Education as a Matter of Policy

By Abdullah, Ghassan; Shapiro, Adina | UN Chronicle, September-November 2003 | Go to article overview

Education as a Matter of Policy


Abdullah, Ghassan, Shapiro, Adina, UN Chronicle


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 years.

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 hatred.

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 political process. 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 rehabilitative process.

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 environment.

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. …

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