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Building Bridges:
Chapter 5 - Conclusions


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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, promote coexistence.

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.

Applicability

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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