Swedish Mayors Head to Negev to Promote Coexistence Program

Experimental high school history course teaches both the Israeli and the Palestinian narrative.

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An experimental high school history course in which students are taught both the Israeli and the Palestinian narrative was held last year, of all places, in the rocket-plagued western Negev regional council of Sha'ar Hanegev.

The program's 15 participants are students at the Sha'ar Hanegev High School, adjacent to the Gaza Strip.

Sha'ar Hanegev council chief Alon Shuster, L, meets Swedish delegate Anders Holmenskold, August 6, 2010Credit: Alberto Denkberg

"Considering where we live, our educational projects have added value," school principal Erela Rotstein said. "If we want to remain optimistic, we can't drag ourselves into the cycle of hatred. It was based on that idea that we began implementing several coexistence projects."

The program has come to the attention of the European Union, and a delegation of Swedish mayors is to arrive in Sha'ar Hanegev today to meet with the head of the regional council, Alon Shuster. The delegation plans to promote a coexistence program between Israeli, Palestinian and Swedish pupils.

Rotstein said the history program was aimed at preventing ignorance. "That is, you can express rightist opinions - but not out of a lack of knowledge, by knowing the history of the other side," she said.

The teacher who came up with the idea, Michal Wasser, believes the students "will understand the history in a mirror image of the other side."

Wasser, who says the program will teach two classes in the coming school year, adds they are using a textbook by the late Prof. Dan Baron and Prof. Sami Awdan entitled "Learning the Historical Narrative of the Other."

Although the book is considered controversial and the Education Ministry does not allow it to be used, the regional council decided to use it anyway.

"The students first study the ministry history books and then, only after they know the material well, we move them to the special program if they request it," Wasser said.

Students Bar and Shirly, who were in the program, said that studying the history both of the Israelis and the Palestinians "strengthened us in our Zionism and our faith in the state of Israel. We understood what the founders went through so we could live here."

"We're getting together a group of 40 students from Sha'ar Hanegev, Jericho and Sweden. Next week we're going to Jericho to sign them to an initiative that will include mutual visits and studies in Israel and Sweden, lectures by professors and most important, learning the history from both the Israeli and the Palestinian angles, the way children in Sweden know it," Anders Holmenskold of Kungalvs, Sweden said.

Holmenskold added that hundreds of thousands of people in Sweden, almost every seventh person there, are immigrants, and that they try to teach young Swedes the history of the immigrants.

"We believe that pupils and young people in Sha'ar Hanegev understand the need to study the history of our neighbors and hope the project will get underway quickly," Shuster said.