Tag Archives: violence in education

Education in Israel-Palestine: Breeding violence?



Al-Nakba 2012: Palestinians comemorate their departure from what is now Israeli territory. This Palestinian child holds the key to the house that once belonged to his family. It is common Palestinian practice to keep the keys to their lost houses, as a way to symbolize what they call "their right to return"

Al-Nakba 2012: Palestinians commemorate their departure from what is now Israeli territory. This Palestinian child holds the key to the house that once belonged to his family. It is common Palestinian practice to keep the keys to their lost houses, as a way to symbolize what they call “their right to return”


Violence is an ever-present factor in the lives of Palestinian Children, who are a common sight at Friday afternoon protests across the West Bank.  People are unable to shield their children from the occupation even if they try, argue Palestinian parents. But how can you explain a conflict as complicated as the one in Israel and Palestine to a school kid?

The complex history makes it difficult to find a starting point to the dispute which has been punctuated by wars and violent outbursts. As a result, this has created a confusing time line. Yet, education largely determines the children’s perception of the situation and has important implications for future developments in the conflict. Education has therefore been the subject of a number of research projects. The most recent of these, entitled ‘Victims of our own narratives? Portrayal of the ‘Other’ in Israeli and Palestinian Schoolbooks’, was presented last year.

Victims and perpetrators

It is perhaps easy to argue that, similar to other conflict zones, Israeli and Palestinian schoolbooks dehumanise each other and present themselves as the victims. But this stereotype is only partially true, as argued by last year’s study, conducted by a team of researchers led by Yale professor of Psychiatry Bruce Wexler. If mentioned, such dehumanisation was solely portrayed in relation to a concern over the other’s actions – such as “the violent efforts of Palestinians and other Arabs to destroy Israeli targets through violence” (Wexler 2013). Dehumanisation for the sake of it rarely occurred in the school books that were analysed.

Aside from condemning actions by demonising the other, researchers found that textbooks on both sides show trends of victimising the self (i.e. the nation, the people) and subsequently portraying the other as perpetrator. Furthermore, schoolbooks on both sides present the other not as an enemy protecting what it sees as its own homeland, but rather as seeking the destruction or domination of the ‘self’ and even “call for individuals in their communities to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice of life for the collective good” (Wexler 2013).

These narratives do not portray a falsified history, it is argued, but their opposing narratives about similar events and periods of time are primarily caused by a selective focus. An emphasis on ‘the other’ as an evil force aimed at destroying ‘the self’ is consistently present in school books on both sides of the conflict.

Protecting the homeland

Interestingly, neither side recognises or includes reference to each other’s territory in their textbooks. Thus, in Israeli school books there is no indication of the border with the occupied territories and Palestinian ones do not portray Israel as a geographical area.

This is partly because the territory of the ‘other’ is never identified as such, Wexler argues that both Israelis and Palestinians grow up with a “patriotic attachment to the whole land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea”. This will make any two-state solution a hard pill to swallow for both parties. By portraying Israel and Palestine as the same region, children are taught that any peace negotiation that creates a potential border on the territory means giving away part of their homeland. This will have an effect not only on the current peace negotiations, but also on those yet to come.

Building bridges

Despite a number of similarities in teaching materials regarding ‘the other’, the researchers also found differences between Israeli and Palestinian textbooks. Most notable is the distinction that is made between Israeli ultra-Orthodox and state schools. The latter create a more nuanced image of Palestinians and are more self-critical, both compared to Israeli Ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian schools. Such nuances and self-criticism are crucial in providing children with a realistic image of the conflict surrounding them.

The need for a more balanced image of the conflict is voiced by the two girls in the video below:




Although the situation could be worse, both Israeli and Palestinian school textbooks do not portray the other in a nuanced way. They miss an opportunity of bringing children from both sides closer together as well as fostering a mutual understanding of the other’s identity, wishes and hopes.

Schools could be the place to build bridges towards a better – more peaceful – future, but currently, they don’t.

By Lisanne Oldekamp

Photo by Lisanne Oldekamp (2012)

Middle Eastern violence in education – A German perspective

Haifa University

The German media is not overloaded with news, information and facts concerning violent attacks on educational institutions in the Middle East. The most recent articles in German newspapers are from 2013 and deal mainly with the Syrian crisis. Within the topic of Syria the media actually reports on attacks on universities.

The online newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine said in one of their reports: “Dead people after attack at university of Damascus”. This aims to inform that the Syrian conflict reached the capital Damascus long ago. After pointing out the number of dead students, 15 in total, the article blames the Arab League, which supposedly encourages any possible confrontation within the country. Two thirds of the article reports on international relations between Syria and countries such as Russia, which criticised the actions of the Arab League, and Turkey that deports refugees after riots. Conclusively the actual topic referring to the attack on Damascus’ university is embedded in the general Syrian crisis and, perhaps, would not have been reported without a powerful event such as the on-going crisis and the revolution.

Further research about the attacks on educational institutions in the Middle East lead away from articles to websites such as Human Rights Watch. The announcements on this website in November 2013 focus on stopping the military use of schools in conflict areas. The announcement by the non-governmental organisation published a video on this topic in six different languages. The video shows in what way children are seriously affected by the military use of their schools. The message on the homepage elaborates that the occupants turn the schools into prisons, training camps and depots for weapons. The video and announcement was published on the International Day of Children Rights.

A small poll among some German students who spent considerable time in one or more Middle Eastern countries say that the topic in Germany is under-represented. One of them is Alex, a German student in political science, who has been to the Middle East three times already. Two times in Israel for a student exchange in 2007 and 2008, the third time Alex stayed for half a year to study in Israel’s city Haifa in 2012/2013. During his third stay he also visited parts of Egypt and Jordan. Friends told him about the rocket attacks in 2006. “The university in Haifa lies on a 470 metre high hill and on not cloudy days you can actually see the Lebanon. As I was told you could recognise the rockets very early when you had been round the university round this time”, Alex says. These rockets did not reach the university but in the past it has been evacuated and the lecture program has been stopped. While the situation is almost ‘normal’ for the Israeli students most of the foreign students are face a scary situation and many of them return to their home countries. There is no university in Israel where you are safe in terms of rocket attacks.

During Alex’ semester abroad the operation “Pillar of Defence” took place. In November 2012 the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a campaign going against terror targets in Gaza. It was claimed the IDF were responding to increased rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. The intention was to destroy any terror organisations in the Gaza Strip, the second goal was to defend the Israeli civilians who were mainly living under fire. Alex tells that he and others realised people have been more tense during this time as numerous people thought another invasion of the Gaza strip was imminent. “During this time several Israeli students have been drawn in by the military, which established a circle around the Gaza strip. The people were afraid of attacks and after a bus attack in Tel Aviv the fears proved to be true. For the very first time, Hamas held rockets of a range that were able to reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Therefore the universities of these two cities sounded the highest alarm.”

Several people started to demonstrate for the attacks of  Hamas. “Even at my university”, Alex remembers. “It is embarrassing that also German were among the objectors.” Only one day later counter demonstrations took place which were meant to support the civilians of the South and to express solidarity.

Alex says that the Palestinians tend to build and place their rocket positions in Gaza in civil institutions, often in educational institutions such as schools. By these actions they intend to protect themselves from attacks by the Israeli military. “Mostly the people are safe inside schools or universities as the IDF is keen to avoid civilian victims.”

However, the topic only attracts a small amount of attention. In Alex’s opinion the focus is more on the “military-strategic events than the conflict itself and how the population deals with the attacks”.

The above mentioned articles in German media are not the sole ones but they give an insight to the attitude within the media. The reports, news and information concerning attacks aimed at educational institutions in the Middle East remain under-reported and are often only covered as part of a wider crisis.

By Maria Wokurka

Picture credit: Michael Privorotsky

Global violence in education – social media reacts

THIS FEBRUARY, the largest ever report on violence in education was released by the UN. The ‘Education Under Attack’ report  highlighted over 10,000 attacks against educational institutions across the world, with a focus on issues including development, political conflict and the implications of gender. Schools and Universities in over 70 countries were reported to have had students subjected to bombing, arson, abduction, as well as gun and knife crime in a systematic attack against those in education.

Social media responded. Read below some highlights of the issues Twitter has found to be the most pervasive in talks on the ongoing attack on education globally.






Dutch TV to publicly shame school bullies


Holland school


Bullying has been part of children’s lives for a long time. But the recent trend of cyber-bullying with some resorting to suicide has sparked concern in Dutch society more than ever. The theme was recently picked up on by television broadcasters – both public and commercial. As the public broadcaster hosted an ‘anti-bullying night’, focusing on cyber-bullying,  the commercial broadcaster’s show caused major controversy, even before the airing of the first episode.

‘Project P: Stop het pesten’ (Pesten is Dutch for bullying) provides high school victims of bullying with a hidden camera, in order to show the severity of what they are exposed to in school. It is expected that the footage will be used to confront the bullies at a later stage in order to make them realise the severity of their actions. Three high schools protested against hidden camera footage shot on their territory being used, while controversy about the programme emerged before the first episode airs later this month. The three schools argue that the hidden cameras violate their students’ privacy. This argument was dismissed by a number of Dutch celebrities and public figures, victims of bullying themselves in their youth – they argue that the bullies’ acts are too severe to protect their privacy. The debate has proven sensitive, as many victims of bullying still feel the effects years after the bullying stopped.

Project P is RTL Nederland’s second programme on bullying in a few years. The broadcaster started its other show, Gepest (Bullied), a few years ago. The show focused on adults who had been bullied in the past – usually, during high school. As the victims told their stories, the show built up to the climax: would the bullies agree to a confrontation, and how would this go down? Usually, the victims were looking for some recognition and some answers – and perhaps even a chance to forgive the bullies. Since Gepest focused on past bullying and centered around adults, there was no reason for widespread controversy. RTL’s new show on the other hand aims at tackling the problem as it unfolds.

RTL Nederland claims it has only good intentions – confronting the bullies might help change or even end their behavior and create a saver environment for the bullied children. But critics argue that the way bullying is dealt with in this show, does not do justice to the complexity of the problem – and it remains to be seen if the show renders the desired effect.

Since the broadcaster made no promise of leaving the hidden camera footage out of its shows, one of the schools went to court, claiming the footage is sensationalist. Experts seem to agree, and argue that it is not sure whether the bullies will end their behavior after being confronted with their actions. Even if they will render a positive effect, experts argue that it is debatable if the improvement will last. The experts’ concerns are underlined by recent claims of bullying increasing instead of decreasing because of the programme: one of the victims claims he has suffered even more from his bullies than before RTL tried to stop the actions of his fellow students.

As the airing of the first episode approaches shortly after Easter, the court ruling is still pending. Despite criticism of their methods, RTL’s producers can be happy about one thing – they’ve rekindled the debate about bullying once again.

By Lisanne Oldekamp

Photo credit: Fabio Bruna