PESC-1: Religious and inter-religious education
1.4 Dr Jakobus Schoneveld
Living in the Holy Land: Respecting Differences (Report)
 

 
From 1967 to 1980 Dr. J. Schoneveld was theological advisor in Jerusalem to the Netherlands Reformed Church. From 1980 to 1996 he was general secretary of the International Council of Christians and Jews at the Martin Buber House, Heppenheim, Germany. In 1997 he returned to Jerusalem to help develop this project as research fellow of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace of the Hebrew University and as scholar-in-residence of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies, P.O.B 19556, Jerusalem 91194, Israel, Tel. +972.2.6760911, fax: +972.2.6760914.

The present stalemate in negotiations on political peace between Israeli and Palestinians and the ensuing violence make it clear that a peace agreement will only endure if peaceful relations will develop among men and women of all sections of the Israeli and Palestinian population on “grass root level”. Although the Israeli-Palestinian (or Arab-Jewish) conflict is not a religious, but a political, ethnic and territorial conflict, religion nevertheless plays a crucial role in it. Both parties use religious arguments to justify and strengthen their claims. In addition, religious elements play often implicitly and unconsciously a major role in the identities of the conflicting parties.
Those are ideas that lie at the basis of a project initiated by Dutch theologian Dr. J. Schoneveld  and now jointly implemented by Israelis and Palestinians in and around Jerusalem. The Israeli organisation, “Centre for Educational Technology” in Tel Aviv, one of the leading producers of educational material in Israel, and the Palestinian organisation, “Noor Information and Research Centre” in Ramallah, a pioneer organisation for curriculum design, have in the past school year started to test educational material in the class room in Israeli and Palestinian high schools that aims at arousing interest and respect among Jewish students for the religions of the Palestinians – Islam and Christianity – and among Palestinian students for the Jewish religion. The program is being funded by the Israeli foundation Yad Hanadiv (Rothschild Foundation), the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Israeli UNESCO Commission, as well as by some church related funds in the Netherlands.
The program which has now entered its second year is continuing even under the very difficult circumstances of this moment. The program also encourages students to relate to the religion of the other by means of practical experience through mutual visits and joint excursions, if the situation allows it. Dealing with conflicts between communities and peoples, it essential to humanise those conflicts. On either side one should realise that the other is not an abstraction but is a human being with similar worries, feelings, fears, hopes and ideals as oneself. Religious elements represent a dimension of depth in human identity. By paying attention to those aspects one can understand the other in a deeper sense then in what one sees of the other on the surface.
To understand the other it is important to pay attention to the religious elements that nurture the community in which he or she lives. Irrespective of the ideas and the beliefs of an individual, a community is strongly influenced by a set of values, beliefs and fundamental stories which help it find orientation in the world. Since religion is one of the major sources of orientation for a community, it is important not only to get to know the other as an individual but also to acquire insight into the religion of the community to which the other belongs. 
The educational program for Israelis and Palestinians, entitled: “Living in the Holy Land: Respecting Differences” deals with a number of themes which are elucidated from the points of view of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It aims at strengthening the students’ own identity as well as opening them for what motivates the other. The curriculum is being designed in joint consultations among Palestinian and Israeli educational experts. It starts with a number of lessons in Arabic and Hebrew on the theme: “What is characteristic for Judaism, Christianity and Islam?” This unit stresses their common belief in the One God who has committed himself to justice, but it also shows the very different ways in which the religions express this monotheistic faith. An important aim is to relate to these differences with discernment, respect and empathy. Acquainting students with the deeper layers of the identity of the other, the adversary, may according to the composers of the program contribute to overcoming fear and stereotyping of the other.
This first unit of seven lessons has in the school year 1999-2000 been tested with good results in a pilot project involving a small number of Palestinian and Israeli high schools in and around Jerusalem. On the basis of the experience gained in the pilot the program is being revised and adapted for spreading it in a wider circle. A first evaluation shows that the program arouses curiosity among students about the religion of the other and is met with readiness to learn more about it. The Ministry of Education of Israel has allowed schools wishing to teach the program, to do so in two weekly hours throughout the whole school year. With the Palestinian Ministry of Education the contacts have not yet progressed to the same extent. It is clear that the measure of progress or stalemate in the peace process is an important factor regarding the official endorsement of the program.
For the school years 2000-2002 the joint team of Israeli and Palestinian educational experts are preparing educational material on additional themes:
“A Society of Justice and Compassion in the Three Religions”;
“Religious Meanings of the Holy land for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims & Christians”;
“Peace as a Central Value in Judaism, Christianity and Islam”;
“Abraham’s Readiness to Sacrifice his Son – A Fundamental Narrative in the Three Religions”
 

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