Study: Plays Make High Schoolers More Empathetic to Palestinians

After Israeli teens see two plays on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many change beliefs on whether Palestinians want peace.

Revital Hoval
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Revital Hoval

A new study found a link between culture and tolerance: Israeli teens who watched plays about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict became more optimistic about the chances of achieving peace and viewed Palestinians more positively.

The study, conducted at the University of Haifa by Dr. Anat Gesser-Edelsburg, Dr. Nurit Guttman and Dr. Mosh Israelshwili, involves 540 high-school students, aged 16 to 18. They were shown two plays on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Using surveys and focus groups, the researchers found that before watching the plays, 55 percent of the students believed the conflict would not be resolved because the Palestinians don't want peace. Afterward, only 38 percent held these beliefs.

Before they saw the plays, 47 percent of the students said they had no interest in Palestinians in the occupied territories, but only 27 percent said so afterward.

Initially, 65 percent said their feelings about Palestinians were mostly negative. This changed to 47 percent. And 78 percent initially said the checkpoint and roadblock policy should be maintained. This dropped to 60 percent.

The study was founded on the theory of "edutainment" - educational entertainment, according to which entertainment can be used to educate while not being perceived as preachy. Student participants came from 12 schools, which chose the plays from among a variety of options.

Gesser-Edelsburg said interviews conducted with educators found that they don't know how the education system should address the conflict, and therefore prefer to avoid in-depth discussions on the subject. They also avoided holding discussions after the play - even though the researchers said this was essential - preferring instead to see them as pure entertainment.

The play authors called it paradoxical that teachers believe the students aren't mature enough to discuss the conflict but are mature enough to be handed weapons a few months after graduation.

The researchers said they had found that plays were an efficient way to present students with moral dilemmas. "The teachers don't need to tell the students what to think about the plays, but they do need to encourage them to think and to discuss political and ethical dilemmas," they wrote.



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