Source: Harvard Educational Review. Volume 79, Issue 1; pg. 104 – 114. (Spring 2009).
The project of the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME) focuses on teachers and schools as critical forces for changing deeply entrenched and polarized attitudes on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this article, the authors present the work of a team of Israeli and Palestinian teachers who developed a history textbook that includes both groups' narratives of the same events side by side. The aim was to break down stereotypes and build more nuanced understandings among the next generation of citizens in each of the two states in the region: Israel and the future Palestinian state. These teachers then tested the effects of its use in both Israeli and Palestinian classrooms; for the first time, students on each side of the conflict were exposed to the other side's understanding of key historical events.
The cofounders of PRIME, a Palestinian professor of education and an Israeli psychology professor, together with one historian from Bethlehem University and another from Tel Aviv University, chose the narratives project team based on personal acquaintance and colleagues' recommendations. These teachers were seen as professional and as capable of and interested in cooperating with the other side. The team included an equal number of male and female history teachers (six Palestinians, ages 28-67, and six Jewish Israelis, ages 34-65), as well as one female Jewish Israeli observer and evaluator. Teaching experience ranged between seven and thirty-five years. Most of the Palestinian teachers, who were from Hebron, Bethlehem, and East Jerusalem, had never before participated in dialogue encounters with Israelis. Several of the Israeli teachers, who taught in high schools in the center and north of Israel, had participated in previous encounters with Palestinians.
The authors present the challenges that the team faced in developing the textbook and that teachers encountered in the classroom as well as the understanding and collaboration this project fostered. They argue that the process of creating the dual-narratives text, as well as the text itself, allows teachers to play a productive role in violent political conflicts.
One outcome of this project is its application in European schools. The first booklet has already been translated into Italian, French, German, Spanish, and other languages for use in European communities seeking to build bridges of understanding between their citizens and rising Islamic immigrant populations. This project is a good example of the role even a small group of teachers can play in violent political conflicts.