Shortly after I met Ruth and started working on the Palestinian curriculum, we also began working with the George Eckert Institute in Germany, which also focuses on schools and curriculum issues. The institute was founded in the late fifties or early sixties to work on the French, German, and Polish curricula. And so we carried forth with our project. We examined the presentation of the 1948 War in Palestinian and Israeli textbooks, as well as the presentation of the refugee issue, the 1967 War, and so on. We used to have bi-national meetings in Germany every summer to discuss these topics. Subsequently, in 1997, a French institute invited fifteen Palestinian and fifteen Israeli academics for a two-week meeting. They selected participants who were well known in the field, and that is how we came to be invited. We - the fifteen Palestinians and the fifteen Israelis - started discussing what we wanted to do, in the hope that the institute that invited us would also support us in developing projects. In the end they were not able to offer us support, but at least I had the chance to meet new colleagues. Ruth was there, and also Dan Bar-On from Ben Gurion University. This meeting was exploratory and focused on brainstorming what it might be possible to do, as well as discussing some individual research projects that had been conducted. Some research, carried out as part of a European study on historical events, concentrated on how Palestinian and Israeli youth perceive history. The findings were compiled in a book that included the contributions of both Palestinian and Israeli writers and was published in Germany. This project inspired us, the group of Palestinians and Israelis, to think about establishing an institute that would organize and formalize our relationship. Harald Mullerof the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany offered us assistance, which helped us tremendously as we were starting out. And that is how fifteen Palestinian and fifteen Israeli academics, both men and women, worked together to establish PRIME in 1998.
The World Bank and the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt gave us funding as we launched work on our first project. I see the period from 1993-2000 as the era of peace. During this time, Palestinians and Israelis combined forces at the grassroots level to develop a number of projects. Our hopes and ambitions in 1998 were much greater than they were in 2000, when the intifada began. We decided to locate our institute in Talitha Kumi. We thought about having it in Jerusalem, but decided on Talitha Kumi because it is easier for both the Palestinians and Israelis to reach, as Palestinians do not need a permit to get there. It would therefore be a place to which both Palestinians and Israelis could have access. We hosted many meetings and conferences between 1998 and 2000. Johannes Rau, the President of Germany, attended one of the conferences focusing on Palestinian curriculum. He sat with us for two hours and shared his knowledge and experience, as the analysis of curriculum is also a topic of interest for him.The Palestinians chose me to be the Palestinian director of the institute, and the Israelis chose Dan Bar-On to be the Israeli director. We work together, as PRIME is an institute based on the principles of balance and equality. In other words, all the tasks and positions are divided equally, whether these are related to planning, implementing the project, supervision, or the management of the Center. It is not an Israeli institute that just brought in a few Palestinians to work with them. On the contrary, we try as much as possible to prevent one party from dominating the other. There are other associations in which Israelis came up with the idea and designed the organization, and then needed Palestinian partners to join them. In organizations such as these, a sort of domination remains until this day. In contrast, from the very beginning we were extremely aware that there is no equivalence between the Palestinian reality and the Israeli reality. This is something that we recognized and admitted from the start. Through our work, however, we try to create and maintain a kind of balance. Of course, regardless of how good we are at this, it will never be good enough. The Israelis simply have greater opportunities; their universities and institutions are more developed, they have the ability to travel, they have freedom, they have resources, and we have less.One of the weak points that causes us a lot of agony, for example, is the fact that we must rely upon the Israelis in order to obtain permits. In a way, this highlights the imbalance in the relationship. On the one hand, it is good that we can receive help when we need it. On the other hand, this reliance reinforces the idea that there is "one who can" and "one who cannot." In one way or another, dependence upon Israelis for obtaining permits affects Palestinians' participation. We started with two projects: one was dedicated to oral history and the other to learning about the narrative of the other. One of the reasons we chose the topic of oral history is that the value of family is of fundamental importance in both Israeli society, or better-said, Jewish society, and Palestinian society. Family plays a key role in the composition of both societies.
A large part of Jewish history, and especially that related to the Holocaust,
has been passed along through oral history. For Palestinians, family is also extremely important. Indeed, one feels that family has been the very means of maintaining the existence of Palestinian society. In this way, Palestinian history has also been passed along orally, from grandfather to son to grandson, and so forth. This has also been the case both because Palestinians feel the need to talk about their suffering and because we have been forbidden from writing our own history. The study that I carried out brings out this point clearly. No more than four percent of the Palestinian curriculum is devoted to discussing the Palestinian reality. The Palestinian history presented in the curriculum is abbreviated and condensed. It offers only dry facts, and gives no sense of the lives of real people, their suffering, or their humanity. This history focuses exclusively on wars, key personalities, and the like. Yet one cannot understand the present or move into the future without looking back to the past and understanding one's own history.As Palestinians, what we learned about our history in school amounts to only ten percent of our complete history. There are many reasons for this. The Jordanians did not write much about Palestinian history. Then in 1967 the Israelis came and censored the curriculum, omitting mention of much of what had happened to Palestinians. So we have lived, from the 1950's until today, without knowing a thing. This is why documenting oral history is so important. We need to understand the past in order to explain the present and plan for the future. Only in this way can we learn from previous experiences and avoid repeating the same mistakes.Israeli history in particular and Jewish history in general, was oral for a long time. Of course, we cannot cover all aspects of Palestinian oral history or of Israeli and Jewish oral history, so we selected just some issues, such as the issue of refugees. By refugees, we mean the flight of Palestinians and the immigration of Jews. We arranged meetings between Jews who immigrated and settled in Palestinian lands, and the Palestinians who had been living there and were forced to leave during the same period. We will soon finish a film - we're just adding the final touches to it now - called From Beit Jibreel to Ravadeem. Beit Jibreel is a Palestinian village, which was inhabited by Palestinians before they had to leave it. The Azza family is one of the large families from this village, as is the Tal el-Safi family.The Israeli side chose some families who are currently living in the same area. Then we got both sides to meet and tell their stories to each other. It was very moving and very effective, but also very difficult to hear the story of the other. Each person spoke, and listening to both sides you could hear the pain in their voices, whether they were speaking about the Holocaust or about the Nakba. Moreover, they were both talking about the same place; the place where the Palestinians had once lived and where the Israelis live now. Of course, this was not dialogue. That was very hard to do for the purpose of the film, so we just had each side tell its story and offer forth its perspective. There will be other occasions in which dialogue can take place.
Through our analysis of Palestinian and Israeli curricula, we have found that both sides tell one-sided stories. They both tell only their own part of the story; Israelis tell their stories and Palestinians tell their stories. I am not saying that the Palestinians wrote their narrative, however, as this was the narrative presented in the school curriculum written by the Jordanians and Egyptians. Regardless, what is very apparent is a complete denial and disregard for the other's story. Palestinians learn in their own language, Arabic, and Israelis learn in Hebrew. There is not even a proposition to listen to the other's story or learn about how the other thinks. This is one issue. Another issue is that neither curriculum pays attention to the eras of peace and co-existence that once existed between Palestinians and Jews. Rather, both curricula are limited to discussing wars, immigration, revolutions, and attacks.
Educational undertakings such as these do not bear fruit over night; we must be cognizant of that. In order for Palestinian and Israeli children to understand themselves, however, they must understand the other. It is only after they understand the story of the other that they will discover to what extent they are truly prepared to understand the other side, and thus prepared to make changes to their own stories.
It was our sincere ambition that what was happening on the ground in 1993 would continue, and that the booklets we produced would be used widely in schools. Unfortunately, the start of the intifada
made it difficult and uncomfortable for us to continue with these meetings. Nevertheless, we succeeded in holding meetings for our two projects. We produced our first booklet, which contains the Palestinian and Israeli narratives of the Balfour Declaration,
the 1948 War, and the first Palestinian intifada. The second book, which will be released next month, will contain the Palestinian and Israeli narratives of the 1920s and 30s, as well as the 1967 War. The third booklet will discuss the 1950s, 70s, and 90s. In this way we will have covered the Palestinian and Israeli narratives of the whole of the twentieth century, from 1900 to 2000. We hope that this experience will serve us well as we continue to develop curriculum on both sides.