Peace teachings on Gaza

30th January 2009 at 00:00
British pupils to learn from pioneering Israeli primary's shared lessons

It is an accepted truism that one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, but in one Israeli school this is an idea that underpins all lessons.

Wahat-al-SalamNeve Shalom Primary, midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, teaches Jewish and Palestinian pupils in the same classes.

Children are taught in both Arabic and Hebrew, and history lessons give equal weight to Jewish and Palestinian versions of events.

Now, British teachers who want to discuss the conflict in Gaza with their pupils can draw from the experience of Wahat-al-SalamNeve Shalom. (The name means "oasis of peace" in both Arabic and Hebrew.)

Susan Denton-Brown, a former RE teacher from West Sussex, has produced a teaching pack, Dealing With Conflict, based on the lessons learnt at Oasis of Peace.

She insists that teachers should not be afraid of tackling politically sensitive topics.

"Our media-literate children bring the big questions of international politics right into the classroom," she said.

"Too often the response by teachers is a shoulder shrug. But children are too bright to allow their questions to be shelved or rebuffed."

The resource looks at the daily life of Oasis of Peace pupils. Hnan, an Arab-Israeli teenager who attended courses there, said: "I love Jewish people who mean well towards us, who know that we also mean well towards them, and who can see that we are human beings.

"I know that there are Jews who think all Arabs are from Hamas, and that we all want to kill them. There are also Arabic people who are prejudiced like that."

And Shani, a Jewish-Israeli, said that the time she spent at Oasis of Peace had changed her attitudes: "I understand their problems better, how difficult it is to make peace. We all learnt that neither people wants to hurt the other."

The resource provides a twin-tracked chronology of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the Arab version of events alongside the Israeli one. For example, the 1947 UN-approved partition of Palestine, then a British mandate, is described as both "an unjust decision" and "a great triumph". It also looks at smaller conflicts that pupils might come across in the classroom and the playground, or at home.

"We want to give teachers and students an insight into conflict transformation, and how to deal with conflict," Ms Denton-Brown said.

Melanie Ward, of global-learning charity DEA, agrees that Oasis of Peace can inspire pupils beyond Israeli borders.

But she warns: "We shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that every Israeli thinks the same as the Israeli government, or that every Palestinian shares views with Hamas," she said.

"But pupils are going to be seeing Gaza on the news every night. It's important for teachers not to sweep these things under the carpet, just because they're difficult and controversial."

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