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Palestinians, Israelis Learn about the Other

Samara Greenberg

The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Education Ministry recently approved the use of a history textbook that offers the central narratives of both Palestinians and the Zionist movement, marking the first time that the Israeli position is being presented to schoolchildren in the West Bank. The textbook, titled “Learning the Historical Narrative of the Other,” is the result of a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Swedish collaboration to promote coexistence through education.

The book has been published in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Each page is split into three columns, with the Israeli narrative on the right, the Palestinian version on the left, and a blank section in the middle for students to write down their thoughts.

To start, the textbook will be used by Palestinians in two high schools near Jericho. In addition, the Sha’ar Hanegev high school in Israel began using the textbook in a special supplementary course after Aharon Rothstein, the head of the school, met with a delegation of Swedish mayors last August. During the visit, the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council and the Palestinian Authority’s Education Ministry signed a cooperation agreement stating that a small group of students from each area would use the book, and the teachers would collaborate and exchange instruction methods.

Also as part of the project, later this month a delegation of Israeli and Palestinian teachers will convene at a workshop in Sweden. Following the visit, during the second stage, 11th and 12th grade students from Israel, the West Bank, and Sweden will meet to discuss the textbook.

While a fuss is always made of high-level Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, leaders should not neglect that peace must also be created from the bottom-up, as two societies in conflict learn about – and begin to understand and perhaps even accept – the other. While it is unclear the extent to which the textbook will alter the children’s perspectives, it at least takes a step in the right direction as it tries to teach Palestinian children about events in Jewish history such as the Holocaust, and vice versa. As last month’s renewed peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli government stall, it is important to continue efforts such as this that foster Israeli-Palestinian collaboration.