This study describes 20 innovative Israeli programs for
promoting coexistence. Americans can learn from these programs and
adopt them in whole or part. As noted at the outset, Israelis approach
the same objective from three different approaches. All three
have proponents who make a case for the value of their
methodologies. No attempt has been made here to evaluate the individual
programs; instead, descriptions have been offered to allow Americans to
look more closely at those that are of interest and make their own
determinations. Obviously, none of the programs would continue,
or receive funding, if they were not believed to be accomplishing at
least some of their goals. Nevertheless, perhaps the one major
criticism of nearly all the Israeli projects, including those left out of this
study, is that they fail to perform rigorous evaluations of their activities.
Along with the broad philosophical differences in approach, a
few more specific differences also exist. For example, Israelis in the
field do not agree on whether it is better to make programs
voluntary or integrate them into the compulsory curriculum. The
advocates of compulsory coexistence education maintain that students
who are paired throughout the school year develop greater
understanding and lasting friendships. By integrating the program into
the school curriculum, the idea that coexistence is as important as
any other subject is reinforced. In addition, working with schools
legitimates the program. The proponents of voluntary programs
believe it is better to distinguish the activities from their compulsory
studies. The participants do not feel coerced and take part because
they value the objective. The admitted downside of this is that the
people who volunteer are those most inclined toward coexistence.
Israelis also disagree as to the proper age for beginning
coexistence programs. Everyone agrees that it is better to grow up in
an environment that promotes tolerance; however, the language
difference is viewed by some as a barrier to younger children.
Others insist that differences of culture and language can easily be
overcome at a young age. The Adam Institute, for example, maintains that
if the principles of democracy are conveyed to young children,
they will become part of a child's world-view.
Other differences in theory and practice exist, but it is
possible to identify several common elements that contribute to the
success of the various programs.
Recognition of the importance of
language. Language is at the base of one's national identity. Just as language creates bridges
and ties between people, it can be an obstacle to contact. Hebrew
is the dominant language in Israel (though Arabic is also an
official language). While most Palestinians are bilingual, most Jews do
not have a command of Arabic. Such language differences must
be taken into account. On the other hand, the study of language
can be used as a bridge for coexistence.
Coexistence can be an unstated
goal. The premise behind most of the experiential programs is to engage parties in joint
activities that everyone enjoys. The close proximity will, over time,
Programs should be at neutral
sites. The site of meetings, particularly for "encounters," is significant, and affects the
quality of the activity. Ideally, the site should not be identified
exclusively with either side of the conflict. A neutral, safe environment
will make participants feel more comfortable and encourage
participation in coexistence projects.
Teachers and administrators must support projects run in
their schools. The principal must demonstrate a clear interest in
the program to insure it is viewed as an important component of
the curriculum. Similarly, teachers' support is vital to
encouraging student participation and supporting the changes resulting
from the program.
Parents should be
involved. The support and cooperation of parents are essential. Projects should be viewed as an
opportunity to spread the message of coexistence beyond the classroom
and into homes and communities. Joint activities that involve the
communities and parents foster mutual tolerance.
Preparation is needed prior to
interactions. Before engaging in any joint activities, it is important to spend time preparing
for the meetings. Students and teachers should be intimately
involved in planning the interactions. Sessions to examine
stereotyped thinking, generalizations and prejudice are important to
prepare groups for encounters. The establishment in advance of clear
rules also makes meetings work more harmoniously.
Promoting coexistence is facilitated by government
support. The Israeli Ministry of Education provides an example of
how a governmental body can play an important role in
introducing coexistence projects into the schools. The Ministry also plays
a role in developing curricula and training teachers.
Ministry-sponsored study days and workshops for teachers from
different schools and backgrounds offer opportunities for
promoting coexistence on the professional level and reinforcing
educational projects. The Ministry provides a model for public, nonprofit
and private sector cooperation in integrating coexistence and
democracy curricula and projects in the schools.
Careful student selection enhances prospects for
success. Highly motivated students will influence their peers.
It is important for projects to be consistent and
ongoing. Ongoing multiyear programs reinforce a consistent
commitment to improving cross-cultural relations.
Internships can contribute to individual and community
coexistence. By having interns commit themselves to long-term
service to the community, the importance of the project is
reinforced. Pairing of people from groups in conflict as interns creates
bonds between the two individuals and sets an example for the community.
Americans can learn lessons from all three Israeli approaches.
The techniques developed in Israeli "encounters" could easily be
adapted for use in the United States. Similarly, the "experiential" programs could be applied here by either copying the Israeli models or
using them as examples of creative ways to bring groups in conflict
together for relatively long periods of joint activities. Americans, who
often take democratic principles for granted, can also learn from
Israel's approach to teaching these principles, especially to immigrants
who come from undemocratic nations.
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