Professors' history project opens new chapter for Israeli, Palestinian students

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The year 1948 resonates with Israelis just as 1776 does with Americans — as the year their nation was born in blood during a war for independence against all odds. For Palestinians, 1948 means something very different. It marks the defeat of the Arab armies, the failure of Palestinians to establish their own state and the beginning of exile. It was the year 750,000 Palestinians became refugees in neighboring Arab countries — the start of a period they call "The Catastrophe," or al-Nakba in Arabic. The battle lines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict extend to the classroom, where the two sides' versions of their shared history diverge sharply. Now, two university professors aim to change the way the conflict is taught by exposing Palestinian students to Israeli history lessons and Israeli students to the Palestinian version of history.

The project is the work of Dan Bar-On, a social psychology professor at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, a city in southern Israel, and Sami Adwan, an education professor at Bethlehem University in the West Bank. Together with teams of Israeli and Palestinian historians, they devised a series of booklets that set the competing versions of history side-by-side on the same pages for students.

The professors say the project is an effort to bridge the chasm between the two peoples. "The way a conflict or history is taught in the classroom can either support that conflict or (support) co-existence," Adwan says. "The project aims to break down the stereotypes and build nuanced understandings."

Says Bar-On: "What we're talking about is the disarming of history, where the teaching of history no longer feeds the conflict."

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