Integrated Education in Israel and Palestine
Dr Faysal Mikdadi
Abstract: This paper outlines the current situation with the provision of integrated education in Israel and Palestine. It shows that provision is in its incipient stage with some signal success in the very few Israeli schools embracing it. It also shows that recent developments in Palestine had some success in inculcating a pluralist national identity whilst falling short in educating for peaceful co-existence. The paper concludes that difference within a dialogic and multilingual society should be celebrated and used to promote peace and co-existence and that one route to this lies in the successful provision of integrated education.
Acknowledgements: I am indebted to Soraya Boyd of Facilitate Global (www.facilitateglobal.org) for her initial suggestion that I carry out this piece of research. I am also grateful to Jackie Teplitz for suggesting Israeli research papers on integrated education in Israel and for putting me in touch with several practitioners in the field whose contributions and ideas were very useful to me. Several Palestinian and Israeli teachers and education practitioners have kindly responded to my request for information on their experiences of integrated education. Their useful advise was enhanced by several discussions with colleagues in Dorset, Hertfordshire, Poole, Suffolk and Wiltshire Local Authorities who were equally generous with their comments and suggestions. These friends and colleagues are too many to enumerate here. Finally, as always, I am grateful to Susan Walpole for reading this paper several times and for making several useful suggestions for necessary amendments. All views expressed and any errors made are entirely my responsibility.
Edward Said recognised that the exclusion of the ‘other’ is seminal in the formation of an identity (Said, 1986). I would like to suggest that the exclusion of other, as in the case of Palestinians, is equally formative in the negation of an identity as never having existed in the first place.
As a Palestinian, I have always acknowledged that a consciousness of my identity was predicated on a lifetime of being excluded by both Israel and the Arab world (Mikdadi, 1989). I never felt at home anywhere. I never felt that I belonged. I have been constantly unable to place myself within a national narrative because of dispossession and marginalisation. How could I and all those sharing my history belong to a Palestine that no longer existed? How could we belong to a Palestine that, according to a huge number of persons around the world never actually existed in the first place regardless of the flesh and blood history of my ancestors?
This alienation or denial of identity is not necessarily linked only to occupied peoples. It applies to any people who find themselves in a position of being powerless before a more powerful hegemonic force. For example, during British colonialism at its height, only those speaking English, adopting ‘English’ character attributes and accepting their subject status could be allowed to prosper. A more recent example is United States hegemony which is now seen by many as a form of cultural imperialism. Again, for example, in today’s Arab world, it is difficult for many Arabs to believe in a national narrative and to adopt a national identity. They are heavily influenced by all things American. So much so, that many Arabs write better English than they do Classical Arabic. Admittedly, this is partly due to Arabic being essentially dialogical in nature. However, the predominance of English is more due to education, the market place, English media, capitalist globalisation and rabid consumerism.
What Edward Said says about himself as a Palestinian living in the Palestinian Diaspora in the United States applies to a huge number of people around the world:
We [Palestinians] are a people of messages and signals, of allusions and indirect expression. We seek each other out, but because our interior is always to some extent occupied and interrupted by other – Israelis and Arabs – we have developed a technique of speaking through the given, expressing things obliquely and, to my mind, so mysteriously as to puzzle even ourselves (Said, 1986).
For Palestinian identity being “occupied and interrupted by other – Israelis and Arabs”, we can easily say that many Arabs’ identity is “occupied and interrupted by other” – American, Western and other cultural fashion fads from outside the Arab world. Add to that the fact that most Arabs have been infantilised by hundreds of years of occupation, foreign rule and – currently – dictatorships, it is hardly surprising that we Arabs are constantly in search of an identity. Hitchens and Said speak eloquently about an ongoing American campaign to suppress the Palestinian question (Said and Hitchins, 1988). Again, this could be taken further to encompass the Western cultural attempts successfully suppressing many a national identity whether through cultural hegemony or, as recently witnessed with the surge of Islamophobia, through the tactic of discrediting the ‘other’ – creating a ‘them’ and ‘us’ dichotomy that denies the ‘others’’ identity and subsumes it within the dominant so-called norm.
In his most important work, Edward Said has articulated the close link between knowledge and power (Said, 1978). In his seminal work, Orientalism, Said successfully shows how the West, and mostly Britain, rationalised colonialism as a civilising mission because the native could not possibly govern independently – hence European colonial expansionism in the Nineteenth Century – a project that had been so successful, that, despite being independent, many countries, including Arab countries, have actually become virtually unable to govern themselves successfully. Colonialism leads to infantilism which leads to dependency and subjugation – whether actual or assumed.
Essentially, Said’s vision of orientalism is that of an orient as “a European invention” which “had since antiquity” been “a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting, memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences” (Said, 1978).
Of course, it is now almost 35 years since Said wrote that highly influential work. The world has moved on since then. We have had so many developments all over the world that, surely, orientalism has now become a somewhat outdated, outmoded and somewhat naïve and one sided view. Or has it?
This paper is a brief historical overview of integrated education in an area of conflict – Israel and Palestine. I use the term ‘integrated education’ as one that makes it possible for every student to learn regardless of capability, ability, disability, race, gender, faith, nationality, culture, language, sexual orientation or any other situation or essence that may set him or her apart from what is commonly accepted as mainstream norms.
Now, for the sake of this paper, let us put aside the obvious fact that, if all those outside the “mainstream norms” were to be seen as one group, they would constitute the overwhelming majority of any population or group. Thus, the so-called “mainstream norms” are the minority that has historically arrogated to itself the trappings of normalcy. But then only one percent of the world population owns 90% of its business wealth and almost 40% of all else. Such facts beg the question as to which group is the “mainstream norm” in any area of life? But for purposes of this essay, let us suspend our disbelief sufficiently to accept the unacceptable, to wit, that the “mainstream norm” is that of those owning the knowledge and so exercising the power.
Pia Karlsson of the Institute of Public Management suggests that the small size of Palestine with its densely populated areas “favours a rapid spread of new ideas, with the swift dispersal of the concept of Inclusive Education” (Karlsson, 2004). Karlsson is writing about today’s Palestine; fractured, Israeli occupied, repressed and only comprising 22% of historical Palestine. Karlsson is also dealing with the inclusion of disabled Palestinians whose numbers have increased exponentially because of Israel’s handling of the occupied peoples.
History, of course, presents a different picture of Palestine through the ages which can be gleaned in a huge body of literature going back hundreds of years and continuing today, especially by Israeli so-called “New Historians”.
Although the Palestinian Authority has adopted an “Education for All” as a “guiding policy”, in practice there is no elaborate policy that actually exists (Karlsson, 2004). Some success has been achieved in creating an inclusive learning environment for disabled students (Karlsson, 2004). But there appears to be little in place for a culturally, racially or religiously inclusive education.
Karlsson rightly identifies the steps taken towards accepting and understanding the ‘other’ (in this case those with disabilities) before succeeding in providing inclusive education (Karlsson, 2004). The process involves the removal of prejudice and fear, attaining charity and compassion leading to acceptance and solidarity which in turn would lead to equity and equal opportunities (Karlsson, 2004). Karlsson goes on to make an apparently odd assertion:
Few countries, if any, in the South have taken such an ambitious initiative as Palestine to include all students in a public educational system. Considering the strenuous political and security situation, with continuous backlashes, new obstacles emerging constantly and personal tragedies experienced by everyone in a never ending struggle, the accomplishments are admirable, the achievements are, as a matter of fact, commendable also without any consideration of the hard conditions, the implemented strategy, the achievements so far and the firm commitment to continue the struggle for an education that allows every child to learn according to its needs are in themselves praiseworthy. Provided further development of the competence of the support organisation, i.e. the IE teams and co-ordinators and improvement of the teaching ability, the Palestinian way of approaching Inclusive Education may well serve as a model for many of the countries of the region (Karlsson, 2004).
Cynics who know the Arab World would be tempted to scoff at the last sentence about Palestine doing better than “many of the countries of the region”. Given the disastrous state of education in most Arab countries, anyone can do better than “many of the countries of the region”.
The idea of integrated education is best explained by Whitehead’s philosophy of organism stating that “nothing is in isolation” (Fan, 2004). Educators need, according to Whitehead, to “turn from reductionism” and think of totalities (Evans, 1998). An individual student should be “viewed holistically” (Fan, 2004). This concept has never felt as apt as it does today because of globalisation where communication with, and understanding of, each other has become an imperative if we wish to live in harmony.
National, as opposed to integrated education, produces passive knowledge gatherers who lack creativity because of limited specialisation (Evans, 1998). The result is alienation, separation and obfuscation of the sciences versus the arts which Whitehead sees as a major tragedy for humanity (Whitehead, 1967).
Whitehead, as ever, speaks eloquently, when he regrets the way that education has gone in recent times:
An education which does not begin by evoking initiative and end by encouraging it must be wrong. For its whole aim is the production of active wisdom… The fading of ideals is sad evidence of the defeat of human endeavor. In the schools of antiquity philosophers aspired to impart wisdom, in modern colleges our humbler aim is to teach subjects. The drop from divine wisdom which was the goal of the ancients, to text-book knowledge of subjects, which is achieved by the moderns, marks an educational failure, sustained through the ages (Whitehead, 1967).
Integrated education provides some of the answers by moving away from a culturally monological educational experience towards a varied, collaborative, active and dialogical educational experience.
Israel has been accused of repressing the Palestinian narrative and, indeed, of making it disappear. The Israeli historian Ilan Pappé accurately says, “The military rule imposed on the Palestinians in Israel deserves a book of its own, but almost like the Nakbah itself, it is still repressed by the traumatised victims and the guilt-stricken victimizers” (Pappé, 2011). Pappé has shown considerable courage in dedicating his book to the “memory of the thirteen Palestinian citizens [of Israel] who were shot dead by the Israeli police in October 2000” (Pappé, 2011). Pappé has written convincingly of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine when Israel was created (Pappé, 2006) and of the continued oppression of Palestinians inside Israel today (Pappé, 2011). Pappé had previously shown the power of Israel institutionalising the state to exclude Palestinians, Palestine and Palestinian history, culture, literature and any signifying attribute of being Palestinian (Pappé, 2004).
Ben White explains how Israel deals with Palestinians both inside and outside Israel:
An examination of Israel’s policies of segregation and ethno-national discrimination towards its Palestinian minority is instructive because they have Israeli citizenship. Despite the substantial evidence to the contrary, it is possible for the Israeli government to deflect attention from its apartheid regime in the West Bank by citing ‘security’ concerns and describing the territory as ‘disputed’. If there are different rights for the settlers in Ariel compared to Palestinians in Nablus, so this line goes, that’s because the former are citizens and the latter are subject to a mixture of Israeli military law and Palestinian Authority jurisdiction (White, 2012).
Despite all of these barriers, Israel has made a modest start towards integrating its Palestinian citizens although the situation is far from being perfect. In terms of education, Palestinian schools receive significantly less than Jewish schools in terms of funding or resources. As in Palestine, the curriculum is strictly partisan and is aimed at excising Palestine out of historical existence and enhancing Israel’s Jewish credentials (whilst in Palestine it denies Israel’s existence).
However, there have been some impressive moves in a small number of schools towards a genuinely integrated education provision. Another development in Israel has been the extensive research that has taken place into integrated education and its impact on national identities.
Bekerman talks of a curriculum the central ideology of which has “a declared twofold goal of supporting integration toward coexistence and safeguarding and strengthening of individual identity and sense of belonging to each original group” (Bekerman et al, 2009). The examples that Bekerman gives are those of students relating and learning about ceremonies, cultures, festivals, texts and other cultural or national artifacts. This sounds remarkably like tokenism although, within the context of the four or so Israeli schools providing integrated education, this may be too simplistic a view. One of the reasons why multicultural education lost its credibility has been the three S’s scenario: Somoza, Sitar and Sari where students and some staff prance around pretending to be that which they are not as a tribute to cultural diversity. Such tokenism is patronising and offensive because teachers do not “recognise just how easily we can fall into the stereotyping trap” (Mikdadi, 1985). This in itself led to the ridiculous position of a form of cultural relativism that went counter to everything that was part of the national British psyche, e.g. there are certain things that a citizen can do because his or her belief system was different to the majority population regardless of the local traditions or even laws. This is patently a nonsense and can cause severe schisms in society. The Parekh Report, amongst many recommendations, came out with the idea of “rethinking the national story” within a pluralistic culture. Of course, it could be argued, some twenty seven years after Parekh that the very essence of the report, focused on British Minority Ethnic (BME) was already divisive since, like the Swan Report, it separated one strand of society as if they were marginal to the majority in that society – patently not a desirable basis from which to conduct any research aimed at improving integration. Hence the failure of multicultural education (Mikdadi, 1985; Parekh 1985; Swan 1985). Of course, Lord Swan got around this by quoting Sir Peter Medawar’s definition of proper scientific enquiry as having the purpose of beginning “a story about a Possible World – a story which we invent and criticise and modify as we go along, so that it ends by being, as nearly as we can make it, a story about real life.” (Medawar, 1969).
The crux of the matter is quite simple: Integrated education is precisely that; “integrated”. It brings individuals with different backgrounds and different national narratives and it mixes them together in a world of equals so that each narrative has equal validity. The result is a synthesis and, in Sir Peter Medawar words, a new “Possible World”. Lord Parekh spoke eloquently when he defiantly said, “They say ‘you’ve come to Britain, be proud of our history’. We might say ‘wait a minute, we were invaded, bought and sold.” (Jaggi, 2000).
The Israeli experiment goes further in as far as it focuses on mixing Jewish and Palestinian students together and teaching them in both Arabic and Hebrew, acknowledging both national narratives and validating both communities. The very fact that these students live in a mixed community, learn together and play together takes their education way beyond the rather ridiculous British notion of multicultural education with its focus on paying lip service to difference whilst ignoring the necessity for real integration.
Bekerman suggests that both Israelis and Palestinians remain, at this time, “captives of Western monologic paradigms” (Bekerman, 2010). This astute criticism applies to most of the Middle Eastern nations which have sought to ape Western ways of doing things within a society ill equipped to cope with such alien innovation. The Western imperative of the individual is directly opposed to the Arab and – to a lesser extent – Israeli, mostly Jewish – collectivist view of society. Bekerman argues that “the universal invidividualism imposed by Western culture has not only homogenized our perspectives of self and dichotolized them into “us” and “them”, but has also homogenized our understanding of culture” (Bekerman, 2010). This idea of the Western philosophy with its individual as the supreme imperative based on a monologic essence does not fit into the Middle Eastern dialogic imperative. Bekerman’s analysis leads us back to Edward Said’s argument in Orientalism (Said, 1978).
It is precisely this monologic approach that insists on “our” superior story taking precedence over “theirs”. This is what leads to such illogical and racist statements as “What right have Muslims to demand that Shari’a Law be implemented in Britain?” or “What right have women to demand ‘women only parliamentary candidate lists’? or “What right have Jews to demand their own religious schools?”. The answer is very simple in each case, as British Citizens, they have exactly the same right as any other Citizen to demand whatever they damn well wish. If they can get a majority on their side, then so be it. The process is called democracy and it leads to change through assimilation and integration. And in a democracy if the majority disagrees, then an individual can demand as much as s/he wants, the democratic process will make sure that his/her demands fall on deaf ears.
Currently, in most countries, we have a situation of the “us” and “them” variety. This is actually duplicated in Israel and Palestine with the “us” being the majority Jewish population and the “them” being the minority Palestinian population both as a minority inside Israel and as an occupied subject peoples in the rest of Palestine. Within this context the work carried out by the few pioneering integrated education schools in Israel is nothing short of revolutionary.
Still, Bekerman argues that Israeli schools, “modeled as they are on the heritage of Western tradition, for the most part manipulate social demands to satisfy the needs of the dominant sector” (Bekerman, 2010). He goes on to argue:
If Western paradigms are at the root of our conflictual relationship to otherness, the possibility of directing educational efforts toward and emancipatory path of peaceful discourse, without instigating a radical change in our education institutions remains doubtful (Bekerman, 2010).
Despite this somewhat pessimistic view, brought about by the opposition of Western monologism to Arab and Israeli dialogism, Bekerman still believes in changing the education system in a way that would allow differences to create a better world. This is worth quoting in its entirety since it offers a well argued solution to the divisions between Israelis (as the dominant and militarily superior “us”) and Palestinians (as the subject peoples – perceptually inferior “them”):
Difference is a necessary condition for the construction of identity, but it is not necessary for it to be judgmental or domineering. If education for peace is what we are after, we must critically review our present concepts of identity which, under Western influence, point to differences only in order to create a dichotomy and domination. We must develop a new understanding and appreciation of difference as that which serves as an opportunity for an enriching dialogue and opens up the possibility of a dialogic relationship in which individualism and autonomy are not translated into isolation, but, rather, create an occasion to work collaboratively towards a better world (Bekerman, 2010).
In other words, integrated education needs to mix the two populations together, acknowledge both national narratives, use both Arabic and Hebrew (without translation being allowed), encourage students to mix socially and to be friends and to have an open mind to each other’s cultures and ways of life. In the highly successful Israeli Galil School, teachers start off by helping students to mix regardless of ethnic, religious or linguistic background. This is done “systematically and later on it happens voluntarily” (Anonymous teacher, 2012 in a personal response to the author). The very language used by Galil School staff is non partisan with no evidence of the “them” and “us” dichotomy. The references made to each being “free to use his/her own language” and to a “curriculum that teaches both national identities through dialogues and joint celebrations” (Anonymous teacher, 2012). When asked about “religious occasions” the teacher responded that “we celebrate the holidays of all three [revealed] religions” (Anonymous teacher, 2012). Finally, the teacher responding speaks about collaborative planning as both “adding to the richness of the educational process” as well as being an agent of change in the teachers themselves (Anonymous teacher, 2012). This latter claim validates much research findings that teachers collaborating in planning lessons actually undergo a change themselves as they learn from each other and as they assimilate the other person’s or persons’ point of view. Before collaborating, Israeli and Palestinian teachers had separate and often opposing world views:
In the discourse of nations, imprisoned in the “discursive resources” of national rhetoric, both Palestinian and Jewish participants seem to hold true to a definition of personal and group/national identity best in tune with the modern positivist psychological western paradigm (Hall, 1996; Harre & Gillett, 1994). Their identities are assumed to be primordial and essential and the conflicts between them are viewed as arising from the present nation/state world configuration, a reality also assumed to be primordial and necessary, and indeed reflecting the fact that nationalism has become the most successful ideology of modernity (Billig, 1995; Gellner, 1983) (Bekerman, 2002).
The participants in Bekerman’s research confirmed that working together as Israelis and Palestinians did actually change each individual’s state. However, along with individuals changing their perception does not always come the desire of changing practice. Indeed, Bekerman concludes that “when Jews are ready to acknowledge the need to offer equality, this equality does not easily acknowledge the need for Arab [i.e. Palestinian] national cultural and/or symbolic legitimization” (Bekerman, 2002). This does not only apply to Palestinian Israelis but also to many of Israel’s own sub cultures, e.g. Sefardic Jews dominated by an Ashkenazi Jewish paradigm of a “Western Hegemonic landscape” (Bekerman, 2002) – and a highly successful one at that.
The desired result, as in the case of the successful Israeli Gali School, is “youth who can acknowledge and respect one another while cultivating loyalty to their own cultural heritage” (Bekerman and Maoz, 2005).
Is it possible to do this? The examples of Canada, Switzerland and, to a lesser extent, Northern Ireland and Cyprus would appear to indicate that this is possible. It seems quite possible for different peoples to live together in peace as, for example, German, French, Italian and Romansh speakers do in Switzerland. They have maintained their individual communities’ different identities, cultures and languages by somehow putting aside the monological understanding of cultures and accepting their dialogical equal, but separate, identities. In Israel, a similar thing is beginning to happen on a much smaller scale. Where Arabic and Hebrew are used as equal languages of instruction there is a “high level of multilingualism, equal opportunities for academic achievement, a strong, positive multilingual and multicultural identity, including positive attitudes toward self and others” (Bekerman and Maoz, 2005). Zizek maintains that an individual’s interaction with his/her environment constitutes that kind of dialogue that causes a change or a series of changes to take place (Zizek, 1997). Bekerman takes this argument further and shows that this process becomes the route to an “enlightenment” which leads to an equality wherein each is “entitled to choose what they wish to be,” although Bekerman does not quite say it like that but he leads towards it by talking about monologic cultures postulating that they exist within “clearly delineated boundaries that are entitled to recognition”. By implication the individual comes second to the collective within this context as is seen in some non democratic, oligarchic or dictatorial Arab States.
Speaking about students with special educational needs and/or disabilities, Karlsson concludes that Palestine is a beacon of progress when compared with most other countries in the region (Karlsson, 2004). The picture for integrated education, especially aimed at peaceful co-existence and mutual empathy, is less clear. The World Social Forum (WSF) – also World Education Forum (WEF) – concluded, in its 2009 thematic forum on education held in Montreal and its 2010 similar forum held in Palestine, that the Palestinian educational process has been severely restrained by Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands since 1967 (WSF, 2009). Such restraints vary from the difficulties that Palestinians experience in their movement around their territories and the Separation Wall to the severe curtailment of educational opportunities resulting from many imposed barriers. The Forum concluded that “the magnitude of the [Palestinian] society’s psychological distress is alarming [with] the military occupation… uprooting the sense of being human”. The Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008 and 2009 caused major destruction and loss of life with the “educational institutions across Gaza still reeling from the effects of the Israeli offensive, compounded by the more than two-year-long Israeli blockade” (WSF, 2009 and 2010).
Despite these negative results, the very fact that the WEF chose to focus on Palestine introduced a new agenda of education that is based on “democracy, egalitarianism and fairness” (WEF, 2010). The fundamental principle is that “public education for everyone is an inalienable human right guaranteed and paid for by the state. It must be democratic, egalitarian and fair” (WEF, 2009). The idea underlying all of this is that education is a change agent based on the World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) articulated in Dakar with a strong commitment by all participants.
However, these are but grand words probably more honoured in the stated intent than in actual facts on the grounds. There are still, across the world, some 75 million children without primary education and 776 million adults who lack the most basic literacy skills (WSF, 2009). Rather like Whitehead’s grand aspirations, such sentiments remain, both in Palestine and Israel, purely just that: well intentioned sentiments. There are serious barriers to realising them in Palestine which partly relate to the limitations imposed by the occupation but also which partly relate to innate social constraints, e.g. religious obscurantism, traditional collectivist culture as opposed to one that nurtures the individual as a free thinking agent and serious social and political divisions that are firmly rooted in a turbulent history.
Integrated education in Palestine is in its infancy. As was shown above in this paper, it is also incipient in Israel with very few schools dedicated to it although they have made significant strides in integrating Palestinians and Israelis working and learning together in effectively run schools – few as these may be for now. Drewry is right in saying: “This smacks of defeatism. Children of any cultural, socio-economic or political background can be educated in the same building, learning and playing together. They typically grow into more tolerant and accepting adults” (Drewry, 2007). This statement, made about Israel, applies equally to Palestine.
There have been recent improvements in Palestinian education provision in recent years – particularly in Eastern Palestine (West Bank). The situation in Southern Palestine (Gaza) is more problematic because of the recent turbulence caused by Israel’s attacks of 2008-2009 and by the subsequent total blockade. Thirty three per cent of the total population of Palestine are in education and the number is increasing (Rihan, 2001). The figure for higher education is 25% (Rihan, 2001). Rihan concludes that the uncertainty of the political situation in Palestine has contributed to the stagnation of its curriculum over the years (Rihan, 2001). This situation was exacerbated by Israeli interference in the Palestinian education system. For example, the Israeli Authorities insisting on the extreme case of deleting all reference to “Palestine” in history books and insisting on it being replaced by “Israel” or the “Land of Israel” which Rihan concludes led to “absurdities in some cases” (Rihan, 2001).
For years, the Palestinian education system remained unchanged and, in many cases, utterly unsuitable for the shrinking labour market with its old division of “literary” and “scientific” streams and with its inheritance of both the deplorably obscurantist Egyptian and outdated Jordanian education systems (in Gaza and the West Bank respectively). Rihan shows that an emerging Palestinian curriculum in 1998 was articulated in the unfortunately named Five-Year Education Development Plan (Rihan, 2001) with its reminiscences of eponymous Stalinist and Maoist failed policies.
The new curriculum includes a belief in God, loyalty to Palestine, respect for humanity, promotion of Islamic culture, respect of other cultures, Palestine as the Palestinians’ homeland and an indivisible part of the Arab nation, Palestine with its own cultural, religious and geographic significance, Palestine as a democratic peace-loving state, belief in human values and principles and an active participation in the advancement of human civilisation (The Palestinian Five-Year Education Development Plan 2000/2001-2004/2005, 2004).
Much debate could be entered upon as to why the Palestinian curriculum should include “a belief in God” and not opportunities for Humanists, Atheists or others. Further discussions could take place about the “Islamic” nature of Palestine when its population includes Christians and Jews (especially if the Jewish Settlers are to be counted as part of the agreed new Palestinian State). Some might even wish to argue against being designated as part of the Arab Nation given the harm and inhuman treatment that Arab countries have meted out to Palestinian refugees. Finally, Palestine was not the birthplace of the three revealed religions since Islam was born in Arabia. But that is being a little pedantic given the stated emotional response of Muslims to the City of Jerusalem.
Rihan says that “it would be extremely far-fetched to interpret these foundations as implying an irredentist hidden agenda” (Rihan, 2001). This is inaccurate, because the issues raised above are the very issues that would imply irredentism in Palestinian planning. Rihan further makes the error of arguing that there has been a “traditional Islamic emphasis on the compatibility of science with religion” when there is no evidence of such compatibility (Rihan, 2001). It is rather like arguing that there is compatibility between Genesis and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. The compatibility may be an intellectual one for many, but it does not stand scrutiny when analysed. There is a requirement to separate the two or to suspend disbelief in order to reconcile them. The Palestinian Curriculum, like the Israeli one based on Judaism, cuts the Gordian Knot and goes straight for an accepted assertion – but an assertion nonetheless.
Putting these issues aside, one could easily argue that within a “democratic peace-loving state” citizens could make whatever change that they desire through the ballot box. Furthermore, the important point sits in the curriculum trying to inculcate a clear Palestinian identity which has been a long time coming.
Rihan rightly argues that “the Palestinian narrative of the history of Palestine/Israel is as authentic, valid, factual and deeply felt as the Israeli narrative” (Rihan, 2001). It is through this mutual recognition of each other’s national narrative that reconciliation and peace lie. Regrettably, attempts to bridge the divide have not met with much success in either Israel or Palestine. Just as the term “Philistine” had historical negative connotations, so did the term Hebrew which came from “Habiru” meaning “outsider” and was a term applied to nomads, fugitives, bandits and workers (from the Egyptian ‘Apiru) who moved into Palestine with the Hykos and other largely Semitic peoples in about 1630 BC. The etymological relationship between Habiru and Hebrew and between Philistine and Palestine has caused a long history of arrant human stupidity that can only be eradicated by a system of truly integrated education aimed at getting everyone to understand each other and to live side by side in peace.
Regrettably, this is still not happening in Palestine although there are glimmerings of it through the new curriculum and, more importantly, through the serious and consistent attempts to identify, agree and diffuse a Palestinian national identity in tune with the imperatives of the situation today rather than some esoteric debate about historic misfortunes.
Teaching is a highly individual activity (Glazier, 2004). Teachers work largely alone and, despite recent attempts by England’s intrusive OfSTED and other such Governmental Organisations to homogenise teaching practice, teachers still work individually.
Those who have worked collaboratively have seen collaboration as an agent of change which “leads ultimately to a transformation of how they teach their own and each other’s children” (Glazier, 2004). Collaborative planning, teaching and learning lead to self development which in itself leads to change. Collaboration, which is not quite the same as the OfSTED result of homogenising teachers through excessive scrutiny according to unimaginative criteria for judging their performance, eventually allows individual teachers to maintain their individualism whilst changing their state over time. This is done through being challenged by each other, self examination and eventually by the consequence of change (Glazier, 2004).
Glazier gives a dramatic example of a paradigm shift in understanding when, in an Israeli School delivering integrated education, a Jewish teacher asks a Palestinian:
“Didn’t the [Israeli] government give something to the Arabs [Palestinians] in return for the land?” she asked in Hebrew. [The Palestinian teachers] answered in strong unison in Hebrew – “Ma pitom,” figuratively “What are you talking about?”… [They] further explained that, in their understanding, nothing was given to the Arabs [Palestinians] in return for the land that was reappropriated (sic.) (Glazier, 2004).
For the first time the Israeli teacher’s eyes were being opened to realities that she had not even known about before collaborating in teaching with her two Palestinian colleagues. This was part of a discussion of the Palestinian Land Day which commemorates the loss of Palestinian land to Israel. As a result of this and many other experiences the teachers concerned were changing.
By triangulating across the various data sources, I discovered that these three teachers developed an understanding about self and other through sharing their work of teaching, an uncommon practice in the teaching profession… Without exploring our own cultural identity, we run the risk of continuing to ignore the cultures that exist for others (Glazier, 2004).
The crux of the matter lies in accepting the “other” rather than marginalising or fearing them. This can only happen through communication which is encouraged through integrated education (Elbaz-Luwisch, Freema and Kalekin-Fishman, Devorah, 2006).
Peace can only come through dialogue. Dialogue can only take place through recognising and understanding the “other” and this is done through an integrated education leading to shared narratives.
Shared narratives lead to two opposing communities to begin to find a kind of rapprochement. The traditional collectivist imperatives of the Palestinian society and the monologic individualist approach of Israeli society could live side be side and each change over time to synthesise themselves into a new and better society. Each has something to offer the other with their separate teaching and learning processes being predicated on each side’s culture (Eilam, 2003).
A small number of Palestinian – Jewish schools in Israel and Palestinian schools in Palestine have begun to make an effort to provide integrated education with varying degrees of success. Palestinian schools attempting integrated education are still at the stage of implementing a new curriculum trying to foster a renaissant national identity. The few Israeli schools fostering coexistence between Jews and Palestinians have been a little more successful because of their relative independence, affluence and, recently, State support. The Israeli Jewish – Palestinian schools have based their work on a shared vision of a multicultural society whose citizens coexist in peace (Rajuan, Maureen and Bekerman, Zvi, 2011).
Integrated education successfully disturbs the culture of “us” and “them” so prevalent in the Western world because of race and class; in the Middle East because of faith dominance and race; in Israel – Palestine because of occupation and colonial hegemony. Where Hebrew and Arabic are used the barriers are broken down further. This creates a “socio-political field of many identities” not dissimilar to the successful one in Switzerland (Svirsky, Marcelo; Mor-Summerfeld, Aura; Azaiza, Faisal; Hertz-Lazarowitz, Rachel, 2006).
Research shows that “bilingual education can be the key, not just for learning or knowing another language, but also for changing our views and perceptions of others; and thus it becomes an intercultural practice for itself (Svirsky, Marcelo; Mor-Summerfeld, Aura; Azaiza, Faisal; Hertz-Lazarowitz, Rachel, 2006).
For “bilingual education” one could just as easily substitute “integrated education” which includes bi- as well as multi-lingualism.
The Israeli writer, S. Yizhar, was a young soldier in 1948 when he and his comrades were ordered to expel the Palestinian inhabitants of Khirbet Khizeh village as part of the new Israeli State’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Yizhar describes the event and narrates his struggle with his conscience over what he and his countrymen and women did to the Palestinians. He ends his evocative and moving narration with this hopeful view of what was to come:
The valley was calm. Somebody started talking about supper. Far away on the dirt track, close to what appeared to be its end, a distant, darkening, swaying truck, in the manner of heavy trucks laden with fruit or produce or something, was gradually being swallowed up. Tomorrow, both painful humiliation and helpless rage would turn into a kind of casual irritation, shameful but fading fast. Everything was suddenly so open. So big, so very big. And we had all become so small and insignificant. Soon a time would arise in the world when it would be good to come home from work, to return exhausted, to meet someone, or walk alone, to walk saying nothing. All around silence was falling, and very soon it would close upon the last circle. And when silence had closed in on everything and no man disturbed the stillness, which yearned noiselessly for what was beyond silence – then God would come forth and descend to roam the valley, and see whether all was according to the cry that had reached him (Yizhar, 1949).
And, some sixty years later, the Palestinian author Raja Shehade wrote equally evocatively:
As I stood in the ruins of one of my favourite places in the valley, this valley near where I was born and have always lived, I felt the hills were not mine any more. I am no longer free to come and walk. They have become a dangerous place where I do not feel safe. This experience marked the end of a lovely epoch.
Before we left the hills I turned around. The sun was setting. The side of the hill we were on was shaded. Across the valley the limestone rocks reflected the muted light. I bid this valley farewell. I would not be coming back here for a long time. Perhaps not before this damned conflict with Israel with all its nasty consequences ends, if this should happen in my lifetime (Shehadeh, 2007).
What is the difference between the two human beings: Israeli and Palestinian?
There are no Israelis or Palestinians, just human beings. There are no Christian, Jews or Muslims, just human beings. There are no enemies, just human beings with more in common than ever assumed. There are no oppositions, just commonalties of aspirations and common dreams. There are no dichotomies, just connections that validate peaceful coexistence. There are no contradictory histories, just hand in hand futures.
All of this starts with a common narrative, shared aspirations and an integrated education that instils all that is needed to live together, with our differences enriching us towards becoming one in the distant future through mutual understanding and development.
Dr Faysal Mikdadi is Head of Education at Facilitate Global and can be contacted at email@example.com, January 2012
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