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Building Bridges : Chapter 1 - Israeli Public Policy

Individuals and nongovernmental organizations can promote coexistence; however, to establish this goal as one of national importance, it is necessary to have the backing of the government. Symbolically, the government can demonstrate its commitment to the objective and, practically, it can contribute resources toward its achievement. The Israeli government has to a far greater extent than the United States made the promotion of education for coexistence a priority. The Ministry of Education established a Unit for Education for Democracy and Coexistence specifically to provide training for teachers and administrators; support educational programs; develop curricula and work with nongovernmental organizations to incorporate their programs in the schools.

Unit for Education for Democracy and Coexistence


Dr. Shaul Paz
Ministry of Education
Unit for Education for Democracy and Coexistence
2 Devora Hanivia St.
Jerusalem 91911
Tel. 2-293-215/7, Fax. 2-293-875


To promote education for democracy, tolerance and coexistence at a time when youth from different sectors in Israeli societies were becoming increasingly radicalized.

Target Population:

Students from preschool to high school and teachers.

Program and Activities:

The Department of Education for Democracy and Coexistence was established in the Ministry of Education and Culture in 1986. The idea for the Department was predicated on the assumption that formal and informal education activities have the power to combat existing stereotypes and preconceptions and to develop tolerant behavioral patterns, which center around accepting differences and acknowledging that all people are equally important.

The Department focuses on subject matter taken from the principles of society and democratic rule. The Department introduces curricula and instructional programs that encourage both teachers and students to debate and analyze highly controversial issues, while working to improve their skills in oral expression and stressing the importance of verbal civility.

The Department encourages the students to take an active role in the community, the school and the government, viewing this as a fundamental component of the democratic way of life. The Department offers system-wide programs: preschool, elementary school, high school and teacher seminars. The Department also provides consultation and funding to voluntary institutions and organizations that are promote education for democracy.

The Department's main areas of focus are:

1. Education for life in a democratic society — education for tolerance, for accepting differences, for awareness that all people are equally important and for socio-political involvement.

2. Education for life in a multicultural society, with emphasis on promoting the relationship between Israel's Arab and Jewish citizens.

3. Education for democracy for students who immigrated from countries that have no democratic political culture.

4. Educational involvement in current events, providing the teachers with the tools to better deal with controversial political, cultural and value-oriented issues.

5. Familiarizing teachers and students with Israeli democracy.

6. Instituting democratic processes in educational institutions and the educational system.

7. Education toward peace.

To accomplish these objectives, the Department sponsors joint study days and workshops for Jewish and Arab teachers who wish to explore Arab-Jewish relations and other current events. Conventions and in-service training sessions for teachers and principals from different sectors are also conducted. Participants discuss relevant social and educational issues, become acquainted with available programs pertinent to the Department's work and learn about relevant curricula. The Department provides in-service training for teachers in several specific subjects:

• Education for life in a democratic society.

• Discussing current events in the classroom.

• Ways to handle controversial value-oriented topics.

• Jewish-Arab coexistence, Jewish-Israeli identity, Arab-Israeli identity.

• Ways to make school more democratic, methods to encourage involvement and participation in school.

The Department works jointly with voluntary organizations and other institutions in arranging in-service training for teachers and principals. Examples include:

• "Traveling Seminar" — This two-day seminar for Arab and Jewish principals and supervisors who work in the same district is held in conjunction with the Information Center. The program is designed to explore current events and to give participants an opportunity to become better acquainted.

• Understanding the Peace Process — In conjunctions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, members of the Ministry's Information Bureau discuss the peace process during meetings with high school teachers and students and at principal/teacher conventions.

• Teachers Workshops — In cooperation with Givat Haviva (see pg. 35), these workshops present the subject of education for life in a democratic society to Arab teachers.

• In-Service Training for teachers of new immigrant students — Teachers are exposed to the tools to deal with questions of democracy and tolerance raised by immigrant students who come from countries with no democratic political culture.

Educational Programs:

• Children Teaching Children — This pilot program is run in conjunction with Givat Haviva (see pg. 35). It brings together Jewish and Arab elementary and junior high students and teachers, so they can become acquainted and engage in shared study of a subject. This program takes place during regular school hours over the school year.

• Young Archaeologists/Young Painters/Young Sculptors — This year-long program offers Jewish and Arab students regularly scheduled courses where they can work together in archaeology or the arts.

• Language Studies — Jewish and Arab high school students study together for their oral matriculation examination in English. During a weekly meeting, they choose topics and prepare them in English.

• Democracy for new immigrant students — This program is designed for high school age immigrants. Jerusalem becomes a living classroom where students study democracy and tolerance, and become familiar with Israeli society and culture. Participants visit institutions that symbolize democracy — the Knesset, the President's house, the Supreme Court — and take part in workshops and social activities. Both new immigrants and veteran Israelis participate in some of the workshops to cement the ties between them.

• "The Young Legislator" — The objective of this program is to make the legislative process more accessible to students and teachers. The students take part in deliberations of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Later, in school, they study the proceedings and draft laws and articles that were discussed during the year in the Knesset.

• Study Center in The Knesset — The Knesset, in conjunction with the Department of Education for Democracy, established an instructional unit for teachers and students to better acquaint them with Israeli democracy. Participants attend study workshops at the Knesset, students observe meetings of special committees, the plenum and the presidium and meet with Members of Knesset. Before and during the visit, the participants are given background information that describes and highlights the Knesset's work.


• "Children of Peace" — Jewish and Arab students meet regularly to study drama. Their final project is a play, which generally explores the conflict between the two groups, including proposed solutions.

• Joint workshops — A joint drama class for Jewish and Arab elementary school students.

• Acre Festival — During the Acre drama festival, Jewish and Arab high school students from Acre and its environs attend joint theater arts workshops and stage a joint production.


The Ministry of Education and Culture and other organizations have developed and published different curricula adapted to every age level. Samples include:

• "We and Our Neighbors" — Curriculum for grades three and four (in Hebrew and Arabic) designed to acquaint children in ethnically mixed neighborhoods with their neighbors. This program is part of the geography and Israel Studies curriculum and is integrated within the unit on "My Community."

• "Jews and Arabs in Israel" — Curriculum for grades five and six, integrated within the unit on the northern region of Israel.

• "Arab Citizens of Israel" — Curriculum for secondary school students. The course textbook is part of the required curriculum for the matriculation examination in citizenship in Israeli high schools.

• "Families in Israel" — Curriculum for grades eight and nine, which explore the complexity of Israeli society. This program uses six anthropological monographs of the lifestyle of six different families in Israel, based on anthropologist Dani Rabinowitz's Twelve Families. Along with the family stories, the teacher receives lesson plans devoted to stereotypes and preconceptions, tolerance, cultural differences, etc.

• "All Rights Reserved" — An activity and games kit for junior high students.


The Ministry provides an example of how a governmental body can contribute to 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.

Opportunities for Cooperation:

Many Israeli ministries have cooperative agreements with counterparts in the United States. One agreement that has expired, and that Israel would like to renew, is a Memorandum of Understanding in Education with the U.S. Department of Education. Cooperation in education for democracy and coexistence could be part of this agreement.

The Israeli government is also typically open to cooperation with state and local officials and contacts could be established through the various state-to-state agreements.