Youth Workshop for GIvat Brenner High school (a Jewish high school) and Orthodox Nazareth High School (an Arab High School) on 12-14 February 2017
“I understood that there is big gap between how reality is presented and taught to Jews and how it is presented to Arabs.”
In preparation sessions for the workshops, both at Givat Brenner and Orthodox Nazareth high schools, there were signs of great interest from the students. Both schools are coming to youth workshops for many years and it was apparent that the students already heard about the experience form their older colleagues. Jewish students worried that they would be proven less knowledgeable on the conflict than the Palestinians counterparts. Palestinian students worried they would not be able to change the opinions of the Jews. Another thing worth mentioning is that in Nazareth Orthodox school, there were many more students interested in participating than possible and a screening process was done by the teacher choosing who will attend. In Givat Brenner school, all students that wanted to participate were able to.
There were 57 participants 30 Palestinians and 27 Jews, 20 boys and 27 girls. The participants were divided by the teachers into two working groups, each group with a Jewish and Palestinian facilitators. We thoroughly prepared the teachers and facilitators staff of the workshop in order to advance a deep meaningful dialogue between the two groups that fosters respect. Each school had a preparation session in their own school led by a facilitator of the School for Peace.
It is worth mentioning that the date of this workshop was changed three days before it was scheduled to start because of an order by the Ministry of Education not to conduct out of school activities due to a safety and security issues. The School for Peace, managed to recruit facilitators in short notice and the two schools showed remarkable flexibility in dealing with this change. The behaviour of the student throughout the workshop was remarkable, they were on time for all sessions, and participated in all activities. The Palestinians were clearly prepared with historical and social knowledge ready to be presented in the right moments in the discussions. The first two sessions were devoted to cultural and personal acquaintance. Students raised suggestions for how to create a discourse that respects the ‘other’ and wrote these suggestions on the board. They stayed on the wall throughout the workshop in order to insure respectful discussion.
As evening approached the students were asked to speak about the conflict through pictures in a method called photolanguage. This activity allowed students to talk about the conflict in a non-direct manner, while at the same time allowed others to “dive into the water”. Issues that were raised were injustice, the existence of poor people, the Palestinian Nakba, war and discrimination against Arabs.
Then we held a cultural evening that consisted of activities in which the Jews and Arabs had to work together. For example, there was a competition to solve quiz questions containing tasks that required knowledge of both cultures; names of leaders, proverbs, foods, and more. The students enjoyed this activity which we call “Mujadara Borscht”, named after two traditional dishes, one of the Palestinian Arabs and one of the Eastern European Jews. The students even asked to prolong the activity in order for all the groups to have a chance to solve all the quiz questions.
The next day started with two open dialogue sessions where participants raised issues about intergroup relations. At this point, several issues were raised, such as the Arab wish for a state; the war in Gaza; the army (the Jewish students are a year and a half away from conscription); house demolitions; stereotypes; the Jews wish for security; and many other issues. Despite the sensitive and painful nature of these issues, the groups succeeded in speaking about them in respectful way, under the guidance of the facilitators. We then had a uni-national unit in which the Jewish students convened with the Jewish facilitator and the Arabs students with the Arab facilitator.
After lunch we conducted a simulation of peace negotiations between the Israeli State and the Palestinian Authority focusing on the future of relations between Jews and Arabs. The negotiation lasted several hours. There were two groups and each negotiated a different issue, the nature of the state; and education and reconciliation. The students chose two chair-people, one Arab and one Jew, to lead the negotiations. At the end of the negotiations we set up a “press conference” in which representatives from the groups presented the agreements that they had reached and the points on which they remained divided. It can be said that agreements were thoughtful and reflected mutual understanding.
In the education committee they decided to change the education system so that it will recognize the historical narratives of the Palestinians as well as the Jews. This would also be reflected in school programs, historical sights and street names. The committee for the nature of the state agreed on mandatory military service for both Arab and Jewish citizens, men and women alike. They agreed that the where possible, the state would re-establish destroyed Arab villages in Israel and where it wasn’t a compensation committee would be developed. There would be agreed resettling of internal refugees in their original houses and villages, and a certain number of refugees would be allowed to return to the country.
The second evening was unstructured and most students spent it in the youth house, listening to music and dancing. The next day started with analysis of the simulated negotiations and continued with members writing letters to the group and summarizing the discussions. These sessions were dedicated to analytical retrospection. There were some amazing things that students said in the summary discussion, such as:
- A Jewish girl said, “Discussions were interesting and I gained a lot of knowledge. I managed to see them as they are and not from a position of confrontation.”
- An Arab boy said, “This was a first experience for me meeting Jews. I wish that events like the simulation game would happen in reality”.
- A Jewish boy said, “This experience will stay with me. I understand that the terrorist is also a human being which is a part of a disempowered group. Things that were holly to me, would remain holly but now it is with more complexity.”
- An Arab boy said, “This was my only chance to tell Jews what is happening in my life and I am certain I managed to convey the message and convince them that we are not terrorists. I feel more of a human being now.”
- An Arab boy said, “The Jews still don’t know how it will be like in the army. I am sure that the things I said in the simulation will be remembered by them at important moments.”
Appendix: Two examples of the letters that the students wrote
A Jewish student:
I think this experience was very significant and important. I think that in order to reach agreements and to make progress, it takes more time and more head-on openness, which we could have had if we had more time. In any case, it was very, very interesting to hear the other side and to understand a little about how things look from the other side and how we present things to the other side. I understood that there is a big difference between what is presented and taught to the Jews and what is presented and taught to the Arabs. The conflict is far from solved, but I think that with meetings and actions like this we are getting closer and closer to making change. I understood that for the truth to reach a certain place both sides have to give up and compromise and sometimes even the more powerful side is the one which needs to give up more. I was very happy to get to know all of you and I thank you for this truely fascinating experience.
An Arab student:
At the beginning of the meeting we had an understanding, but on the second day we encountered problems in accepting the views and opinions of each other; especially among ourselves. One of the difficulties I had was that the Jews said that there was never a Palestinian State in this land and this became the focus of the discussion between us. Peace in this country is important; we have to have mutual respect and sympathy toward the other people. We must respect the others’ opinions and this should continue between our peoples. We must give greater importance to the issue of peace between the two peoples. In the end we will remain two peoples in one country. We have to live together. I met people who believe in this and I can live with them. I mean, we are all one people, we have to live together and it does not matter if it’s our right or or yours.