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Today, 80 Israeli and Palestinian teachers, participants in IPCRI’s Peace Education Program are returning to Israel/Palestine after participating in a 5-day training workshop held in Turkey. IPCRI’s Peace Education Program is active in more than 60 high schools in Israel and in the West Bank. There are more than 400 teachers and more than 4,500 students participating in the program’s 9th and 10th grade classes.
On Sunday, July 28, 2002, some 80 Israeli and Palestinian veteran teachers in the program left for a training workshop. These teachers have been participating in the program from 2 to 6 years. Even during these terrible times, IPCRI is expanding the program in the coming school year by 30%. The requests from Israeli and Palestinian schools to join the program go far beyond the financial ability of IPCRI to include all of those who wish to join. The program expenses include teacher training, encounters between teachers, encounters between students, subsidizing classroom hours in the schools, field staff, etc. The main funding for the program comes from the US Government with additional support coming from the Governments of Switzerland and Finland.
Unfortunately, our teachers have had to cope with the harsh realities of the violence in Israel and Palestine. Yesterday the teachers had just completed their morning program when entering the dining room of the hotel their mobile phones began ringing informing them of the bomb that exploded in the Hebrew University. This is not the first time that this has happened during an encounter between them – either terrorist bombings or Israeli incursion into the occupied territories. After checking that no close relatives were amongst the victims, the teachers spent their time consoling and encouraging each other. “We recognize that we are the alternative to violence, we must continue to provide the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians the opportunity to see and understand that there is a different way” said one Israeli teacher. Another Palestinian teacher said: “We are living proof that there is someone to talk to on the other side”.
IPCRI’s peace education program offers curricula for the 10th and 11th grades. This next school year the program will also enter, for the first time, the Israeli religious school system. Through classroom study, encounters, internet discussions, teacher training, research, field work, etc. IPCRI’s Peace Education program, the largest of its type in the region, is helping to create a bottom-up peace process of Israelis and Palestinians dedicated to finding a way out of the unbearable situation that our leaders have created. Peace Education is a long-term process and the realities of violence on the ground make the work of this program extremely difficult. But even during the most difficult times, when participants of the program have been killed, teachers and students, on both sides, a flow of phone calls and condolence letters have been exchanged between the students, teachers and school principals participating in the program. This program is proof that peace is possible and that people on both sides are willing to work hard to build and to create that peace.
We are sharing this information with you because we believe that Israelis and Palestinians and people around the world have to know that thousands of Israelis and Palestinians are working to change reality. We encourage you to support these efforts and to spread the word.
Gershon Baskin, Ph.D., is Co-Director of Israel / Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), a joint Palestinian-Israeli public policy think-tank, founded in Jerusalem in 1988.