Follow-Up Interfaith Study Day on School Curricula in Palestine

Thursday, 6 December 2012
Bethlehem Hotel – Bethlehem

As a much desired follow-up event to a previous Study Day, Sabeel and Al-Liqa’ Centers recently organized a second Study Day led by educators, religious leaders, and academics that gathered more than 120 people from all walks of life. As recommended at the previous Study Day, several important community leaders were also present: the Mufti of Bethlehem, Sheikh ‘Abd Al-Majeed ‘Ata; Director of Education in the Bethlehem Governorate, Mr. Sami Mrowa; and a representative of the Military Commander of the Bethlehem Governorate, Mr. Adnan Al-Nayef.
Mrs. Sawsan Bitar, coordinator of Shared Living Programs at Sabeel, welcomed everyone participating in the study day and introduced the speakers.
The first session was a panel discussion between Dr. Geries S. Khoury and Fr. Dr. Faysal Hijazin, moderated by Mr. Mousa Darwish of Al-Liqa’.
Dr. Khoury primarily emphasized the vital role of educational curricula in building strong ties of shared community life and mutual understanding. He articulated the dire need to revise Palestinian curricula especially in the subjects of religious and civic history as well as Arabic language. These revisions must ensure that Christian contributions to Arab society throughout history are equally discussed and presented in the textbooks – a change that would help instill in youth the importance of shared living and a full and equal citizenship for every member of society.
The second panelist, Fr. Dr. Faysal Hijazin, described a meeting held between him and three others: Dr. Jihad Zakarneh, the Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Education; Mr. ‘Omar ‘Anbar, the Director of General Education; and Mr. Muhannad ‘Aabed, who oversees the private schools. In this meeting, Fr. Hijazin put forth the need to develop the curricula in such a way as to be attuned with Palestinian reality. Christian presence in Palestine is a basic element in history and society. Fr. Hijazin warned that anyone who attempts to negate this fact of religious, cultural, and political pluralism undermines society. The Ministry of Education welcomed Fr. Hijazin’s suggestions at the meeting and accepted the booklet “History: The Teacher of Life” which points out historical errors concerning Palestinian Christians that have gone unnoticed in the curricula. Dr. Zakarneh affirmed the need to revise the curricula, comparing Palestinian society to a rainbow in which Christians and Muslims are both integral parts. Dr. Zakarneh stated firmly that no one wants to undermine the positive, active role of Christians in history.
The second panel was moderated by a friend of Al-Liqa’, Mr. Younis Jaddou’, and included Mrs. Haifa Baramki from Birzeit University, Sheikh Zuheir Al-Dab’i of Nablus, and Pastor Ibrahim Nairouz from Rafidia / Nablus.
Mrs. Baramki spoke first, focusing on the importance of religious discourse and the ways in which schoolbooks can be optimally utilized to further the cause of Shared Living. First and foremost, such religious discourse must begin with respect for the dignity and humanity of the other, revealing the religion of each with reverence in order to build a dialogue of love and understanding. Mrs. Baramki stressed the need to introduce the subject of “ethics” in the Palestinian Curricula in order to ensure students receive an education based on openness, respect and balance.
Sheikh Zuheir Al-Dab’i also focused on the importance of a tolerant religious discourse, which would unite rather than divide, even in the face of difference. He stressed the role of religious discourse in strengthening national unity and in undermining hatred and violence.
Pastor Ibrahim Nairouz then spoke about harmony in society and the need to select and train preachers in mosques and churches to preach messages about the importance of loving and respecting others. These public places of worship must also share in the responsibility to contribute to a culture of shared living and national unity.
At the conclusion of the conference, the following recommendations were agreed upon:
• The Palestinian curricula must fully represent the narratives, beliefs, and principles of all people in the land so that their shared geography and history can contribute to building better community understanding. Civic education curricula as well as Islamic and Christian religion curricula must introduce and systematically incorporate Shared Living culture.
• Teachers in the Palestinian education system must be fully qualified to properly teach a culture of shared living and shared national identity.
• Schools must teach students how to solve problems through balanced, respectful dialogue with all concerned; fanaticism must be completely eradicated.
• The whole enterprise of religious discourse and all its teaching methodology must be utilized to further the cause of teaching human dignity and respect for difference. The religious sphere should not hesitate to communicate this message through technology as well, since this is one of the most prevalent forms of mass communication today.
• The school curricula must be a fundamental tool in the construction of a healthy, shared national identity at every level – whether local, national, or relating to all humankind.