For a few years now, I have been a participant in a group of
Israeli and Palestinian English teachers who see education as vitally
important to encouraging and accompanying peace in our region. We meet,
talk, argue, listen, learn and give support to each other as human beings
caught up in this conflict. We get to know each other and, as professional
educators, we try to plan English-teaching classroom activities that may
encourage pupils on both sides of the conflict not to de-humanize the
Below is a more detailed description written by Ora Shnabel ,
the English group facilitator. There are also some photos from a
Let's Try and Make a
Would you like to meet Palestinian teachers of English and together
prepare teaching materials for use in class?
Would you like to be involved in promoting tolerance and mutual
understanding by devising lesson plans and units using literary texts for
use in the classroom?
Would you like to engage in professional dialogue as Israeli
English teachers with Palestinian English teachers from Ramallah, Jenin
and East Jerusalem, to better understand one another and promote bett
understanding within our educational frameworks?
This is what we have been doing in The Middle East Children
Associationfor several years, even during the last three years of the
Intifadah. The Middle East Children Association is a partnership
between Israeli and Palestinian (from the PA) educators involved in
professional dialogue and joint projects. There are 15 bi-national
groups, including a group of English teachers.
I, Ora Shnabel, a veteran teacher and trainer of English teachers,
have been facilitating a group of eight Israeli teachers with Kowlah
Othman from Beit Zafaffa. My co-facilitator has a similar number of
teachers from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We have succeeded in
holding three bi-national meetings in the last academic year and hope to
continue to hold bi-national meetings whenever there is an
Each side holds uni-national meetings once a month. This enables us
to become a cohesive group which acts as a support group, but also works
on development and trial of materials, with feedback on what works and
We are committed to helping our students create a better, more
tolerant and peaceful future, especially during such difficult times
filled with uncertainty about the present and future.
We are resuming our activities now for the new school year, and
would very much like to have more committed teachers with us.
If you are interested in joining us contact Ora Shnabel 09-9570162,
ENGLISH TEACHERS PROMOTE
TOLERANCE AND MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING
East Children Association is a
bi-national organization of educators working on professional dialogue and
joint projects in various directions. Middle East Children
Association is a partnership between Israeli and Palestinian (from
the PA) educators committed to a better future for their students.
There are 15 bi-national groups to date: English, History and
Literature, Human Rights, Non-Violence, Civics, Pre-school, Principals and
Students, for example. The work is conducted within uni-national
groups with bi-national meetings held according to
WHAT: The English
teachers group is comprised of committed English teachers who meet once a
month in a uni-national format. Last year this group succeeded in
holding three bi-national meetings to work on joint materials based on
literary texts promoting tolerance. The English teachers' project is
to develop lesson plans and units based on literary texts, promoting
tolerance and mutual understanding, for all levels of English
instruction. These materials will then be implemented into
classrooms with feedback on the applications.
Israeli English teachers meet monthly mostly in Jerusalem. Bi-national
meetings take place usually in East Jerusalem, and sometimes overseas due
to technical difficulties of arranging local bi-national meetings.
Our goal is to meet both uni- and bi-nationally in Jerusalem whenever
Educators, the way in which we can contribute to change, is within our
classrooms. We are committed to helping our students develop skills
to critically think, to better listen to one another, to examine and cope
with differences, and to cope with levels of uncertainty. We hope to
thus promote greater tolerance and mutual understanding that can be the
basis of a better, more peaceful future.
HOW: Ora Schnabel
is the Israeli facilitator of this group. She is a veteran teacher,
trainer and facilitator who has been working with Middle East Children
Association from its inception of 1996. Together with her
co-facilitator Kowlah Othman from Beit Zafaffa, they coordinate
regularly both the uni- and bi-national objectives and work outline.
If you are interested in joining us contact Ora Shnabel 09-9570162,
058-817452 or by e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an article
form the Jerusalem Post written on 6/8/2000 . It is outdated but still
interesting. I have no idea how accurate the details are.
in listening to the other side Front Page Feature By Eetta
(August 6) - The Camp David talks ended in
failure, but unlike the official negotiators, the co-directors of the
Middle East Children's Association simply won't consider failure as an
MECA, founded in 1996, brings together Israeli and
Palestinian teachers to create mutually acceptable educational programs
that the teachers will take back to their schools and colleagues.
"On the one hand, the summit failure makes me feel like I'm
swimming upstream, against the odds," says Adina Shapiro, one of the
directors. "But on the other hand, it makes me want to work even harder,
so that the cooperation and progress that MECA has already made can
"It's not easy to keep going," agrees Ghassan Abdullah,
her co-director, "but hope is the only medicine for the illnesses of the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and education is the only way to create real
peace between our two peoples. Maybe the leaders can afford to fail, but
In a particularly heated meeting last spring,
Palestinian teachers described experiences of humiliation and shame at the
hands of IDF soldiers. The Israeli teachers responded defensively,
accusing the Palestinians of exaggeration and emotional manipulation. The
rhetoric deteriorated rapidly into yelling and mutual recriminations.
Watching and listening was Yehuda Wachsman, co-leader of the
working group dealing with human rights. He has introduced himself to the
group as a retired physics teacher, but Israelis and Palestinians alike
know that he is the father of Nachshon Wachsman, who was kidnapped and
murdered by terrorists in 1994. Since his son's death, Wachsman has become
active in Israeli-Palestinian grassroots peace efforts.
Israelis know how many Palestinians have died under your occupation?"
shouts an angry Palestinian from Bethlehem. "You are responsible for
Then Wachsman speaks up, his broad,
bearded face sad and resolute.
"Haven't we all suffered enough?"
he challenges. "Haven't enough people died on both sides? Will blaming
each other for the past make a better future?"
The teachers are
silent for a few moments. Suddenly they begin to discuss how to teach
human rights to their students.
The ensuing discussion doesn't
ignore the occupation or terrorism, but stays clear of blame and history.
An hour later, they are all enjoying a coffee break, joking with
Wachsman and each other. Amnah, a 27-year-old teacher from Ramallah,
"I admire Yehuda so much," she says. "He doesn't
blame us for his son's death, so how can I blame all Israelis for the
Palestinians' suffering? He could be bitter, but instead he helps us to
teach about peace. He is a courageous Israeli."
Although MECA is
the only organization that focuses exclusively on Palestinian and Israeli
education, it is part of a larger grassroots peace-education movement that
includes organizations such as Seeds of Peace, the Peace Research
Institute in the Middle East, the Truman Institute of the Hebrew
University, and new centers being established at Tel Aviv University,
Haifa University, and al-Quds University.
Last year, under MECA's
auspices, more than 200 teachers participated in working groups that
focused on topics such as human rights, conflict resolution and coping
with violence, geography, history, the teaching of math and science, and
music. They come from different school systems, religious and secular,
Christians, Moslems and Jewish, throughout Israel and the Palestinian
Authority. Meeting as professionals, they discuss the similarities and
differences in their experiences as teachers and peace educators.
The working groups meet every two weeks. Teachers and leaders are
required to submit written reports on the groups' progress. The teachers
receive a minimum stipend as well as travel expenses for their efforts,
but Shapiro notes that a large number of the teachers actually return the
money to the organization as a contribution.
Authority lends tacit support, as does the Israeli Ministry of Education,
although MECA guards its independence carefully. Operating on a tight
budget of less than $500,000, MECA is supported primarily by donations and
philanthropic organizations, especially by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
MECA's leadership is committed to complete equality among the
Palestinians and Israelis, but creating equality among the participants is
"The occupation is always present, it always
intrudes," says Abdullah. "Sometimes, some of the teachers can't get a
permit to come into Israel, and other times they are detained and
humiliated at the checkpoints. We try to meet as equals, but we know that
we don't live as equals."
Each working group is carefully composed
of equal numbers from both sides and facilitated by both a Palestinian and
an Israeli. All printed materials are carefully translated into Arabic and
Hebrew. Meetings are conducted through simultaneous translation, so that
no one will be at a disadvantage because of language. Most meetings take
place at Tantur, a Christian institution between Bethlehem and Jerusalem,
dedicated to ecumenical understanding.
But nothing is simple. Even
seemingly small issues, such as where a brochure should be printed or
where MECA's offices should be located, can be fraught with conflicting
symbolisms. Shapiro and Abdullah model the differences and the commitment
to their resolution. Both are deeply rooted in the mainstreams of their
communities and seem an unlikely pair of co-directors.
born in Jerusalem 25 years ago, attended the prestigious Horev religious
high school and graduated from the Hebrew University Faculty of Law. While
in college, she volunteered to teach Hebrew to Palestinian children,
leading her to create MECA. Shapiro, who is modern Orthodox, also teaches
high school in Jerusalem.
Abdullah, 45, holds a Ph.D in
educational development from Newport State University in California. His
family owned extensive property in the Beisan (now Beit She'an) area, but
fled to Ramallah in 1948. During the intifada, Abdullah was a leader of
the "popular education campaign," that provided underground education to
Palestinian children while official schools were closed. He was jailed
briefly for political activity.
Neither Shapiro nor Abdullah, who
often work 50-hour weeks, accept payment for their efforts.
insist on emphasizing, rather than blurring, their identities. Shapiro
begins each public session with commentary from Jewish sources, while
Abdullah often comments on the political situation. Shapiro insists that
kosher food be served at all meetings, though she knows that even most of
the Jewish participants do not care if the food is kosher.
"I am a
religious Jew, and I will not convene a meeting that doesn't provide
kosher food," she states emphatically.
Their initial meetings were
difficult, Abdullah acknowledges.
"Adina is the first religious
Jew I have ever met who isn't a settler," he explains.
that she was insisting on the religious aspects for political reasons.
Now, I've learned to respect her, and to understand that her religious
observance is a genuine part of her identity."
Abdullah often disagree over both administrative and pedagogical issues,
and their meetings are sometimes tense, occasionally angry, and frequently
"We try to model the way the teachers should relate
to each other, too," says Shapiro. "We're not perfect, and everything
isn't sweet. But we can talk about it, and we can continue to meet."
Yet not every difference between them can be resolved. Last
winter, a teacher who lives in Kiryat Arba wanted to join one of the
working groups. The Palestinians refused to accept him.
Palestinians, we have learned to distinguish between Israelis who want
peace and justice, and those who do not," says Abdullah. " A settler is
part of the occupation - the occupation that deprives me of my rights,
confiscates my land, imprisons me, and even deprives me of water to drink.
No, we cannot meet with settlers."
Over the summer, Shapiro and
Abdullah are busy planning next year's program. The teachers and leaders
have all agreed to return, and new topics are being added. They are
struggling to raise money, but determined to continue despite the
political, emotional, professional, and financial difficulties.
Yet, despite their commitment to meet, no matter what the
political climate, Palestinian officials admit that it is becoming
increasingly difficult to support these grassroots activities.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior official in the
Palestinian Ministry of Education comments: "These peace-education
organizations create an illusion that peace is here, and that the
relations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel are normal. But
peace isn't here, and the relations aren't normal, and the Palestinian
public is becoming very angry. So on the one hand, we want to encourage
peace activities, but on the other hand, we don't want to pretend that
everything is OK."
Abdullah disagrees. "The Palestinians and the
Israelis have tried bloodshed and occupation for more than half a century,
and it didn't work. It's time to try education."
This article, written by the co-directors of
MECA, appears in the UN Online Cronicle Edition
Education as a Matter
of Policy By Ghassan Abdullah and Adina
Ghassan Abdullah and Adina Shapiro are co-Directors of the
Middle East Children's Association (MECA)
Dr. Abdullah, a lecturer at Al Quds University, has
been involved in Palestinian-Israeli dialogue since the mid-1980s and
spent many years as Director of the Center for Applied Research in
Education, a Palestinian organization that develops curricula for
Ms. Shapiro has
served as Acting Director of the Institute for State Attorneys and Legal
Advisors at the Israeli Ministry of Justice. She began working on the
Israeli-Palestinian education eight years ago when she started teaching
Hebrew at the first school in the Palestinian Authority that offered it as
a mandatory class. Her experience there eventually led to the founding of
MECA. She is currently finishing her law degree.
From the political point of view, the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process was jump-started with the signing of the
Oslo Accords. A famous handshake between two enemies raised hopes for a
peaceful future, close at hand. Since then, it has become clear that such
diplomatic efforts alone are insufficient to bring peace to the Israeli
and Palestinian communities who have been adversaries for so many
Political leaders may attempt, and occasionally succeed, to
conclude agreements about borders, water and security, but their efforts,
vital as they are, are conducted in the rarefied atmosphere of high-level
international diplomacy. They do not directly advance reconciliation
between peoples. In order to create a just and stable peace between
Israelis and Palestinians, individuals, communities and civil institutions
must join hands with diplomats to facilitate deep changes in attitudes, by
way of participating, designing and implementing creative educational
curricula that challenge existing stereotypes and perishing aspects of
Even the most honest, good faith implementation of
political agreements cannot repair the chiasmatic psychological, emotional
and educational fault lines opened after years of conflict. If left
unattended, these "black holes" can swallow up years of hard diplomatic
efforts. Our painful experience has taught us that we have no choice but
to recognize the educational system as playing a strategic role in the
This is important for two main reasons: The
educational systems can only be used as a means for dissemination of peace
if their legitimacy as shapers of attitudes is restored and recognized by
political leaders. Addressing these issues on the strategic level shows to
the peoples on both sides that, ultimately, it is their commitment to
peace and reconciliation that will assure the outcome of the political
process. In our area, if the political leaders fail to recognize the role
of educational institutions in the process and in future stability, how
can we expect the next generation to put their faith in that same system?
Already we witness the daily violations of human rights on both sides, the
domination of violence, and the strong negative effects of the mass media,
as the issue of incitement is raised as a tool for each side to
delegitimize the other. If we do not recognize educational institutions as
vehicles to create and affect society, we leave a vacuum for
others—proponents of hate and conflict—to fill.
In trying to create
stability in a region so wounded and affected by violence and war, the
educational institutions must be seen as central partners in the
One of the fundamental building blocks of a
stable reality is an educational system that: enhances the capacities,
values and responsibilities of citizens; guarantees the involvement and
participation of the communities; acknowledges multi-cultural approaches;
and is open to explore new initiatives. This is not a question of how a
child learns to perceive his or her former enemy; it is a larger question
of how a child becomes capable and confident to provide for his or her
future. Peace and security cannot be guaranteed by security measures
alone, which as necessary as they are can often antagonize and divide.
Such security measures will serve their purpose if they are enforced in
the context of a civil society, which can exist and flourish only if
supported by an effective and exciting educational system. Thus,
politicians and diplomats will find their efforts frustrated if they do
not work strategically to assure an accommodating educational
What do we mean when we speak of education on the
strategic level? Clearly this does not imply that the political
negotiators should begin to design textbooks or argue over relevant
curricula. It also does not mean that lip service should be paid to the
need for including values of understanding and peace within the
educational curricula. We agree that these are issues that need to be
developed on the professional level, much as any other strategic area of
negotiations. Creating a strategic place for the educational systems would
mean that just as the negotiators on all levels consult military, economic
and diplomatic experts, and sometimes health and media experts as well,
there should be an educational track to be consulted. Once this role is
recognized, then there is a legitimate role to be taken in the
implementation as well. A negotiating and follow-up educational committee
should be created alongside all other such committees.
of the educational component of a peace agreement would need to address
the following issues:
How to ensure that schools will be accessible and
safe environments for all children aged 3 to 18;
How to provide adequate support, including
compensation, for teachers to contend with the dynamic changes in the
reality and the suffering and trauma of themselves and their
How to address issues of a core unified curriculum
and to what extent is such a curriculum advisable in creating a stable,
confident and open-minded society;
How to address the role of communications (mainly
television, radio and the Internet) as existing competitors (with a
negative impact) to the formal educational system;
What should be the role of the educational system
in reaching out to the communities—mainly parents and by informal
education—and working to change the difficult reality?
What shall be the criteria for renewing textbooks;
who is in charge of monitoring them and at what frequency?
peace process, even if just at the stage of a ceasefire, must recognize
the role of those who stand at the forefront of society day in and day
out: the educators. The questions outlined above require strategic
discussion as well as policy decisions. These cannot be taken at the
grass-roots level only. If we demand that the educational system work for
the implementation of a peace agreement, including a detoxification of
society from hate and animosity and enhancing skills for non-violent
conflict resolution, it is necessary to provide the leaders of that system
with the mandate to do so.
The Middle East Children's Association
(MECA), a joint Palestinian-Israeli educational organization, has decided
not to wait for the political leaders to start implementing this
educational track. MECA has been working for the past six years, including
during the last two years of violence, with over 400 teachers throughout
Israel and the Palestinian Authority in subject matters such as math,
history, pre-school education, etc. In each of these areas, the teachers
work together to infuse concepts of responsibility, understanding and
tolerance while adapting these ideas to the specific needs of their
communities. We have worked in full recognition of the critical role of
teachers and schools. Serious educational initiatives such as these should
be motivated, in order to enable and help both communities to overcome
daily challenges and difficulties. The many teachers who in times like
these must overcome physical and educational barriers are living proof of
the willingness and capacity that exists within the educational community.
This potential, however, can only be fully realized if enhanced and
encouraged, as a matter of policy, by all members of the international
community and local governments who are interested in changing the current
miserable reality and lead our region towards stability and