardly have any schools with shelters. If there is shelling, there is no safe haven for the pupils.
In addition, apart from the psychological state of the children, the adults are also in a state of fear, panic and stress, and, of course, despair, because they have lost hope in the whole peace process, after thinking that peace was just around the corner. We also have a great problem with teachers getting to work, because of the restriction on freedom of movement. In addition to the fear and the insecurity our children feel, their behavior also reflects the violence they see all around them. We have never had so many cases of reported violence in schools as we have now. In the past, it was unthinkable that a twelve- or thirteen-year-old child would beat up a teacher, as an indirect effect of the violence that child has been going through.
A small footnote about the curriculum. The Palestinian Ministry of Education has been blamed for things for which it bore no blame. The facts show clearly that, in the West Bank, we adopted the Jordanian curriculum, and in Gaza we adopted the Egyptian curriculum. So it wasn't the Palestinians who wrote or designed our curriculum. But if we compare the new Egyptian curriculum with the old one, we notice a vast improvement. Much of the negative stereotyping has been eliminated. If we look at world history, it has taken more than a century for people in Europe to reconcile their differences. This is what we Israelis and Palestinians have to do, and it's going to take time. Basically, we need to have peace in the first place in order to educate about peace.
Of course, as a human-rights advocate, it has always been my policy to have human-rights education, especially with children's rights in our schools. UNRWA is not in a position to influence the curriculum, which is left to the Palestinian Ministry of Education, although members from UNRWA participate in the writing of different textbooks. So we took the new Palestinian curriculum - which refers only to grades one and six, especially Islamic education, Arabic language, civic education and social studies - and analyzed it, in order to determine in which areas we can enrich the curriculum and integrate human-rights elements. We came up with a series of books, in the form of stories to be read by the children, which talk about elements of human rights, equality, forgiveness, non-violence and so on, with accompanying songs. In fact, the title of the book is Tasamuh (in Arabic), which actually means "tolerance" more than "forgiveness." We did all this preparatory work in the hope that we would be able to start training our teachers to integrate all these elements into the curriculum. And just when we were about to start, the Intifada erupted, and all that we have been building up for the last six or seven years was crushed overnight. This created great frustration on the part of UNRWA. We had really been so optimistic about the hope of coexisting peacefully in the region.
Before the Intifada, one of our schools had a youth project with an Israeli school. Not any more. Now we're back to square one, because the whole environment is not conducive to doing anything in that direction.

Naftali Raz: That's what I meant.

Lamis Alami: Only Palestinian self-determination and statehood can secure an environment of peace education built on parity and equality. Today, producing materials, the environment is not conducive to peaceful coexistence, and it becomes futile to talk about such issues.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: What Lamis said about the Jordanian and Egyptian curricula is true, but maybe she forgot to mention that this curriculum was reviewed by the Israeli Civil Administration after the 1967 war. All the textbooks that were used by Jordan before 1967 were reviewed by the Israeli occupation authorities. When the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) arrived, we used the same textbooks because we did not have time to write new ones. The project that Lamis is talking about is the new curriculum of Palestine, but until now the same textbooks which were reviewed by the Civil Administration are in use. Even the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem used the same textbooks as the PNA. They only covered the logo of the PNA with a sticker carrying the logo of the lion of the Municipality of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, it seems that many people have swallowed this accusation about incitement and teaching hatred in the Palestinian curriculum, and use it as a good argument against Palestinians.
But from all that has been said in this room, it's very clear that the problem is not merely the school curriculum. That is not the only factor influencing education. I would say that we have the reality on the ground that our children see every day everywhere they go, we have the media, and there is also education at home - how children are being brought up. Therefore, it's very misleading to put all the blame on the school curriculum. You don't change things without changing the reality.
And with regard to the reality you, Naftali, mentioned what Israeli soldiers who serve in the occupied territories say to their children and how this influences them. I was thinking that you send your soldiers to serve in the occupied territories to oppress us, and, when we resist occupation, we are accused of giving you bad experiences and bad memories, which you pass on to your children. From our point of view, this is ridiculous. The victims are made responsible for being victims. However, let's agree that the main enemy is the occupation. Our first target should be how to put an end to the Israeli occupation, because it is poisoning everything in our lives.
Earlier, Naftali said that he feels that the discussion here is one-sided. But it's not correct to describe this discussion as one-sided. If the reality is that we are under occupation and our children receive a very bad education every day and everywhere at the checkpoints and on their way to their schools and farms and houses, this is the reality. We did not create it. If there is an Israeli who criticizes this reality and the occupation, we can't say s/he is one-sided because s/he is taking the side of the Palestinians. S/he is describing this reality, which today s/he is unable to change.
The question remains, how can we work for a better future. In my opinion, we cannot now think about joint projects, or bringing Palestinians and Israelis together. Anything we do in the field of dialogue and promoting coexistence in order to change Israeli public opinion is moving too slowly compared to the rapid tempo of the political developments.
Looking at the Israeli political map, one sees how Israeli society has moved towards the right over the last ten or fifteen years. All that was done, from my point of view, in the field of educating public opinion toward peace amounts to nothing compared with what is being achieved by the right-wing elements and by the increasing influence of the religious camp inside Israel. If we want to stop their growing influence, then we have to find a way to change the political situation and stop the occupation.

Ari Rath: We should not forget the increasing influence of Jewish religious Orthodox schools like Agudat Israel. Nowadays, if you go through Mea Shearim, all of a sudden you see expressions of anti-Arab solidarity there. Therefore, I am reiterating my question, To what extent can we reactivate in this not very conducive atmosphere a number of mutual people-to-people projects? Should we not try, particularly at this time, to pinpoint and try to resume a number of these joint projects?

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: Lamis spoke about our new curriculum and said that now we are not teaching negative things about the other side, and this is a big step forward. At the same time, under these circumstances, you cannot teach about peace or about loving the enemy. All this peace education is a big joke. It's not practical. It's not relevant in the current situation. We will be fooling ourselves if, in these circumstances of occupation, we speak about peace education. The argument that there are curricula that should be changed and we are not changing them is invalid. I am saying that we have curricula that must be changed, but today we are unable to change them. We had already started a national project of changing the whole Palestinian curriculum which we inherited from the Israeli Civil Administration and which the Israeli Civil Administration inherited from Jordan and Egypt. We are now starting to write a new Palestinian curriculum which was supposedly to be ended in the year 2004.

Lamis Alami: It's over a five-year span.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: So we are in the process of writing a new curriculum, not because of pressure from Israel or from anybody else, but because we are preparing ourselves to be an independent state, a state that lives under normal conditions, and we want our children to learn in normal conditions and to learn a positive and not a negative national curriculum.
As for joint projects, it was very hard for us to bring you here, and this journal is now one of the few joint project still operational between Israelis and Palestinians. Tell me about any other place where Palestinians and Israelis are meeting together and talking. It was mentioned that Palestinian psychologists from the occupied territories were invited to a conference and did not come. That was simply because no Palestinian is allowed to come into Israel, including East Jerusalem, and no Israeli is allowed to go to the Palestinian territories, at risk of trial. Therefore, as a result of the closure, there are no joint projects. The Journal is the only remaining place, and I am very worried that there may come a time when we will also be forced to stop this project. I hope not, and I'll do my best not to let that happen.
People in this political situation are becoming more and more against joint activities, against dialogue. We approached some people who had always been involved in joint activities with Israelis and asked them to write for the Journal, and they said no. And that is not only on the Palestinian side. There are some Israelis who don't dare come to East Jerusalem, though East Jerusalem is under Israeli control and annexed to Israel and Israel claims it's the capital of Israel. We have come to the point where the political situation, the occupation of the territories, is the main stumbling block to any education for coexistence.

Dan Leon: I also wanted to argue that, with all good intentions, the possibility of reviving dialogue groups and joint efforts, in my opinion, is not today on the agenda. It was viable when there was some sort of perspective that the process would be leading toward more hope and more freedom for the Palestinians. Then it was on the agenda, not now.
One very important point that we haven't mentioned here is why the peace process collapsed as it did. You know the "we-haven't-left-any-stone-unturned" theory of Ehud Barak. We will deal with this in a coming issue, and it's very relevant, because that's the reason why Israelis hold their present beliefs. But, basically, what I think emerges from the discussion is that the political reality is the infrastructure and education is only the superstructure. Important as it is, you can't start with the superstructure.

Gila Svirsky: In my opinion, it's the responsibility right now of the Israeli peace camp, including Peace Now, to educate the Israeli people about what really happened at Camp David. I believe that it's our responsibility to shatter the myth that Arafat was handed the best deal possible, and because he turned it down we have nobody to negotiate with. This myth has been, I believe, one of the several most important political factors in turning the liberal peace camp in Israel against the hope of peace with the Palestinian people. Because our media and our intellectuals set out from the assumption that the Palestinians reject peace no matter what we offer them, the whole liberal camp turned against them. And we cannot even begin to think, in the schools, of fostering a love for peace when our leadership, from Labor through Meretz, is unwilling to stand up and say what and who is really responsible for the failures at Camp David. I do not mean to say that only Barak was responsible, but certainly it was not only Arafat.

Ari Rath: If our main thinking is to re-educate the Israelis in the peace camp about what really happened at Camp David, that may be satisfactory for some people. I don't think it will achieve much. I am one of those Israelis who can recite to you, chapter and verse, the many mistakes that Barak made at the time, including the fact that it was published - but not much noticed - that Abu Mazen came to his home three days before Camp David asking, on behalf of the Palestinian leadership, not to drag them there by force since such a meeting needs preparation.
I am fully aware of Lucy's very moving account as to how children feel when their parents are humiliated and that all this is a function of the political situation. Hypothetically, there is still a chance that both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, will get back to reason and that the Israeli side will fulfill its part and withdraw its forces to the September 28 positions, etc. Then let's look ahead from there. Should the Palestine-Israel Journal still remain the only ongoing Palestinian-Israeli joint project? Or should we try to point in the direction of many more similar such non-institutional projects which brought about quite positive results in the past?

Naftali Raz: With your permission, firstly two short remarks to Ziad. One, I totally disagree with you, Ziad, that Jewish public opinion has turned to the right in the last ten years. This is one of the many misperceptions of how we see each other. All the opinion polls show that, in the last year, around 60 percent of the Jewish population in Israel in the last year supported peace in terms of what was offered at Taba, plus or minus. Ten years ago, the 60 percent were not even 40 percent. Thirty years ago, when I finished my army service and began to be active in the peace movement with Uri Avnery and others whom you know - we were so few that you couldn't give us one percent. In the last 30 years, Jewish public opinion in Israel has constantly moved to the left, even with the Intifada

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: How do you explain the growing power of Shas, the religious and national right-wing parties? Don't look at public opinion polls. Look at the results of the Israeli elections, for example.

Naftali Raz: That has a totally different explanation. It was because of what happened with Barak. It has nothing to do with changing public opinion to the right.

Ari Rath: Even now, in the ninth or tenth month of the Intifada, there are consistent public opinion polls - and also the Peace Index - indicating that 57 percent support giving up settlements and far-reaching political compromise, including dividing Jerusalem. It is also most interesting that four successive heads of the Israeli General Security Services (Shabak) - including the present one - are totally supportive, despite everything, of compromise. The present head of the Shabak, Avi Dichter, is quoted as saying that we must continue despite terror attacks to negotiate with Arafat, and all the rest is nonsense. And he's convinced that the only solution is a far-reaching compromise, including in Jerusalem.

Naftali Raz: My second remark is as to why Palestinians cannot or would not want to come to meetings.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: Don't misunderstand me. I said they cannot come and Israelis cannot come. There is closure. No Palestinian can come here. No Israeli can go there.

Naftali Raz: Exactly. Last week, the Van Leer Institute planned a half-day seminar. The Palestinian leaders who planned to participate and agreed to participate were allowed to come. They got clearance to attend, and then they refused to come.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: Do you know why? Because not one of them was allowed to come in his/her own car. Each one of them was asked to go to the Civil Administration and get a written permit to allow him/her to come here. This is very humiliating. No one can accept this kind of treatment.

Naftali Raz: Humiliation is with limits, you know. I agree with all that was said in the beginning about the limited power of education - and I said it in the first round as well - and what Lamis told us about what happened after all the preparations. Now, if we come to the point, Ari, that talks are renewed and closures will be at least partially opened, I want to say that kids' meetings, pupils' meeting, students' meetings, such as all of us were helping to organize in the past, are not effective. Even if I'll be able to take a Palestinian school from Ramallah with a Jewish school from Ramle together to the zoo - things we did 25 years ago - it will contribute nothing to the situation: the three severe primary points that you mentioned, Ziad - the media, the reality and the parents at home have a more decisive influence. So we should concentrate on political meetings of Israelis and Palestinians, political people to people. I think - and I am waiting for the stage when I'll be able to tackle this - that we have to organize political seminars of educators, of engineers, of media people, of different professions, that, from the start, will not ignore speaking about politics. I'm waiting for the stage when we'll be able to organize many kinds of political meetings in which, as a main aim, each side should work on the public opinion of the decision-makers of his/her side. That, of course, cannot be done now.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: If that would be possible, it would mean that the circumstances had started to change for the better.

Naftali Raz: I agree.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: So let's hope they will change.

Lamis Alami: It's like turning the clock back, going back to the days when we started dialogue. Looking back at that experience, it was not impossible to start dialogues together, and to try to engender more positive images of each other, instead of mutual stereotyping. I remember our experiences with the Jerusalem Link when we first met together. There was fighting all the time until we learned to reconcile our differences and accept the other's point of view.
But the question is, for those who then went through this experience, are they willing to go through that same experience at this particular time and stage? I know from those working with the Jerusalem Link on the Palestinian side that we are not able to recruit women. The work is being viewed as not appropriate for nationalistic Palestinian women, or even as collaboration. Unless the political atmosphere improves, it will be extremely difficult - at least for the Palestinians - to start again with those dialogues of the past. It could happen, but there are necessary preconditions to make such a development feasible.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: I wanted to say something encouraging towards the end. We agree that the curriculum is not the only element affecting education. From our side, we have made it very clear that the new Palestinian curriculum does not represent the other side in a negative way, but that we are trying to build a national curriculum that can teach our children self- respect, principles of democracy and how to contribute to building a civic society. We hope that, in the future, things will change, and then we can also start to envisage each other in a positive way. We also agreed that these are very difficult days, the main problem being the political situation and the occupation. This doesn't mean that we can sit and wait till the occupation ends. Each side should start thinking about what can be done to change this reality. I assume that if there is a breakthrough in the current crisis in the peace process, then we will again be able to go back to our joint efforts to change public opinion. I hope that will be much faster than the political developments.

Ari Rath: I think this is the best possible summing up of this round-table. Thanks to all of you, including Lucy Nusseibeh who couldn't stay the whole time. Let us hope that our discussion contributes to a more hopeful future. <