"Who Seeks Peace, Will Live in Peace": Representation of Arab Women in Hebrew Literature Curricula

Article excerpt

Abstract

Literature has the potential to play a crucial role in peace education, particularly during childhood and adolescence when literature is considered a strong political socializing agent. Analyzing Hebrew literature curriculum for secondary schools in the Arab sector of Israel/Palestine, this study examines the portrayal of Arab women in this curriculum as well as the socio-ideological and civic aims of the curriculum, described by the Israeli Ministry of Education and Culture as "consideration for social and cultural sensitivities". Given the possibility of curricula to enact expressions of social change, the study analyzes if the representation of Arab women in the curriculum contributes to peace-building dialogue between Arabs and Jews. The analysis is informed by Kristeva's notion of abjection as it is often used to describe the state of marginalized groups, as well as the theories of literary criticism that claim literature instills values, reflects social changes and evolving perceptions, and shapes the identity of the reader. Finally, the analysis draws from peace studies research that argues literature is a powerful tool for cultivating peaceful co-existence, mutual respect, ethical values, and social responsibility.

Keywords: literature curriculum, representation of Arab women, Hebrew language, peace, socialization, abjection

Literature as an agent for peace

In every discipline, and especially in the humanities, the curriculum is based on two considerations: on one hand, there are pedagogical assessments stemming from the structure of the body of knowledge in the discipline and its pedagogical adaptation, and on the other hand the ideological considerations based, to a large extent, on a philosophy of life, reflecting, through the general aims of teaching the discipline, the myth and ethos of the society, its identity and values at a given time. Curricula should be perceived as concrete expressions of social processes and social change since it create beliefs and skills that society finds worthy of bequeathing to the next generation (Iram, 1991).1

Given the possibility of curricula as an expression of social change, the aim of this research is to examine the portrayal of the Arab woman in the corpus of Hebrew literature curriculum for secondary schools in the Arab sector of Israel/Palestine. We analyze the status of women portrayed in this literature, the characteristic traits displayed in narrative and imagery as well as her conduct within the problematical reality of Israel. The research asks an important question: does the representation of women in this curricular literature contribute to peace-building dialogue between the Arabs and the Jews living in Israel?

Literary criticism, identity, and peace building

The theory of literary criticism that claims that literature instills values and shapes the identity of the reader can be divided into three approaches: the historical-documentary approach, the moral-ideological approach, and the socio-national approach (Feingold, 1977). The historical-documentary approach holds that literature is an important source of information about people, cultures and historical periods; knowing "where we come from" will help the reader answer the question about "where we are going". To "remember" is not a purely intellectual activity, but it can motivate people to act in the present and in the future. This approach holds that literature fulfils a very important function in instilling in the student a national education: reading literature describing the characteristics and the unique features of national life in the past, the reader-learner learns about herself/himself as a member of a nation, intensifying her/his identification with his people and society (Cohen, 1985). The moral-ideological approach maintains that literature is a means of instilling universal human values; literature enables the reader to assimilate important universal ideals and to deal with the negative influence of extraneous ideals. …