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Monday, December 10, 2007

How Do Israeli Children Learn to "Deal" with Palestinians?

This piece written below is a must read. The world is incessantly told that Palestinian children are taught to hate Israel. What is missing in this simple statement is the fact that Palestinian children in the Occupied Territories are growing up as VICTIMS of a forty year long brutal ILLEGAL occupation, and occupation that seemingly has no end. Please ask YOURSELF, "What kind of attitude would I have towards my OCCUPIER". Though let me make myself abundantly clear, I am against violence by ALL parties, all parties meaning ALL parties.

Israeli children on the other hand are living in a country which is "free" yet occupying ANOTHER. One must remember when reading below that military service is mandatory to all Israelis. These children referred to in this report may very likely grow up to serve in the Occupied Territories. As well, one must remember that Israel itself has a 20% Arab population.
(Read "Racism in the 'Beacon of Democracy' in the Middle East")

Read the following report to see how young the psyche of the "occupier" is formed, and how it learns to justify such actions:

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:Understanding The Children's Perspectives

By Asi Sharabi

Published Monday, 10 December, 2007 - 16:36

Asi Sharabi discusses his research on how the narratives of Israeli-Palestinian conflict impacts upon children's perspectives and he explores how his research could help in creating better lives for children on both sides.

In thoroughly exploring the ways in which Israeli children try to make sense of the Palestinian perspective, my research aims to contribute to the understanding of the ‘psychological barriers’ of understanding the ‘Other’ in a prolonged inter-group political conflict.

In 2004, as part of the fieldwork for this project, I went into Israeli children (12 years of age) classrooms in three fairly distinct Israeli social milieus – kibbutz, Jewish settlement and city. Applying a qualitative research strategy, I first asked the children to draw a Palestinian child of their age. When they finished the drawing, I asked them to write me a short composition that is titled “The story of the conflict, through the eyes of a Palestinian child.” The children were asked to write in the first person as if they were Palestinian children.

The analysis of the children’s drawings and compositions has shown that the Israeli children have immense difficulties in engaging with and understanding the perspective of the Palestinians. When facing with the task of making sense of the reality of the conflict in general and of the Palestinian narrative in particular the children draw upon a set of representations or a pool of images and ‘voices’ that circulate in the Israeli public sphere. I argue that constructing the perspective of the Palestinians is mediated by the ideological comprehensions of the conflict as experienced by the Israelis. That is to say, the ability to construct the Palestinian viewpoint is both enabled and constrained by the boundaries of the Israeli representational field and discourse in relation to the conflict, and the dynamics of knowledge, affect and practices that maintain them.

It was possible to divided these barriers to three interrelated categories:

The first and most apparent is what you can call perversive barriers: these extremely negative and dehumanising perceptions of the other that ignore the humanity of the Palestinians or present them as inferior, savage and dangerous. The Palestinian violence is seen as a basic and immutable characteristic; they are cruel, irrational and violent people, impelled by a blind hatred of Israel.

These perceptions obviously hinder the ability and motivation to take the perspective of the other. Deep-rooted negative beliefs leave hardly any space for considering alternative outlooks. In other words, when the other is perceived as the embodiment of evil or when the humanity of the other is denied, the voice of the other is neglected, muted and denied.

Secondly, there are the reflective barriers: In a reality of prolonged conflict, the Israeli children are socialized into a collective mentality in which constant states of defensiveness and self-victimisation are fundamental determinants.
The findings show how they learned to assume the role of the victims in the conflict, to see the Palestinian pain and suffering as less important than their own and to deny responsibility for it. When you are convinced that you are the sole victim in this conflict and the political atmosphere do not encourage self-reflection or self-criticism you are naturally less likely to be able to engage with understanding of the other.

However, the picture is far from being black and white, good (Israelis) vs. evil (Palestinians). When trying to construct the Palestinian perspective the Israeli children draw upon an assortment of contradictory ideologies and viewpoints.
The ambivalence and the impossible moral dilemmas that Israeli people are ‘trapped in’, which were clearly reflected in the children’s works, demonstrate the ever so complex psychological reality of the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

For the Israeli children, the Palestinians are an imminent threat at the same time that they deserve our compassion. They have the right for land and self-determination, but they want to kill us all. They are victims under an occupation regime but also brutal terrorists disregarding their own lives. They are both savage and righteous and we are both victims and occupiers. We are both aware of the pain we inflict on them at the same time that we are blinded by the suffering they inflict on us. We know that all people are equal but still strongly feel that we are the ‘chosen people’ and they are inferiors. We are morally and militarily superior at the same time that we are weak and vulnerable. We hate the Palestinians but we also both pity them and even admire their struggle.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly when it comes to thinking of intervention strategies and policies, there are the obvious communicative barriers – Israeli and Palestinian children are living in completely different worlds in relation to the conflict. They participate in completely different communication channels and thus have very limited knowledge of the other. That’s why I called my thesis “Behind the Narrative Bars” - the Israeli children have very limited access to the Palestinian narrative of the conflict and when trying to make sense of the enemy’s narrative, the result is more about re-constructing the Israeli narrative than constructing the Palestinian one.

Unfortunately, there is no cognitive magic in taking the perspective of the other. In a context of such a prolonged conflict – you need to have a strong political will and genuine psychological desire to engage with the other, to see the human face of the other and to see the conflict as a shared tragedy and not only as your own. The conclusion that we must draw from these ambiguous, bewildered and ambivalent depictions of self, other and the conflict, is that we have to find creative ideas for interventions in order to weaken the voices of negation, fear and dehumanisation, and strengthen and reinforce self-reflection and the voices of mutual respect and recognition, yet these cannot live in a vacuum.

I’ve seen numerous creative peace education activities aim to alter these negative perceptions and promote dialogue, equality and mutual respect and cooperation that, while took place, seemed very successful. Yet these are fairly marginal and their results are to a large extent local/situational. What’s more, for these initiatives to have a long-term effect, there must be an evident progress on the political process. Maybe in the future, when the Israelis and
Palestinians will establish their own Committee of Truth and Reconciliation, they will be able to revise their narratives and perhaps create a united version of the two historical narratives, an inclusive version of history and a reality free from historical deceptions and competition of sufferings.

To download my thesis please visit: (I highly recommend downloading this thesis and reading it)


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