Research Activities: Grades 9-12The Israeli-Palestinian conflict began before the State of Israel was created in 1948. Tensions between Zionist Jews and Arabs in the area now divided into Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza ran high when the territory to which each lay claim was still part of the Ottoman Empire. During the period of the British Mandate (1920-1948) those tensions erupted numerous times into violent clashes. Since then, numerous wars have been fought, and numerous peace plans have been tried and failed, over this hotly contested land. Tens of thousands of people have died in this seemingly intractable conflict.
Throughout it all, the world has been watching intently, and World Press Review has charted the progress of the conflict through multiple perspectives and over many years. We have translated and reprinted articles from both the Israeli and the Palestinian presses, as well as from newspapers and magazines around the world. Some of these articles can be found in our online archive (available to subscribers). Others are freely available on our Web site. Students and teachers can access older articles only available in the print edition of World Press Review by purchasing back issues of the magazine ($5.00 each).
Below, we offer a number of exercises that can be used to help students come to a better understanding of this decades-long conflict, and to see more clearly the perspectives on each side. Printer-friendly versions of each activity are also available below.
Activity 1: Media Comparison (Individual Research)
Using World Press Review and/or Worldpress.org as your source: Find three articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that look at the conflict from a primarily Palestinian perspective. Find three articles about the conflict that look at it from a primarily Israeli perspective (don’t use articles from the State of the Debate section, but rather full-text articles translated and reprinted from the Palestinian and Israeli press).
For each article, make a list in point form of the main statements and/or arguments.
For each article, make a list in point form of assumptions that you think the writer has implicitly made, but not explicitly stated.
Compare your lists by answering the following questions:
1. What arguments or statements are being made about the conflict from a Palestinian perspective?
2. What arguments or statements are being made about the conflict from an Israeli perspective?
3. Did you find any arguments or statements that are common to both sides? If there are, what reasons might there be for supposed “enemies” to be saying the same thing?
4. What assumptions are being made about the conflict or its people from a Palestinian perspective?
5. What assumptions are being made about the conflict or its people from an Israeli perspective?
6. Based on your reading, have you encountered anything that might make you doubt the accuracy of a writer’s assumptions? [Explain.]
7. Based on your reading, do you think the writers from each side have been able to realistically portray (a) themselves and (b) “the other”? Why or why not?
Activity 2: Communication (Group Research, Presentation and Discussion)
Each student or group of students should pretend to be either Israelis or Palestinians and read as many articles as they can from a variety of sources that are written from the perspective of the group they have chosen (students can access newspapers from around the world on Worldpress.org). Ideally, the class should be evenly divided.
Once they have read the articles, each student or group of students should make a list of the things that they believe their chosen side needs to make clear to “the other” in order to make their perspective understood. Students should try not to make lists of demands, but to find those things that each group cares most deeply about, those things that have most affected each group, and those things that each group most desires.
After compiling their lists, each student or group of students should find a way to effectively express the contents of that list: a letter, an article, a play, a poster, a film, a story, a drawing, a radio segment, a comic, a “’zine”, a compact disc, etc. Anything is possible (depending on the context and confines of the course), as long as it accomplishes the primary purpose of allowing someone else to understand what the list is trying to convey.
When students have completed their projects, they can share their work in either of the following ways:
1. Class presentations: Each student or group of students presents their work to the class as a whole. The students can describe their work as much as they feel is necessary. The class can ask whatever questions they need to make the work clear. The class works together to decipher the message of each individual piece.
2. Trade: Each student or group of students gives their work to someone who has been working from the “opposing” perspective. Students then work to decipher the message of the piece they have received to try to grasp what “the other” is trying to tell them. Students who have traded work should get together afterwards to see if their work has been understood. They should note what has been understood, and clarify whatever has been missed. Pair groups should then present their experiences to the class—what they each understood, what had to be explained, and so on.
Finally, students should write a brief (one page) report on their experience, trying to address the following points: (1) why communication is important (2) how communication can be difficult (3) what is necessary to make communication effective.
Activity 3: Timelines (Group Research, Presentation and Discussion)
This PBS timeline of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is interesting in that it highlights the differing Israeli and Palestinian interpretations of the same events. These conflicting interpretations can make it difficult to get a clear picture of “what really happened.” But they do give important insight into the experiences, biases and interests of both parties, which inform their perceptions of their history. By laying these historical differences next to one another, it becomes possible to recognize that “what really happened” is itself the subject of debate.
This exercise asks you to research major events that have shaken Israel and the occupied and autonomous Palestinian territories since September 28, 2001. Select five that can be or are interpreted differently by Israelis and by Palestinians, and five are more fact-based and less open to interpretation.
Using the PBS timeline as a model, write a brief description of each event in as neutral a language as possible, being careful not to weigh the description in favor of one side or the other. For those events that have differing interpretations, supplement the neutral description with one from the Israeli perspective and one from the Palestinian perspective.
Example from PBS timeline:
1948: In May, Zionist leaders proclaimed the state of Israel. Fighting breaks out between the newly declared state of Israel and its Arab neighbors as British troops are leaving the country.
Israeli perspective: The war is known by Israelis as the “Milhemet Haatzma’ut,” or “War of Independence.” Some 700,000 Palestinians leave what had been British-mandate Palestine. Israel gains control over large tracts of land, including some five hundred Palestinian villages.
Palestinian perspective: The war is known as “al-Nakbah” or “the Catastrophe,” by Palestinians. Some 700,000 Palestinians flee or are driven from what had been British-mandate Palestine. Israel annexes large tracts of land and destroys some five hundred Palestinian villages.
After completing the descriptions for each event, answer the following questions, doing additional research where necessary:
1. Why do you think Israelis and Palestinians perceive some events so differently?
2. Are there any cases in which you think the Israeli interpretation is more accurate than the Palestinian? Why or why not?
3. Are there any cases in which you think the Palestinian interpretation is more accurate than the Israeli? Why or why not?
4. Based on your experience of the media in your country, do you think the media privilege the perspective of one side over that of the other? Give specific reasons why or why not.
Activity 4: Sources and Perspectives (Group Research, Presentation and Discussion)
Students should divide into groups of three or four. Each group should pretend to be either Israelis or Palestinians and read as much as they can find that shows the conflict from the perspective of the group they have chosen. Sources can include newspaper articles (use the World Newspapers section on Worldpress.org for links to online newspapers across the globe), timelines, official Web sites (i.e. the Israeli government, the Palestinian National Authority), analysis, history, etc.
While they are doing their research, students should make a list of the things that they believe form the core of the conflict for the group they have chosen. This list could include such things as:
(a) major events that have affected Israelis/Palestinians
(b) how many Israelis/Palestnians have been killed and/or injured
(c) how the conflict has affected the daily life of the Israeli/Palestinian civilians
(d) how Israeli/Palestinian men/women/children have been particularly affected by the conflict
(e) what different elements of Israeli/Palestinian society say they want the outcome to be, or demand
(f) what beliefs/needs/desires/policies underlie the various Israeli/Palestinian positions
(g) what conditions Israelis/Palestinians say need to be met for there to be peace.
Students should keep careful track of their sources in a bibliography comprised of two sections. The first, “Recommended Sources,” should include those sources that students found to be most useful and reliable, and for each source students should write a sentence or brief paragraph (no more than 50-60 words) to explain what made that source particularly useful or reliable. In the second section, “Supplemental Sources,” students should simply list alphabetically all the other sources that they used.
Once they have completed their lists and bibliographies, students should “switch sides”— students who had pretended to be Palestinians should pretend to be Israelis and vice versa—and redo the exercise. Before undertaking the research, students should exchange copies of their bibliographies (making sure they keep a copy of the original) so that they can benefit from the work that their classmates have already done. Students should not limit their research to the sources found by their classmates, but should find new sources and should update the bibliographies (a) by incorporating all new sources (b) by annotating any new sources they feel should go in the “Recommended Sources” section (c) by noting cases where they disagree with the previous group’s recommended sources, and why.
Once all students have researched the conflict from both points of view, the class together should discuss the research they did and the sources they found. The following questions might be addressed in the discussion:
1. Did knowing about the conflict from one perspective affect your research for the other perspective? In what way(s)?
2. Did you feel you were able to be equally objective about the topic when researching both perspectives?
3. Did you use the same criteria when judging your recommended sources in both parts of the exercise, or did you find the criteria changed after you had gained some knowledge of the conflict?
4. In the second part of the exercise, did your knowledge of the opposite perspective affect how useful or reliable you found the recommended sources in the bibliography you were given? In what way(s)?
5. Did you learn anything that surprised you about either perspective on the conflict?
6. Knowing what you do now, can you think of a solution (or elements towards a solution) that would fairly address the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians?
7. Knowing what you do now, do you think there is hope that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict can be resolved soon?