Cablegate: Peace Programs in the Ministry of Education

DE RUEHTV #1704/01 2200920
R 070920Z AUG 08



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Peace programs in the Ministry of Education

1. SUMMARY: On July 29, Poloff met with Anat Zohar, Director of
Pedagogic Affairs in the Ministry of Education, to discuss efforts
to build a culture of peace in Israeli schools. Zohar described
peace education initiatives as ad hoc and inconsistent, driven by
principals and NGOs at individual schools. However, a public
committee has just formed which aims to review previous efforts and
develop an effective, strategic plan for teaching tolerance and
peace. The new plan will still take a program-based approach, Zohar
explained, because changing the core curriculum-- and the related
textbooks-- is time consuming, difficult, and highly politicized.
As an example, she cited the controversy over a reference to the
Nakba (the Palestinian term, which means "catastrophe," for the 1948
Arab-Israeli War) in Israeli textbooks. End Summary.

Textbooks Are Not the Proper Tool

2. Zohar explained that fundamental curriculum changes, and the
textbooks that are a reflection of this curriculum, are not the best
way to help establish a culture of peace. To save money for schools
and parents, Israeli law only allows textbooks to be revised every
five years, which effectively limits many changes. Furthermore,
Zohar said, when a curriculum is open for revision, the demands for
additional topics exceed what can be taught in a school year (i.e.,
the Ministry of the Environment wants to add a unit on water
conservation, while the Finance Ministry wants more emphasis on
fiscal responsibility, and the Ministry of Justice demands more
civic education).

3. Zohar also pointed out that textbook changes can become
politicized. This includes the recent furor over including the
Palestinian "Nakba" narrative in some textbooks. Zohar explained
that they only added two sentences to second, third, and fourth
grade civics textbooks that say the Palestinians consider Israel's
independence a catastrophe. The political right seized upon this as
a political issue. She noted that the new textbooks were written
under the previous, Likud Minister of Education.

4. According to Zohar, there were also complaints when a new school
atlas indicated the "Green Line," which demarcates the territory in
the West Bank held by Jordan before 1967. (Note: Some Israeli maps
refer to this area as "Judea and Samaria" and do not make reference
to the Green Line; others only show the limits of A and B areas
under Palestinian administrative control. End Note.) Zohar
explained that the Green Line is only included on maps where it is
necessary, such as maps that show demographics or administrative
boundaries. She added that most textbooks only have satellite maps
to avoid borders, which are a final status issue under negotiation.

Peace Programs Are Easier and More Effective

5. For these reasons, Zohar said that most peace education in
schools is done under NGO-led programs that bring Jews and
Arab-Israelis together. Recent examples include a course for high
school teachers on how to encourage mutual understanding, a program
in the North in which mixed groups of Arab and Jewish students make
short films that are screened in Haifa, and regular meetings between
various central-Israel principals to discuss peace-building
initiatives. This group of principals, formed shortly after the
October 2000 riots, develops programs and materials, such as a
recent Tu B'Shevat Haggadah that included verses on the environment
from both the Torah nd the Koran. (NOTE: A Haggadah is a book
containng instructions for a ceremonial meal. Tu B'Sheva is the
Jewish "New Year for Trees", observed amng some secular populations
as an environmental commemoration. END NOTE).

6. Unfortunately, Zohar said, these programs are ad hoc and
inconsistently applied. Usually, a program is proposed to a school
by an NGO and then funded by the Ministry based on the school's
request. As a result, principals and neighborhoods more receptive
to peace get overrun with programs, while other areas have none at
all, which Zohar described as focusing on "selling ice to the

--------------------------------------------- ---------
Developing a Comprehensive Approach to Peace Education
--------------------------------------------- ----------

7. The Ministry of Education is currently working to develop a more
comprehensive and unified approach to peace education. The first
phase includes developing a database of all programs currently in
place at various schools. The Ministry is also reviewing academic
studies on the most effective approaches to teaching peace. Some
studies have shown that holding one or two meetings with Jews and
Arabs discussing peace has little long-term impact. However, Zohar
said, sustained programs geared toward younger children, before
attitudes are hardened, or toward emphasizing shared interests, such
as sports teams or hobby clubs, are usually more effective.

TEL AVIV 00001704 002 OF 002

8. To move forward, the Ministry of Education held a conference of
academics, educators and NGOs to help develop a more effective and
strategic approach, and to allow for more efficient distribution of
resources allotted to peace education. The conference spawned a
public committee of experts, which will ultimately make specific
policy and program recommendations. Zohar said this committee will
begin work in the next few weeks, with results expected in about six

9. Zohar, a political appointee, expressed concern that these
initiatives would be abandoned when Yuli Tamir (Labor) is no longer
Minister of Education. She complained that the professional
bureaucracy at the Ministry of Education is not empowered enough to
ensure continuity, which makes real, systematic planning and review
of their curriculum nearly impossible. As a cautionary tale, she
described the "Israel 2008" program, which was launched in 2003 as a
comprehensive, five-year plan to revamp and modernize Israel's
curriculum. In 2007, just as the plan was beginning to take hold
and show results, Zohar lamented that the entire program was cut for
budgetary reasons, wasting all the time and money that had already
been invested. Zohar felt it was likely that the work of the peace
education committee would share the same fate in a new government.


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