Materials from Global Express (www.dep.org.uk/globalexpress) use this approach to develop media awareness in young people.
Looking closely at websites like www.EUfunding.org is a good exercise. This site might seem to provide European Union information that suggests that aid money is wasted in Palestine. It is critical of Palestinian school textbooks, which are presented as anti-Israeli. Yet a deputy Minister of Education, Jihad Zakarneh, will explain that current government policy is to avoid all contentious issues in textbooks even if these issues warrant discussion. And UNESCO staff will point out that Israeli textbooks do not mention ‘Palestine’.
Phrases on EUfunding, like ‘It has also been well established that…’, do not say who by, when and how. Criticism of UNESCO does not mention that UNRWA (www.un.org/unrwa) has provided education for refugees since 1948, and is one of the oldest and most respected UN bodies.
A closer inspection of EUfunding.org reveals that its location is not in Brussels, but an anonymous PO Box address in Essex. Meanwhile, a starting point for unpacking national stereotypes of Palestine would be to access education materials directly from there. An NGO in Ramallah, Tamer (www.tamerinst.org), is a good example.
Compared with what?
When presented with any factual report, students need to find out: how general is the information? How many people are concerned? How does this compare with similar situations?
Stories from Palestine sometimes depict all children as poorly educated. School life is often disrupted, and sometimes mothers have to run schools because Israeli military action prevents teachers getting to work. But school enrolment is better than most comparable countries (around 97%), literacy rates are high (98%), and higher education is available to a greater percentage of school leavers than in Britain (50%). How does this relate to the EUfunding.org statement that the Palestinian Authority ‘deliberately prohibits’ children from receiving education? A young female ministry of education official (who breaks another stereotypical perception) explained that parents ‘protect’ the schools, adding: ‘We don’t yet have the land, so we only have our education. If we create educated people, we can wait to get the land. But if we get the land without education, it will be wasted.’
How would others see it?
Remembering the ‘other side of the coin’ is a useful skill, not only for looking beyond the obvious, but for maintaining optimism in adverse conditions. The concrete walls being built by the Israeli government to ‘contain’ Palestinians look like the Berlin Wall. But Palestinian children jokingly present another view: ‘They are not to keep us in – they are to keep the Israeli soldiers out!’
Students need to think about what a source of information does not tell them. There are many reports of the humiliation of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints, and a day travelling in Palestine will provide plenty of evidence. But are all Israelis like this?
Sometimes there are young Israelis at checkpoints who are not in uniform. They are from NGOs that monitor the behaviour of soldiers. These brave young Jews report back to the government and press, and challenge soldiers who behave improperly.
They will also tell yet another side of the story. Some of the soldiers are unwilling conscripts, and do not support the Israeli government. But these soldiers are also very scared and nervous, and with good reason.
A global view
One of the books from Tamer tells the story of a young girl who refuses to be pushed into an arranged marriage. There is a happy ending, which gives strength to other Palestinian girls in a similar situation. But, of course, forced marriage is not the norm in Palestine.
Hopefully, British students who have experienced global citizenship education will have a global view: ‘It’s the same problem here – sometimes.’
Dr Christopher Williams is lecturer in international education at the Centre for International Education and Research, University of Birmingham.