An e-mail invitation to teach from Barbara Hansen (BHanse@dns.juhsd.k12.ca.us), an English
teacher at Terra Nova High School, resulted from her
searching the Internet and finding the Web site of our
Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group. Her senior
students were studying a unit on Inter-Group Conflict and
preparing to write a paper on the subject. Ms. Hansen asked
us to provide background on the Middle East conflict, and to
share personal stories and describe our efforts to help the
public peace process.
Elias and Fanny Botto, and Len and Libby Traubman, made presentations and facilitated discussions for two classes. Elias, Len and Libby spoke to the first class. Fanny, Len and Libby spoke to the second class. Each of us spoke personally about the meaning of the Dialogue Group for us, and about our hopes for an eventual peace in the region. We then opened a dialogue for student interaction. They asked excellent questions and also spoke from their own experiences about conflicts and resolutions -- what works and what does not work.
One of Ms. Hansen's students, a Palestinian, responded to her request that he attend both classes to share his story of living in the West Bank for several years, eventually returning to the U.S. because his parents did not want him to remain in that hostile environment of the West Bank. His personal story, including seeing his best friend shot dead in front of him by a soldier's bullet, added depth to the dialogue. We balanced the moment with depictions of Israeli tragedies, as well. These kinds of moments made their "studies" become more personal.
The two classes were quite different in tone, with dissimilar "personalities." Both had students who were interested and involved. We felt it was worth our time to meet with them, and discovered that the Israeli-Palestinian dynamics were relevant to the students' other personal and community relationships as well.
WHO: Homestead High School
WHERE: Cupertino, California
WHEN: March and April, 1998
WHAT: Classroom presentations and student "Peace Talks" involving 9th and 10th graders studying World Cultures History instructor Nick Ferguson (NiFerguson@aol.com), with five other teachers, asked for our classroom assistance teaching a Social Studies block on "World Cultures" for 9th and 10th grade students. He had first read "Abraham's Children," the San Jose Mercury article about our Dialogue Group, then was given our phone number by the Jewish Community Relations Council in Palo Alto.
Their Middle East unit focused on the question, "Are humans doomed to conflict?" The first 4 weeks were spent learning about (1) the Middle East, (2) persuasive writing, and (3) persuasion through art on posters and t-shirts. The final 2 weeks they prepared and conducted simulated peace talks.
In March, Don Stone (EnDStone@pacbell.net) and Elias Botto (Elias@GNSonline.com) made presentations to 3 classes of 60 students. In preparation, the students had spent a day in class and homework activity reading about the Dialogue Group in newspaper articles, before formulating questions for the guest speakers.
Elias and Don presented the Jewish and Palestinian perspectives, and described activities of our Jewish- Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group. Each session allowed ample time for group discussion. Their presentations provided background and balance, motivating the students to dig deeper into the issues with greater confidence and interest.
Aside from information on (1) the Dialogue Group and (2) possible paths for the government and the public peace processes to take, students were particularly interested in the (3) more personal experiences of the speakers, both in the Middle East and participating in the public peace process.
In April, Don Stone and Nazih Malak (Nazih_Malak@palm.com) returned to Homestead High School to participate as observers for the final "Peace Talks," in which students took all they had learned and did their best to debate and dialogue their way to creative agreements for peace in the Middle East.
Nazih and Don said the students were workmanlike, attentive, and imaginative in solutions they emerged for the Middle East. They were amazed at how much the students accomplished. Nick Ferguson said that Don and Nazih's participation helped inspire the students to be more focused, and raised the accountability level of the students to the public and to themselves. He said that the Dialogue Group involvement was an essential part of the unit's success. Don, Nazih and Elias felt their participation was worth the time and effort and that we should help again next year if invited.
Two years later, in March and April, 2000 some of our Dialogue Group participants once again helped three classes of 9th- and 10th-graders at Homestead High successfully repeat their intensive, participatory program about the Middle East peace process. They were enrolled in World Cultures -- a course integrating world history, English, and art.
"The study of the Middle East is quite a challenge for these students," said their teacher, Dorothy Mansfield, (email@example.com) who sent the responses below.
Responses from students after hearing from Don Stone and Elias Botto in the beginning sessions.
• Mr. Stone and Mr. Botto telling stories about their families really gave
me a feeling about the harsh situations the Jews and the Palestinians live in.
• What they said opened my eyes to the types of conflicts going on in the Middle East.
• We heard that communication is a much better tool than weapons.
• I thought it was very interesting how Elias Botto watched his house being built from the ground up and still owned the deed, yet there was someone else living in his home. I think that gave a sense of, "Wow, this is really happening somewhere." Here we take a lot of freedom for granted and beg for more. . .but he reminded us that we had our own home and school to go to, not to mention a country to belong to."
• This presentation helped me understand what they believe in -- much more than the newspaper does.
• Yesterday's presentation from Don Stone and Elias Botto about the Middle East was perfect. Something especially interested me. It was the peace and friendship they had for each other. It showed that whoever you are and whatever your religion, you can still join with them as long as you have a peaceful heart.
Responses from students after concluding their studies and taking part in simulated Middle East Peace Talks.
• I learned about both sides. Before, I just thought Israel was the good side, but now I understand how the other side thinks.
• For me, a lot of things finally came together -- things that didn't make sense before. Now I understand why there are so many problems.
• It's awfully hard to negotiate and make everyone happy.
• Arranging peace between various countries with different views is very difficult.
• I have gained much more understanding about the geographical layout of the Middle Eastern countries and what area belongs or has belonged to which country. I have learned the specific stands that each country or group holds relating to desired land and political beliefs. The guest speakers from the dialogue group really helped me to understand in depth what was really taking place in the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The information given to me in the beginning steps of the peace talks seemed very vague to me, and I was tremendously confused about the different countries and why they were fighting. After finishing the peace talks unit, I have become more aware of the situation that persists in the Middle East. I have learned a lot about the geographical layout of Israel, the refugee situation, and the desires of each country or group involved in the peace talks.
• I understood how hard it is for the Palestinian refugees. After watching the video and going through the peace talks, I know how lucky I am to have a home, clothes, water, food, etc.
• It is very hard to talk peace. . . .People rarely want to negotiate. Some groups of people don't even want to listen.
• I understand now how people are fighting for their homeland and that it is a very important issue that needs a lot of attention. After doing these assignments, some of my opinions have changed, and I have much sympathy for these people.