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"Learning Each Other's Historical Narrative" in Israeli and Palestinian Schools

A Joint Palestinian and Israeli Curriculum Development Project
January, 2002 - December 2007

Prof. Sami Adwan, Bethlehem University
Prof. Dan Bar-On, Ben Gurion University


Executive Summary of "Learning Each Other's Historical Narrative" in Israeli and Palestinian Schools Go to contents

Project Goals Go to contents

This project of the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME) focuses on teachers and schools as the critical force over the long term for changing deeply entrenched and increasingly polarized attitudes on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The goal of the project is to "disarm" the teaching of Middle East history in Israeli and Palestinian classrooms.

Specifically, teams of Palestinian and Israeli teachers and historians will develop parallel historical narratives of the Israeli and Palestinian communities, translate them into Hebrew and Arabic, and test their use together in both Palestinian and Israeli classrooms. Unlike other projects that are limited to revising existing Israeli and Palestinian texts, the PRIME project aims at engaging teachers on both sides in an entirely new collaborative process for teaching the history of the region.

At this stage in their polarized history there is not enough common ground for Israelis and Palestinians to create a single historical narrative. Rather, the project is designed to expose students in each community to the other's narrative of the same set of events. For the first time, students in each school system (beginning with 15 and 16 year olds) will not only learn what shapes their own community's understanding of historical events, but be required to confront the historical perspectives and contexts that shape the other community's sense of reality.

The project may, at a later stage, develop multiple narratives of events within each community, reflecting the fact that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have a monolithic view regarding the history of the region. The goal, in other words, is not necessarily to create a single "bridging" historical narrative that is shared in common by both communities, but to break down stereotypes and build more nuanced understandings by the next generation of citizens of the two states in the region: Israel and the future Palestinian State.

Project Status Go to contents

Given the current political tensions, work is progressing "under the radar" of both the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Palestinian National Authority, in the hope that the PRIME shared history booklet will be ready for more wide-spread use in schools when a future peace agreement is finally concluded.

During the first year of the project, an initial version of the history booklet covering three historical events was developed and translated into Hebrew, Arabic and English. During the second year the initial booklet was tested in both Israeli and Palestinian classrooms and additional material was developed for a second booklet covering three additional historical events. Remarkably, the Israeli-Palestinian collaborations that enabled these achievements took place despite the extraordinary difficulties imposed on project participants by ongoing and intensifying violence in both the Palestinian territories and Israel.

Unexpectedly, the initial PRIME history booklet has already been translated into Italian, French, German and a variety of other languages for use in European communities seeking to build bridges of understanding between their citizens and rising immigrant Islamic populations.

During the third and fourth years of the project two additional booklets covering three more historical events each will be developed and classroom tested. In the fifth year, a Teacher's Guide will be developed, and each of the original teachers in the project will train an additional teacher.

At the end of the fifth year, a 5-day educational workshop by a team of independent US evaluation and curriculum development experts will provide guidance to Palestinian and Israeli evaluators in observation techniques, data collection, and development of appropriate comparison factors and methods of measurement.

A complete and professional evaluation of curriculum materials and teaching methods developed during the first five years of the project will take place in the sixth year, comparing classes taught with PRIME's shared history booklet to classes taught by the same teachers using traditional texts. Evaluators will also study the effectiveness of methods and materials developed during the project to train new teachers.

After the evaluation is complete, a 5-day workshop for project directors and evaluators, facilitated by independent US experts in the United States, will review evaluation data, assess preliminary conclusions, and discuss implications for the future. A final report, a revised history booklet covering all nine historical events, and a revised teacher's guide and instructional video will be published.

PRIME will also hold an international conference to promulgate the results of the project. If the project's results are promising, a plan will be developed to expand the number of Palestinian and Israeli schools utilizing the PRIME Shared History Booklet and to gain official approval by the Israeli and Palestinian Ministries of Education to make the Booklet part of their standard curriculum.

Project Funding Go to contents

The budget for this six-year developmental project is $2,000,000.

The project was initiated with $158,850 in State Department funding from the Wye River Foundation. Since then, PRIME has raised an additional $743,367, including private foundation and government grants, as well as in-kind donations (primarily in the form of professional salaries and organizational overhead). These commitments totaling $902,217 cover all budgeted project activities for the first three years of the project (though 2005).

Project Management Go to contents

The project is managed under the auspices of The Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME), a joint Israeli and Palestinian initiative. Its co-directors are Sami Adwan, Prof. of Education, Bethlehem University and Dan Bar-On, Prof. of Social Psychology, Ben Gurion University.

PRIME does not take political positions. It focuses on projects that will help create a social infrastructure capable of sustaining peace between Israelis and Palestinians in parallel with the implementation of formal political agreements that will enable the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel.

It's work is based in part on Prof. Bar-On's pioneering research on methods of reconciliation between the children of Holocaust survivors and children of Nazi perpetrators and how these techniques (called To Reflect and Trust or TRT) might be applied in other post-conflict situations. PRIME's projects also draw much from Prof. Adwan's research on Palestinian and Israeli school textbooks and his experience with people-to-people dialogues in the region.

The evaluation component of the project will be managed in partnership with an independent, United States 501c)3 organization with appropriate expertise to provide guidance to PRIME evaluators and to independently review PRIME evaluation data. Discussions are proceeding in order to complete the structuring of this partnership.

Six-Year Developmental Workplan Go to contents

"Learning Each Other's Historical Narrative"
in Israeli and Palestinian Schools Go to contents

The project is jointly directed by Sami Adwan and Dan Bar-On, the Co-directors of PRIME. They are assisted by two history professors, Prof. Adnan Massallam (Bethlehem University) and Prof. Eyal Nave (Tel Aviv University and the Kibbutzim Teachers Seminar in Tel Aviv).

These four project leaders were responsible for selecting a project team, including six Palestinian history and geography teachers, six Jewish Israeli history teachers and six international observers. The Palestinian teachers, who are from Hebron, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem, had never before participated in dialogue encounters with Israelis. Several of the Israeli teachers, who teach in high schools in the center and north of Israel, had participated in previous encounters with Palestinians.

Historical events considered by the project team for presentation in PRIME's shared history booklet included: Jewish immigration to Palestine, the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate over Palestine, the events of World War I, the events of 1929 and of the 1930’s, Britain’s role in Palestine, the impact of the Holocaust on Palestine/Israel, World War II, the 1948 war, the issue of Palestinian refugees, the 1967 and 1973 wars, 1976 Land Day, Lebanon invasion/war, the Intifada, Peace Talks (Oslo and others). A final list of events will be agreed upon by the teachers together with Israeli and Palestinian history experts.

The teachers’ experiences, such as difficulties, problems and challenges in writing and using the Booklet in their classrooms, as well as the pupils’ responses and feedback are being documented by the observers. This will make it possible to assess the booklet and classroom work in order to revise the written materials and develop appropriate pedagogic techniques and methods for training additional teachers.

Curriculum Development, Classroom Testing, and Teacher Training Go to contents

Year 1 - 2002 Go to contents

During the first year, Israeli and Palestinian teachers met in three, 3-day seminars and developed two respective narratives covering three historical events. The participating teachers also trained in how to use these materials in their classrooms. The training included learning the materials and discussion of educational methods for their implementation.

Palestinian and Israeli narratives were initially both written in English and then translated and published in Arabic and Hebrew. Teaching both narratives in the students' native languages assures that they will learn each other's narratives without language difficulties and barriers. Publishing the two sets of narratives in English also assures that they will be shared with a wider set of interested constituencies.

Year 2 - 2003 Go to contents

The teachers began to introduce the initial two-narrative history text into their classrooms, and they participated in three, 3-day seminars over the course of the year in order to evaluate their classroom experiences. Pre-classroom interviews with teachers and pupils were conducted. Observation techniques and documentation of pupils’ and teachers’ reactions/responses during the discussion of each other's narratives were also employed.

Year 3 - 2004 Go to contents

Classroom testing of the initial history booklet has continued, and the teachers have participated in three, 3-day seminars, developing a second set of Palestinian and Israeli narratives covering three additional historical events. This second history booklet is being published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

Year 4 - 2005 Go to contents

The teachers will test the Hebrew and Arabic versions of the second history booklet in their classrooms and will revise and publish final versions of the first and second history booklets based on their teaching experience. The teachers will also participate in three, 2-day seminars, developing a third set of Palestinian and Israeli narratives covering three additional historical events, which will be published as a third history booklet in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

Year 5 - 2006 Go to contents

The teachers will test the Hebrew and Arabic versions of the third history booklet in their classrooms and will then revise and publish a final version of this booklet. The teachers will also participate in three, 2-day seminars to develop and publish a Teacher's Guide, based on lessons learned from classroom testing.

Using the Teacher's Guide, the initial group of six Israeli and six Palestinian teachers will train twelve new teachers in four, 2-day seminars. Two observers, one Palestinian and one Israeli, will monitor the effectiveness of teacher training methods and report their findings to evaluators in 2007.

Newly trained teachers will also begin teaching the dual-narrative texts in their classrooms, which will serve as a basis for evaluating the effectiveness and scalability of teacher training techniques and lead to revisions of the Teacher's Guide, a final version of which will be published in 2007.

At the end of this year, a 5-day educational workshop will be facilitated for project evaluators at PRIME by a team of six independent US evaluation and curriculum development experts. These experts will develop methods of training observers in observation techniques and data collection, and they will assist evaluators in developing appropriate comparison factors and methods of measurement. The professional Israeli and Palestinian evaluators will then establish evaluation criteria and develop appropriate interview, questionnaire and observation tools.

Evaluation, Report and Conference
Year 6 - 2007 Go to contents

A formal evaluation of the use of the shared history booklet in Israeli and Palestinian classrooms will be conducted during the sixth year of the project by a team of 18 Palestinian and Israeli observers and four Israeli and Palestinian professional evaluators.

The evaluation will compare classes taught with the PRIME shared history booklet to classes taught by the same teachers using traditional texts, and will measure differences in student learning and attitudes. Eight Israeli and eight Palestinian teachers, including both those originally in the program and some newly trained teachers, will each teach two history classes: one using the PRIME shared history booklet and one using standard texts.

Sixteen observers will be trained in three, 2-day seminars, and each trained observer will then be assigned to a teacher of the same nationality to monitor both classes taught by that teacher over a period of 8 weeks. The observers will also administer pre-class and post-class questionnaires to teachers and pupils, and conduct selected pre-class and post-class in-depth interviews. The observers will then report their findings to the professional evaluators for summarization and preliminary evaluation, along with findings from the two observers of new teacher training techniques and materials that took place in 2006.

Following completion of evaluation activities, US evaluation experts will hold a second 5-day workshop in the United States for project directors and evaluators, along with additional resource people to review the evaluation data and assess preliminary conclusions. The workshop will also discuss implications of the evaluation for achieving project goals of wider use, and eventual institutionalization, of the PRIME shared history booklet and teaching methods in both Israeli and Palestinian schools. In addition, the workshop will consider appropriate next steps to achieve these goals.

The results of the six-year development project and the project evaluation will be summarized in final report and presented at an international conference in October 2007. Project teachers, observers, and evaluators will participate, along with up to 40 experts in education, psychology, history, conflict resolution and peace education from the Palestinian and Israeli communities and from overseas.

Indicators of Success and Potential Future Activities Go to contents

Indicators of project success will include:

  1. Participation by Israeli and Palestinian teachers over all six years of the project
  2. Achieving consensus agreement on final Palestinian and Israeli narrative texts and translations
  3. Documentation of more open and tolerant attitudes among students introduced to the shared history booklet as compared to those who use traditional history texts
  4. Development of materials and methods that can facilitate effective scaling of teacher training to expand use of the shared history booklet throughout both Israeli and Palestinian school systems
  5. Positive comments from principles, teachers, and parents regarding their students' use of the shared history booklet
  6. Interest among conference participants (and others not involved in the development project) in expanding use of the shared history booklet in more Israeli and Palestinian schools.

If the development project is deemed a success, a variety of additional activities will be launched to expand use of the shared history booklet. Teachers who participated in the development project will help recruit and train additional teachers. At the same time, efforts will be undertaken to gain support for use of the shared history booklet from a wider circle of school administrators and parents. This will require partnerships with grassroots organizations that can help reach out to teachers, students, parents, school administrators and community leaders to build support for institutionalization of the new curriculum by both the Israeli and Palestinian Ministries of Education.

At the same time, the shared history booklet could be expanded to include four narratives (two Israeli and two Palestinian) in order to demonstrate that neither community has a monolithic view of critical historical events. The goal of the project, in other words, is not necessarily to create a single "bridging" historical narrative that is shared in common by both communities, but to break down stereotypes and build more nuanced understandings by the next generation of citizens of the two states in the region: Israel and the future Palestinian State.

PRIME could also test the possibility of using the same shared history booklet developed for Palestinian and Israeli classrooms in other communities. For example, a few American Moslem and American Jewish educators have expressed interest in using the Arabic and Hebrew versions of the booklet as part of a language curriculum, and the English translation as part of a history curriculum, in their community schools. Eventually, it is hoped the booklets could be tested for use in schools in Arab countries.

Web-based linkages could be set up so students using the same shared history booklet in a variety of countries could talk directly to each other about what they are reading and thinking, as well as possibly develop personal relationships that would help increase interest and involvement in future student exchanges. Such interaction, in turn, could provide a broader international network of support and funding for institutionalization of the curriculum in Palestinian and Israeli schools

Project Timeline Go to contents

  • January - June 2002: Selection and preparation of initial narratives
    covering three historical events (completed)
  • July - December 2002: Translation, design, and printing of initial booklet (completed)
  • January - December 2003: Testing of initial booklet in classrooms (completed)
  • January – June 2004: Continued classroom testing of initial booklet, and development of narratives covering three additional historical events (completed)
  • July - December 2004: Completion and publication of second booklet.
  • January - June 2005: Classroom testing of second booklet and publication of revised first and second booklets.
  • July - December 2005: Development of narratives covering three additional historical events and publication of third booklet.
  • January - June 2006: Classroom testing of third booklet and development of Teacher's Guide.
  • July - December 2006: Revision and publication of third booklet and Teacher's Guide; Training of twelve new teachers, and training seminar for evaluators
  • January - June 2007: Evaluation of PRIME teacher training methods and of classroom work using PRIME booklets; seminar in US to review project evaluation and future potential
  • July - December 2007: Final project report is published, including revised Teacher's Guide; international conference to promulgate project results.

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