Palestinian and Israeli Textbook Project

Julia Chaitin

Professor, Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME), The Israeli Center for Qualitative Methodologies, Ben Gurion University of the Negev

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: In writing the shared history, there are six Palestinian teachers of geography and history, and six Jewish Israeli history teachers. They've met together a number of times. They meet every three or four months in East Jerusalem. Initially, they took a day or two of getting to know one another. There's a Palestinian historian and an Israeli historian also that work with them. They chose a number of historical events to write about. For instance, they chose the Belfour Declaration of 1917, of course they chose the war of 1948, and I think they chose the first Intifada. They decided to write a textbook. Well, it's not really a textbook; it's a booklet for 10th- and 11th-grade students. For instance, the Palestinians will write their narrative of the 1948 war. We Israelis call it the "War of Independence," and the Palestinians call it al Nachba, "The Catastrophe." So, the Israeli teachers will write the Jewish Israeli narrative of the '48 war, and the Palestinians will write their narrative. These are translated into Hebrew and Arabic so each side can read it, and then have discussions about it. They're short narratives.

There's often disagreement about what's written in the other narrative, but the idea is to come up with two narratives that both sides feel could be printed in a book, which would then be given to Israeli and Palestinian students. They'd have the Palestinian narrative, the Israeli narrative, and they'd have empty pages to write down their feelings and thoughts about it, and to do class activities. The Palestinian and Israeli teachers have met, I think, three or four times. It's always difficult to meet, because it's very hard to get Palestinians travel permits.There's always something terrible that's happened, and always somebody knows somebody who's been killed or wounded or whatever. Also, on the Israeli side, there are often suicide bombers, things like that, but they meet together every three or four months for a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in a hotel in East Jerusalem.

Q: These people, they are...?

A: They're teachers. They just look for teachers that would be willing to work on the project. They've put out their first booklet and they've tried it. They're working now on refining it, and they're working on more narratives. I think they have three that they've written so far.

Q: Are these books the sort of thing that nobody wants to read? Do the Israelis not want to read something that gives Palestinians a certain amount of voice from their perspective, and vice versa?

A: Pretty much. The idea is this: Neither side is very happy with what the other side has written, but the way we look at it, it's important that people meet. At this point in the conflict, it's very important that people have contact with one another. So if there are six Palestinian and six Israeli teachers that are willing to meet with one another every few months, that in itself is very important. They're working on this now, and hopefully somewhere down the road, not in the too-far-distant future, these will be booklets that, yes, the children will be more willing to read and to think about, and that both sides again will also be able to change more the narratives that they're writing. They are trying to write narratives that, on the one hand, reflect their narrative, but on the other hand, wouldn't scare off the other side. They're very different narratives.

Q: And they're targeted at what age?

A: 10th and 11th grade.

Q: What do you think is the importance of texts like these for students in the 10th and the 11th grades?

A: What I've learned is that the Israelis do not know the Palestinian stories, and the Palestinians do not know the Israeli stories. Both peoples have kind of a feeling that the other people just dropped down from Mars, in a way. They don't know the history, they don't know the family history, and they don't know the collective history. Before you can start working through something, you have to have some knowledge.

So it's very important to know what people have been through, and how they see something, before you start trying to understand it. It's important for high school students, because this is usually the age where young people are open to ideas, and because Israelis will be going into the army in a few years' time. It's important for them to be able to see also the Palestinian side of it, to understand that there is a Palestinian side, to see the Palestinian people as Palestinian people. It's important for Palestinians, who are also at that impressionable age (and a lot of suicide bombers are young people of these ages), to also see that there's an Israeli side of it. It's important to try to have both stories legitimated. It's very difficult, because they're very different stories. It's important to know. Even if it's something you don't want to know, it's important to know. Not knowing it doesn't make it go away. So that's why it's important.