Teaching Peace or War?
Testimony by Richard H. Solomon, President, U.S. Institute of Peace, before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
Countries & Regions
Confronting deeply held views of history and territory, much less revising them in the interest of accommodation with an adversary, is one of the most difficult tasks in conflict resolution. But such changes in attitude are essential to helping peace take root and preventing future outbreaks of conflict. How can organizations like the U.S. Institute of Peace help Israelis, Palestinians, and other communities in conflict to educate their children for peace and promote the values of mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect for others?
On October 30, 2003, Richard H. Solomon, president of the United States Institute of Peace, testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education about the Institute's education, professional training, research, and other activities related to the promotion of peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. Solomon was accompanied by Jeffrey Helsing, program officer in the Institute's Education Program, and Steven Riskin, program officer in the Institute's Grant Program.
Thank you, Senator Specter, for inviting me to testify this morning before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The U.S. Institute of Peace has traditionally testified before this Subcommittee to discuss its annual budget, which is funded by this Subcommittee. We are honored to be here today to discuss an issue that is at the core of the Institute's mandate: educating people in the perspectives of tolerance and mutual understanding, and training professionals in the skills of conflict management and resolution.
As you know, the Institute was created nearly two decades ago as an educational institution. In our first decade of work, we focused on raising the awareness of American educators about war and peace issues and conflict resolution strategies. During the 1990s, in the context of efforts to stabilize the post-Dayton peace in the Balkans, the Institute developed programs beyond our borders to promote conflict resolution education in zones of conflict. What the Institute has learned through these activities abroad is that education reform is a powerful force for change. Indeed, it is critical in efforts to break the cycle of violence in conflict-ridden societies. Educating for tolerance and reconciliation, and overcoming entrenched attitudes of prejudice and hatred, requires intensive efforts at a people-to-people level, with educators and other leaders of civil society.
We recognize that educating for peace is not a substitute for a successful political process. In an atmosphere poisoned by relentless violence, it is tempting to conclude that education and other dialogue programs are either irrelevant or impossible to sustain. But such a conclusion ignores the reality that any peace process can be sustained only with broad public support.
The Institute's ongoing work with Israeli and Palestinian educators, religious leaders, and legal experts, even in the face of terrorist violence, however, sustains hope among leaders in these societies, leaders who some day will be the builders of peace. These are the people, in both societies, whose support will be critical to any future peace agreement. They are the ones who will be called upon to promote reconciliation once the political process gets back on track.
Thus, the Institute is sustaining its educational programs despite the horrendous violence over the last three years. Despite occasions when our activities are disrupted by a bombing or a failure of diplomacy, we are heartened that Israeli and Palestinian educators have the courage to seek reforms and promote mutual understanding.
Given the topic of today's hearing, I would like to describe what the Institute has done, and is doing, through its range of programs—our Grant, Education, Training, and Fellowship programs—to help bring Palestinians and Israelis together, to reduce incitement to conflict, and build constituencies in support of reconciliation. I will also summarize some lessons the Institute has learned, through its work in conflict zones around the world, about how education can be used as a peacebuilding tool.
Wye River Memorandum and the Anti-Incitement Subcommittee
The Institute became involved with the issue of incitement to violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the signing in 1998 of the Wye River Memorandum. That agreement established a Trilateral Anti-Incitement Committee "whose purpose [was] to reduce tensions and create a positive atmosphere of positive cohabitation. Its purpose [was] not to incriminate but to solve pressing problems." Among those serving on the Committee were former Institute Board members Father Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame University, and Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. As Father Hesburgh noted at the time, getting both sides to discuss educational reform was a daunting challenge. In a recent conversation on the issue, Father Hesburgh recalled, "Both sides were not open to discussion."
As the Trilateral Anti-Incitement Committee began its work, two Institute staff members, Jeffrey Helsing and Steven Riskin, briefed the Committee about the Institute's experience on this topic and also provided useful lessons from other societies that had been working to reduce incitement by reforming their educational curricula.
The Significance of Education Reform
As relations between Palestinians and Israelis have evolved since Madrid and Oslo, U.S. officials, researchers, and education specialists have increasingly recognized the importance of reforming education systems in the promotion of peace, tolerance, and reconciliation. Educators in Israel and the Palestinian territories have begun over the past decade to examine ways the formal educational systems—through school textbooks and other means—address such topics as the history of the region. A primary objective of revising textbooks is to lay the groundwork to advance mutual understanding, encourage greater tolerance, and promote coexistence. Reconciliation cannot happen until long-held prejudices are challenged and the history, culture, and religion of the other side are recognized as having their own legitimacy.
This is obviously a monumental task given the long history and current intensity of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Institute is using its resources in support of educational reforms—however incremental—and confidence-building measures that will end incitement to conflict and violence.
Let me give you a few examples of our programs in this regard.
Through the Institute's Grant Program, we have supported the work of Seeds of Peace, a summer camp experience that sends Arab and Israeli teenagers for six weeks of coexistence training in Maine. Since 1993, Seeds of Peace has brought together more than 2,500 young people who have learned of alternatives to hatred and conflict. [Note: As mandated by Congress, the Institute distributes funds each year ($3.25 million in FY 2003) in support of research and conflict resolution programs worldwide.]
In 1999, the Institute awarded a grant to Seeds of Peace to develop an educational, interactive CD-ROM program based on the experiences of Arab and Israeli youth who have participated in the summer camp program for use in classrooms around the Middle East. The initiative has also prepared related curricular materials, a manual to guide educators in the use of the CD-ROM program, and a students' handbook. The start of the current Intifada has slowed dissemination of the CD-ROM, but it is reaching schools across the region.
I should also note that the Seeds of Peace founder John Wallach, who tragically passed away last year, was an Institute fellow in 1998. During his fellowship, John documented the work of his remarkable organization in breaking down stereotypes and seeking an end to incitement and violence. His fellowship year culminated in the publication by the Institute of a study, The Enemy Has a Face: The Seeds of Peace Experience.
The Institute also provided a grant in 1999-2000 to George Washington University professor Nathan Brown to study the reforms underway in Palestinian politics in the wake of the Oslo peace accords. The culmination of this grant was his recently released book, Palestinian Politics After the Oslo Accords; Resuming Arab Palestine. Brown focuses his work on five areas: legal development, constitution drafting, the Palestinian Legislative Council, civil society, and the effort to reform education and write a new curriculum. He devotes a chapter of this book to "Democracy, Nationalism, and Contesting the Palestinian Curriculum." In this latter chapter, Brown sheds light on the challenges facing Palestinian educators in their efforts to reform education in Palestinian society, advance more modern and democratic approaches to learning, and develop and implement new curricula.
In this important work, Brown outlines the debates among Palestinian educators and politicians about how to build a new generation of Palestinian citizens committed to democracy and coexistence. He writes that the textbooks in use in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority were old Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks used when the territories were held by those two countries prior to the 1967 war. They contained many offensive and inaccurate passages regarding the history of the region and the State of Israel. These educators confronted the need to remove outdated and inaccurate accounts of history and geography from the curriculum and replace them with new perspectives that are consistent with the two-state solution that Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as President Bush, now hold out as the goal of a political process.
In reworking their own textbooks, however, Palestinian educators confronted the fact that no Palestinian state yet exists, and that their relationship with the Israelis is still undefined. As a result of this uncertainty, Brown concluded, the new Palestinian textbooks do not fully reflect a commitment to educating for coexistence. Nevertheless, he asserts, these new Palestinian teaching materials represent a significant improvement over the old textbooks.
Brown's assessment of Palestinian textbooks reveals a mixed record of reform and considerable room for improvement. But that is not a reason for despair. The Institute's experience is that there are many moderates on both sides of this conflict prepared to improve the quality of education on behalf of coexistence. While political leaders must create the context for peace, the Institute's responsibility is to support educational professionals who are laying the basis for mutual understanding.
Another example of our grant-making and education work is our collaboration with the Middle East Children's Association, a joint Israeli/Palestinian non-government organization that works with teachers to improve intercommunal relations and promote curriculum development. As one of the few educational organizations still working across the Green Line, the Middle East Children's Association was awarded an Institute grant in the summer of 2001 to engage Palestinian and Israeli elementary and middle school teachers to:
- assess the impact of the current violence on teachers and their professional capacities in the classroom;
- develop educational materials that introduce students to human rights concepts and their relevance to tolerance and mutual understanding; and,
- design a work plan for continued inter-ethnic engagement among educators in the context of the ongoing violence.
With Institute support, the Middle East Children's Association has trained more than 250 Palestinian and Israeli elementary, middle, and high school teachers to cope with trauma resulting from the conflict. The initiative will result in a guide for implementing seminars for educators dealing with trauma, tools assessing the impact of such sessions on the capacity of educators to identify and cope with the trauma of their students, and educational materials for use in the classroom.
At the end of November, the Institute's Education Program will be training 40 Israeli and Palestinian educators in new cross-cultural learning techniques and curricular materials that were developed by teachers in other zones of conflict (specifically, Northern Ireland and Macedonia). As part of this program, training materials from the "Education for Mutual Understanding" curriculum mandated throughout Northern Ireland are being translated into Hebrew and Arabic. In addition, the November workshop will help Israeli and Palestinian educators to enhance their facilitation and conflict resolution skills so that they can work effectively in bi-national teams.
Other relevant Institute activities in the educational area include
- A recent grant to Catholic Relief Services is supporting a project to explore how issues of peace and tolerance can be addressed in Pakistani religious educational institutions. The initiative will result in a report on ways to integrate peace education into the religious curriculum and will produce a peace education module to be implemented in those institutions.
- With Institute funding, a study based at Brown University is examining religious educational materials used in schools across the Middle East, in an effort to identify and promote more tolerant Islamic curricula.
- A 1997 grant to Hebrew University of Jerusalem examined middle and secondary school history and civics textbooks used by Palestinian and Israeli students, focusing particular attention on the treatment of Israeli-Palestinian history and interaction from 1949 to 1987. A joint Israeli and Palestinian research team produced a report that examined national narratives in the textbooks and identified negative stereotypes of the other in an attempt to weed out these stereotypes and hostile references of each other.
- A 2002 grant to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is supporting a human rights education project to develop, implement and evaluate a pilot teacher training course in Hebrew and Arabic on theories of and approaches to promoting human rights. Targeting some two dozen Arab and Jewish teachers from underserved areas in Israel and East Jerusalem, the program will result in a "Human Rights Reader" in Arabic to accompany its Hebrew analogue, provide teachers with educational tools to integrate human rights concepts into lesson plans, and produce a model for human rights education that will be disseminated to university schools of education and other teacher training institutions in Israel.
- A 2003 grant to the Israeli organization, Yesodot—The Center for the Study of Torah and Democracy—is underwriting a faith-based peace building training program for 16 religiously observant Jewish and Muslim teachers in Israel that explores the theological, psychological, and social roots of intolerance and conflict. The initiative will result in a manual for facilitators of future religious Jewish and Muslim school encounters and a curriculum on coexistence for teachers that includes religious Muslim and Jewish sources and simulation exercises. A previous Institute grant to Yesodot supported an education program that brought together principals of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious schools in a series of bi-monthly workshops exploring religious tolerance, coexistence, and citizenship issues.
Lessons Learned about Education Reform in Other Zones of Conflict
The Institute's work in conflict zones around the world has yielded lessons that we are applying in our work with Israelis and Palestinian. Our Education Program recently convened scholars from Israel, Northern Ireland, Macedonia, and South Africa (via the Internet) to evaluate the effectiveness of cross-community relationship-building and to share experiences of teaching and curriculum development.
The experience of Northern Ireland is particularly instructive, as schools there were reinforcing negative stereotypes and promoting incitement to conflict. In the 1970s, a small group of Protestant and Catholic parents and teachers wanted to transform education in Northern Ireland so that it promoted tolerance, respect, non-violence, and human rights. The curriculum they developed began in only a few schools, but after twenty years—or one generation—it has been adopted as a requirement by the educational authorities throughout Northern Ireland. A new curriculum on civic education is now being developed by a combined group of Protestant and Catholic educators. Northern Ireland will be a significant case study for a workshop on conflict resolution education that the Institute's Education Program is putting together at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The Institute's extensive work in the Balkans has included peace education. A 1997 grant to the Centre for Transition and Civil Society Research in Zagreb, Croatia, sought to examine the content of history, politics, and literature textbooks at the primary and secondary school level in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. The study, conducted by a multinational team, assessed the utility of existing textbooks in promoting reconciliation, and developed recommendations for designing and implementing peace education programs in the former Yugoslavia.
Through the Institute's Jennings Randolph Fellowship Program, in 2000-2001 we hosted an educator from Macedonia (Violeta Petroska-Beska) who conducted a project on "Education for Interculturalism: Learning to Live Together in a Multicultural Society." With our support, Petroska-Beska has written curriculum development guides for teachers and trainers in Macedonia on topics such as combating ethnic stereotyping and promoting ethnic tolerance. Petroska-Beska is one of the education experts participating in our workshop with the Middle East Children's Association.
The history of South Africa also provides insight about how to address curriculum reform and how the reform process requires a long-term commitment to be successful. With the end of apartheid in South Africa there were, initially, many school programs on tolerance (including a strong human rights component) and conflict management. But transforming the official education curriculum, particularly on issues such as history and race relations, has now taken more than a decade and is not scheduled to be completed before 2005. Education reform is not a short-term process.
Through its Grant Program, the Institute of Peace is currently funding a major research initiative focusing on how the teaching of history—through textbooks and school-based programs—affects attitudes about former enemies and contested pasts. The project will involve comparisons among case studies (Northern Ireland, Russia, Kazakhstan, and North and South Korea) and is likely to yield fresh insights for educators seeking to advance reconciliation in conflict and post-conflict settings.
Other Institute Programs Promoting Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Resolution
As mentioned earlier, the Institute is working with a range of civil society leaders in Israeli and Palestinian societies to support conflict resolution.
The Institute's Religion and Peacemaking Initiative continues to support the follow-up work to the Alexandria Declaration, signed in January 2002 by prominent Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders from Israel and the West Bank. The Declaration stresses that none of the three religious faiths legitimizes political violence, and calls for an end to all violence in the region. Because of the religious arguments used by extremists in this conflict to justify the use of violence, it is especially important to mobilize religious leaders to speak out for peace and coexistence—to undercut the arguments of the extremists.
The Institute's Professional Training Program works with Palestinians, other Arabs, and Israelis to promote alternative strategies to the use of violence in bringing about change. During 2000 and 2001, Institute staff conducted two workshops for 40 young Arab and Israeli leaders from universities, governments, the media, non-governmental organizations, and civil society with the goals of networking and preparing for a non-violent future. Institute facilitators used training in conflict management and resolution to illustrate how skills such as analysis and negotiation could resolve conflicts and achieve political and social goals. Arabs and Israelis engaged in joint problem solving, many working with each other for the first time. They also engaged in dialogue on their visions of the future in the Middle East, while grappling with the ongoing violence between their communities. The Institute's Training Program is currently organizing another skills-building workshop for Palestinians and Israelis in the first half of 2004.
The Institute's Rule of Law Program, at the request of the Israeli and Palestinian ministers of justice, organized a special initiative on a Palestinian-Israeli legal dialogue. The Institute seeks to build professional relationships between the two legal communities and enable them to jointly solve common problems—a process they had not been able to start without outside facilitation, and that no other international party had undertaken. At roundtables and follow-on working groups in the region, members of the two legal communities and foreign experts discuss issues affecting the daily interaction of their two systems, and develop proposed solutions to common problems. Over 120 members of the two legal communities have participated to date. Although the dialogue was suspended during the recent violence, the Institute is exploring ways to reactivate the program.
Conclusion and Policy Recommendations
To summarize, the U.S. Institute of Peace is committed to the concept that education, through curriculum reform and the training of teachers, can be an effective component of conflict resolution efforts between Israelis and Palestinians. We support this commitment with our funding and programming, and we are sustaining our efforts despite today's daunting environment of hostility and violence.
In the case of the Palestinians' education curriculum, the process of change that supports coexistence is incomplete, incremental, and still controversial. But continued attention to this issue by Members of Congress and the Administration is one important way of encouraging further progress.
Educational reform in the Palestinian Authority will fully advance only in the context of political reconciliation, a process that, as President Bush has stressed, is at the heart of the "roadmap" effort. Educational reform will be a vital means of ensuring that any future peace agreement is widely understood, supported, and sustained over the long-term. Thus, the links the Institute is helping to build today between Palestinian and Israeli educators, legal professionals, and religious leaders will be part of the public support structure necessary for preventing the kind of collapse that ended the Oslo process. It is an investment in future peace.
Confronting deeply held views of history and territory, much less revising them in the interest of accommodation with an adversary, is one of the most difficult and long-term tasks in conflict resolution. But such changes in attitude are essential to helping peace take root and preventing future outbreaks of conflict. The U.S. Institute of Peace is committing its resources to support Israelis, Palestinians, and other communities in conflict to educate their children for peace by teaching conflict resolution skills and promoting the values of mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect for the other.
We thank the Committee for its support of our work. My colleagues and I look forward to responding to your questions.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of USIP, which does not advocate specific policy positions.